A report by an independent group assessing the two European bids to host the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) has failed to back one site over the other, but has concluded that both France and Spain 'would be likely to win the international site selection'. The main differences between the two bids, from Cadarache in France and Vandellós in Spain, relate to technical and financial issues, but the group found these differences to be minor. Both France and Spain are hoping to be selected by the EU to put forward the European bid to host ITER. The selected site will be up against competition in the form of Clarington in Canada and Rokkasho-mura in Japan. 'We must give ourselves the best chance to build ITER in Europe,' EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin told European research ministers in May. Ministers are expected to reach a decision at the next Competitiveness Council on 23 September. The importance of hosting the reactor in Europe is echoed in the analysis report: 'European expertise in fusion is recognised worldwide and if Europe wishes to maintain its leading position, ITER must be sited in Europe.' The group found no significant differences between Cadarache and Vandellós in terms of topology and geology, industrial capabilities, local support and facilities, licensing regulations or commitment. On technical and scientific infrastructure, the group concluded that 'the strong technical support facilities available at Cadarache provide an important risk reducing advantage', and noted that this could also have an impact on cost during the construction phase. Cadarache is already home to a fully operative research facility covering a wide range of relevant activities, while the selection of Vandellós would necessitate development from a virtually greenfield site. In order to assess the costs involved in hosting ITER at either site, the group looked at four reports, one from each of the governments involved, and two prepared for the European fusion development agreement (EFDA). The implementation of ITER will include a construction phase of around ten years, an operational phase of 20 years, and a decommissioning phase. A Commission working paper has estimated that construction costs will be around 4,570 million euro, while operating costs are expected to amount to 265 million euro per year. All ITER parties will share 80 per cent of the construction costs, and the final 20 per cent will be met by the host country. The site analysis group rejected the national reports, saying that 'they represent extremes on the percentages of [...] costs', and concluded that construction in Vandellós would entail a saving of between 34 and 274 million euro in comparison with Cadarache. The report notes that the construction of ITER in the EU would require 'a deep reformulation of the organisation and management of the EU fusion programme irrespective of the site chosen within Europe.' The group therefore recommends the EU's Euratom programme under the Seventh Framework Programme should have two components: participation in the ITER project and a strong accompanying programme. The report finishes by highlighting that both France and Spain have presenting 'outstanding bids' and that both are very strong contenders for the international competition.