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International Fusion Effort Finally Gets Go-Ahead, and a New Leader

As expected, the governing council of the ITER fusion effort today finally approved the project's so-called Baseline, the document outlining its design, schedule, and costs and confirmed Japanese fusion-scientist Osamu Motojima as the new director-general of the ambitious effort to harness the same energy source that powers stars. Although ITER's future site in Cadarache, France, has been cleared for some time, full-fledged construction has been delayed as fusion scientists wrestled with last-minute design changes and the project's seven international partners—China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States—tried to figure out how to deal with the soaring costs of building the facility. In particular, the European Union, which is responsible for 45% of ITER's costs, struggled to find enough money in its existing budgets as its member countries resisted pleas for additional funds. Despite the approval of today's Baseline, ITER members declined to make public an overall cost estimate for the project and calculating one is difficult as much of the construction will consist of in-kind contributions from various countries; some estimates, however, have suggested ITER will cost over €16 billion by the time it is built and achieves "first plasma," which is now scheduled for November 2019.