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Iran seeks to join nuclear fusion project.

Iran is hoping to join an international project in southern France that is trying to generate electricity by nuclear fusion, a clean, safe and virtually limitless form of nuclear power.

Iran's membership was foreseen by its nuclear agreement with the Big Six and does not represent any part of a nuclear weapons program. But some in Iran might wonder why Iran wants to advance a project that would sharply reduce the value of the country's immense oil and gas reserves.

Laban Coblentz, spokesman for the ITER project, said a high-level Iranian delegation led by nuclear chief Ali-Akbar Salehi and Vice President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari visited the town of St. Paul Lez Durance June 30-July 1, where the fusion device is being built.

Salehi was quoted by the Mehr news agency as telling reporters last Wednesday that during the visit "we discussed possibilities of Iran's joining ITER, and the other members welcomed a prospective Iran membership."

Nuclear fusion, which joins atoms together, is the reverse of nuclear fission, which splits atoms. Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun and stars, and "harnessing fusion's power is the goal of ITER," according to its website. The project "has been designed as the key experimental step between today's fusion research machines and tomorrow's fusion power plants."

Coblentz told The Associated Press the Big Six who signed the nuclear deal with Iran encouraged Tehran's participation in ITER.

An annex to the nuclear agreement says Iran can "explore cooperation" on an Iranian contribution to the ITER project Coblentz said the Iranians are "very eager to get moving" and join the 35 countries collaborating on building the world's largest experimental fusion machine, called a tokomak.

Iran has not made a formal application and new members must be approved unanimously by the ITER council, which includes the Big Six, plus India, South Korea and Japan, who were not part of the Iran nuclear deal.

"But the ITER Charter makes it clear that ITER is a project open to any country that is prepared to have meaningful participation," both technological and financial, Coblentz said. He did not say how much Iran would be expected to invest in the project. Iran's nuclear agency announced in July 2010 that it had begun studies to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor. Coblentz said Iran now has three small tokamak machines and is building a fourth.

It also has about a hundred plasma physicists and about 150 scientists with doctorates in fields related to nuclear fusion "so they clearly have a serious academic program," he said.

The ITER project's goal is to build the world's largest tokamak, producing 500 megawatts of fusion power--far more than a European tokamak that holds the current record of 16 megawatts of fusion power.

Coblentz said the best technically achievable schedule for making the ITER tokamak fully functional is 2025.

How long it would then take build a commercial fusion power plant will depend on "the level to of political will and the sense of urgency," he said.


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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jul 15, 2016
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