Speaker: Murray Stewart
Iter Canada
Topic: The Canadian Plan to Host Iter - The Olympics of Science and Technology
Location: J.L. Gray Centre
Deep River, Ont.
Date: Thursday, March 29, 2001 (8:00 pm)
Murray Stewart 

Summary published in North Renfrew Times, April 4, 2001:

Canada Bidding to Host Fusion Project

by Jeremy Whitlock

The word "Iter" stands a good chance of becoming a household buzzword in Canada over the next few years.

That's the impression left by Murray Stewart of Iter Canada, at a public seminar presented jointly by the Canadian Nuclear Society and Professional Engineers of Ontario on Thursday, March 29. Dr. Stewart's spoke on "The Canadian Plan to Host Iter - The Olympics of Science and Technology".

"Iter" (Latin for "the way") is the final step in the global development of commercial fusion energy, prior to the first demonstration power plant. It is a massive fusion reactor (called a "tokamak") about 30 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, generating some 800 MW of heat from hydrogen fuel.

The largest superconducting magnets in the world would confine a hydrogen plasma at 100 million degrees Celsius for several seconds at a time.

To-date four tokamaks around the world have barely reached the "break-even" point, where energy input equals energy output. Iter will multiply its energy input by thirty times, and possibly reach the point of ignition (self-supporting fusion).

In doing so, Iter will demonstrate all the essential components and processes found in a commercial fusion electricity generation plant.

Unlike fission power, the technology of fusion is so complex that no single country can afford its development alone. Since 1988 a collaborative effort primarily by the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Japan has put the Iter design together. The U.S. eventually backed out over frustration with the project's progress, but has made signs recently of returning to the fold.

Canada has also been involved from the start, contributing unique expertise such as the handling of tritium fuel.

As of this year, with the Iter design finally complete, Canada will also bid to host the Iter project. The competition is stiff: France and Japan both have eyes on Iter as well.

The benefits are obvious: The 30-year, $12 billion project would focus international fusion research in the host country, create thousands of person-years of employment, and provide enormous spin-off benefits to domestic industry, science, and technology.

Dr. Stewart estimated that the project involves 66 different advanced technologies, in only about a third of which Canada currently has expertise.

Incredibly, all of this would cost the federal government nothing. The bulk of funding comes from Iter's international participants, with Canada's share raised through the private sector and the Ontario government. Spearheading the effort is Iter Canada, a private corporation representing three levels of government, labour groups, universities, and several private sector companies.

What Canada has to offer is a significantly reduced project cost. Building a Canadian Iter would be $10 billion cheaper than in Japan, and $4 billion cheaper than in France, according to Stewart.

One factor driving this cost advantage is a win-win relationship with Ontario Power Generation: OPG will donate 184 hectares of levelled land adjacent to its Darlington nuclear station, plus supply the 20 kg of tritium fuel (a by-product of CANDU reactors) needed over Iter's lifetime, and in return gain Iter as its single biggest customer over 30 years. Over a billion dollars of electricity is expected to be sucked up by the project.

Other Canadian advantages include a reduction in seismic requirements (compared to Japan), a favourable licensing regime, a stable electricity grid that can easily handle the plant's 500 MW of pulsed load, the world's only suitable source of tritium fuel next door, a deep-sea port nearby at the Blue Circle cement plant, and an attractive socio-cultural environment for the hundreds of foreign scientists.

Politically, Canada can play its "neutrality" card: both Europe and Japan may prefer to site Iter in a "safe" third country. Dr. Stewart also hinted that the U.S. stands a better chance of rejoining the project if it is located here.

The in-joke about fusion power is that it always seems to be "50 years away" from implementation. This still appears to be the case, with both a demonstration and full-scale production reactor slated to follow Iter's completion around mid-century. The difference now is that a schedule is on the table, and the final preparation has begun.

Dr. Stewart's upbeat and convincing presentation was followed by many questions from the sizeable audience.

Dr. Stewart stated that although AECL isn't yet a member of Iter Canada, they have had several positive discussions and it is fully expected that AECL would be able to contribute expertise in a number of areas.

Anti-nuclear opposition has been mild, says Dr. Stewart, possibly because the lack of significant taxpayer funding removes a favoured target.

Click here for bio of speaker.

Click here to run Murray Stewart's MS-PowerPoint presentation (warning: 3.8 Mbytes).