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France Chosen to Host Experimental Nuclear Fusion Project

In an agreement announced Tuesday, France will get to host a project to build a multibillion-dollar nuclear fusion reactor designed to emulate the power of the sun. The announcement came after Japan withdrew its rival bid.

Building the world's first nuclear fusion reactor will be a costly undertaking.

The European Union - which bid for the contract as a block - is to bankroll 40 percent of the project's costs, estimated at over $12 billion over 30 years. France will pay for 10 percent of it. The other five partners in the project - which include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States - will pay for the rest.

Talks on the project had been deadlocked until Japan gave up its bid, clearing the way for France to be chosen as the site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

Philippe-Douste Blazy
The center-right French government was pleased with the news the reactor would be built in Cadarache, near the Mediterranean city of Marseille. At a meeting with British and American reporters in Paris, Foreign Minister Philippe-Douste Blazy described the reactor as an important project.

Noting the heat wave now blanketing Europe - and the upcoming G8 summit in Scotland that will focus on global warming - Mr. Douste-Blazy said it was critical to find clean-burning energies for the future. While France and Europe will benefit from having the reactor built locally, he said it was even more important to find new energy sources to meet the world's needs.

Nuclear fusion is viewed as a cleaner form of energy production than nuclear fission and fossil fuels. One kilogram of fusion fuel would produce the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel.

Nuclear fusion produces energy without polluting "greenhouse gas" emissions by combining atoms the way the sun generates energy.

French President Jacques Chirac also said in a statement that he was delighted the French site had been chosen. He is expected to visit Cadarache on Thursday.

The experimental plant is expected to take about 10 years to build. If it is successful, supporters say, it will offer a partial remedy to the world's mounting energy needs. But some environmental groups, including Greenpeace, argue the project is far too costly and would take decades to help pare greenhouse gas emissions.