ITER: the Failed “Way”

The idea of a common, peaceful Europe without borders is undoubtedly inspiring and its significance undeniable. The reality and daily implementation of this idea, however, often seams to be a chronic waste of EU taxpayers’ money. Since the sixties, fusion energy research has failed to achieve the promised result, namely to provide a safe, affordable, inexhaustible and CO2-free source of energy. In spite of this, European decision-makers are still “investing” money in International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER, meaning “way” in Latin), a project that has proved to be a bottomless pit.

Instead of the initially planned 2.7 billion euro, the current estimates of the EU’s contribution to ITER amount to 6.6 billion euro. Currently, there is an estimated gap of additional 1.4 billion euro to cover the extra costs in 2012-2013, which will be financed at the expense of EU investments in other policy areas, including non-nuclear research, education programmes, transport and energy networks.

In a press release on 5 May 2010, the Commission ascribes the understatements to factors such as the cost of materials and labour. Nobody excludes the possibility of changes in the initial financial plan of a project. However, these changes should not be the triple amount of the initially agreed upon expenses, especially if the difference consists of billions of euro and nobody knows how many more billions the project will eventually cost.

Another argument that the Commission poses to justify the enormous difference in the budgets is that “the estimates were drawn and agreed upon not only by the Commission and all the EU member states, but also by the other six international partners”. What the Commission fails to stress in this context, however, is the fact that the EU agreed to cover 45 percent of the expenses of the construction phase – the most costly and obviously unpredictable part of the whole project – whereas each of the other partners contributes approximately nine percent.

The latest report of the Court of Auditors on the annual accounts of the Joint Undertaking for ITER (financial year 2008) reveals poor evaluation of the results with respect to the objectives and set timetable, as well as an absence of an assessment of the efficiency of the internal control as required by the Financial Regulation.

Bearing all this in mind, it is not surprising that the latest decision of the Council for additional payments could only be made by neglecting democratic principles and excluding the public. Because of the large amount of media attention, the issue was passed from the competence of the initially responsible Competitiveness Council to the Agriculture Council. The latter adopted the conclusions on the future financing of ITER as an “A-item”, without debate.

Taking into account the serious concerns of environmental NGOs like Greenpeace and the fact that the Commission did not rule out future increases in the budget of ITER, the only way to stop further wasting of EU taxpayer’s money is to withdraw from the project and to invest these resources into exploring renewable energy sources. This would show a strong will to tackle challenges and would avoid a deepening disinterest in the EU and loss of credibility in the eyes of citizens.

The Parliament Magazine: ITER: the Failed “Way”, December 13th, 2010, p. 67.