After a fraught selection process that lasted over 18 months, the EU has won agreement from all partners in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project that the reactor should be built in France. 'Today we are making history in terms of international scientific cooperation,' said EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik on 28 June. 'After long and difficult negotiations, the six parties to the international negotiations on the ITER fusion research project, meeting in Moscow, have decided that ITER should be located at the site proposed by the EU - Cadarache in southern France.' The deadlock came about when two alternative sites were shortlisted - one in France and one in Japan. The six ITER partners were equally divided in their support for the sites. It is now hoped that it will be possible for all parties to initial the text of the agreement by the end of 2005, allowing for construction to begin before the end of the year. At points during the deadlock it looked as though Europe might go it alone without the support of those partners favouring the Japanese site. The European Commission and Council often emphasised that an international approach was the most desirable option however, and Mr Potocnik made this point again on 28 June. 'This decision today demonstrates the recognition of the parties concerned that working together is the best way to find responses to the challenges faced by all of us. We have shown our commitment to developing fusion as an energy source and the priority we accord to the ITER project in this endeavour. Placing ITER within a broader approach to nuclear fusion should help to bring it to market much sooner,' said the Commissioner. The 'broader approach' referred to by Mr Potocnik allows for the creation of a 'privileged partnership' between the EU and Japan, thus guaranteeing Japan certain benefits in the context of the project and accompanying activities. The terms of the agreement are: - The EU will transfer up to ten per cent of its procurement to Japan, so that both participate on similar terms in the high technology components of the ITER device; - The EU will participate in projects undertaken in Japan within the Broader Approach with up to eight per cent of the costs of ITER construction; - The EU will support a suitable Japanese candidate for the post of Director-General of the ITER Organisation and will also support the right for Japan to have more staff in the Organisation than its proportionate share; - Some of the headquarter functions could be situated in Japan; - If there is an international agreement to undertake the later phase - construction of a demonstration reactor - the EU will support Japan as the site. For its part, through hosting ITER, the EU will 'maintain its position at the forefront of fusion research', according to the European Commission. The ITER partners - the EU, Japan, the US, Russia, China and South Korea - hope to reproduce the physical reaction (fusion) that occurs in the Sun and other stars. Previous experiments have demonstrated that it is possible to replicate this process on Earth, and ITER should illustrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion as an energy source. At a time when concern is increasing over the depletion of the Earth's traditional energy sources, ITER represents an attractive alternative. It could provide a large-scale energy source without using the Earth's restricted resources; it would produce no CO2 emissions and thus have a minimal impact on the environment; no radioactive materials would need to be transported or disposed of; and power stations would be safe, with no possibility of a meltdown. ITER construction costs are estimated at 4.57 billion euro (2000 prices), which will be spread over ten years. The estimated total operating costs over an expected operational lifetime of around 20 years will be of a similar order. The EU and France will contribute 50 per cent of the construction costs, while the other five parties will each contribute ten per cent.