China likely to join deal on nuclear fusion effort

Multinational pact described as first step in harnessing an 'artificial sun'

China is expected to sign a multinational treaty next month on developing what is hoped will be a highly efficient form of nuclear energy, accelerating its search for alternative sources to meet its voracious demand for energy.

Amid concerns over fuel supplies, China passed its 2005-2020 nuclear development programme in March, making nuclear technology an important part of its energy strategy.

The treaty, to be signed by China, the European Union, South Korea, Russia, Japan, India and the US, will kick off a 10-year, Euro10 billion (HK$97.4 billion) programme to build an International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to test the feasibility of using deuterium - or heavy hydrogen - from seawater to create nuclear fusion, which is how the Sun produces energy.

ITER director-general Kaname Ikeda said the treaty was the first step to relying on an 'artificial sun' to solve the energy crisis, according to Xinhua. The reactor will be built in France, and China will soon send around 30 scientists and researchers to help with construction, scientists said yesterday at the 21st International Fusion Energy Conference in Chengdu , Sichuan province .

Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua said China would support research on its self-developed superconducting equipment, an embryonic form of lab-use reactor that began trial operation at the end of last month, to make preparations for ITER over the next decade.


The mainland announced last month it had successfully tested a superconducting thermonuclear fusion device, a leading candidate to produce fusion energy.

China has been researching nuclear fusion for 40 years. Theoretically, under nuclear fusion, the dueterium in a litre of seawater is able to release the energy equivalent to the burning of 300 litres of petrol.

Nuclear fusion is different from nuclear fission, the reaction used in most nuclear power stations. Nuclear fission creates safety problems and its waste is almost impossible to treat.

Calling fusion a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative than fission, the deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Werner Burkart, said: 'Developing nuclear fusion energy is the most difficult technological challenge to human beings, so it needs joint efforts.'


While pro- and anti-nuclear camps around the world have argued about whether nuclear power is the best energy choice compared with renewable sources, China has pushed ahead with nuclear power stations to meet the electricity demands of its booming economy.

The mainland has nine reactors, two are being built and about 28 others are on drawing boards or have been proposed.