Engineering Question #3776

Guy, a 39 year old male from Vancouver asks on January 15, 2007,

Why did Canada pull out of the ITER fusion project, and what, if any, research is Canada contributing to the ITER project?

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The answer

Jeremy Whitlock answered on November 30, -1

The cost of a comprehensive fusion research and development program exceeds the capabilities of most countries, including Canada. However, Canada has been able to contribute to the greater international fusion research effort primariliy through its expertise in the area of fusion fuels. This is because fusion fuels are, coincidentally, also associated with Canada's CANDU nuclear fission industry. Deuterium is the main component of heavy water, while tritium is a natural byproduct of fission in a heavy-water reactor like the CANDU design. It is no surprise, then, that this country has much to offer in the area of the production, handling, and characterization of two of fusion's essential fuel ingredients.

The bulk of Canadian fusion fuels research was conducted, until the loss of federal funding in 1997, under the Canadian Fusion Fuels Technology Project (CFFTP). Canada also had two experimental tokamaks, the tokamak de Varennes, operated until recently by the privately-funded Centre Canadien de Fusion Magnetique (CCFM) in Quebec, and the STOR-M tokamak still operated by the University of Saskatchewan.

Additionally, Canada was, until 2004, a partner in the Iter Project ("Iter", pronounced "eater", is Latin for "the way"), the multi-billion-dollar international project to build a prototype fusion reactor. If successful, Iter will hopefully demonstrate all the essential components, systems, and processes used in a full scale demonstration fusion power reactor.

The benefits of locating ITER within Canada (the proposed site was next to the Darlington Nuclear Power complex on the shore of Lake Ontario about an hour east of Toronto, Ontario) included the availability of abundant real estate near a major workforce market, an existing service, electrical, and waste-management infrastructure on an existing licensed nuclear site, and a plentiful supply of fuel on-site - obviating the requirement to transport tritium. These advantages led to significant projected cost savings (measured in billions of dollars) if Iter had been sited in Canada.

However, Canada withdrew its participation in the Iter Project in 2004, after escalation of the other siting bids left Canada in a significantly "non-competitive" position, and unable to improve its offer without sufficient government support. In short, the game got too rich for us and we left the table. Canada's bid had been co-ordinated by Iter Canada, a consortium of private sector, labour, and government organisations.

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