Saturday science subject: ITER agreement signed

— 9:31 PM on November 25, 2006

A consortium of nations including China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States has signed an agreement that officially authorizes the construction of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor. The project will go ahead in Cadarache, France, where ITER expects to start clearing land to make way for construction in the spring of 2007. According to the BBC, the facility will begin to take shape in 2009, and it could begin to output electricity to the grid within 30 years. Construction will cost €5 billion ($6.54 billion), half of which will be shouldered by the European Union.

Even though critics argue that the money could be better spent on proven energy sources, the project could eventually guarantee virtually limitless energy with much greater yields than solar or wind power. Fusion power doesn't share the downsides of fission power, either, as the amount of radioactive waste produced is significantly smaller and has a short half-life (just 12.5 years, compared to around 24,000 years for plutonium-239.) That said, ITER's Jerome Pamela told the BBC that it may take up to a century for fusion power to become the dominant source of electricity on Earth.

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