No Solution Yet to ITER's Budget Crunch

With only a few weeks to go before an important meeting of ITER's governing council, European nations failed at a meeting yesterday to agree on a way to guarantee funding for the ambitious fusion reactor project. The European Union's Competitiveness Council, attended by research ministers from the 27 member countries, met to discuss a document prepared by E.U. officials that says Europe's share of the ITER project will likely cost €7.2 billion, 2.7 times the original estimate. (The E.U. is scheduled to cover 45% of the project's total cost, with the other six partners—China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States—contributing about 9% each.) Crucially, the document says that the E.U. needs €1.4 billion before the end of 2013. Officials suggest that to ensure stable funding for the project, member states should make additional contributions and guarantee future cost increases.

Germany, for one, is not willing to write a blank check for the project and will only commit to covering the 2013 shortfall. E.U. research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn urged ministers to come up with a formula before the ITER Council meeting in mid-June, but Spain's research minister, Cristina Garmendia, who chaired the meeting, admitted that an agreement was not reached. An E.U. research spokesperson said that the Spanish government, which currently holds the E.U. presidency, is going to organize a task force of officials from member states and the European Union to work out a solution.