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Europe Boosted By Reactor, Galileo

Illustration of ITER. Advocates argue nuclear fusion is a cleaner form of energy production than either nuclear fission or fossil fuels. They hope the upcoming plant will be able to convert sea water into energy, by emulating the power of the sun.
by Elizabeth Bryant
Paris (UPI) Jun 28, 2005
Two pieces of good news arrived Tuesday to shore up Europe's sagging self-esteem, after the twin disasters of the EU constitution and June's budget summit in Brussels.

The first came out of ministerial meeting in Moscow, with a morning announcement the European Union had trumped Japan in its bid to build an experimental nuclear reactor in southern France.

The French telecommunications company Alcatel and the European Aeronautic Defense & Space also won initial approval to bid for a global satellite navigation system, capable of rivaling the U.S.'s Global Positioning System.

"It's a great day," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of both pieces of news, during a meeting with foreign correspondents in Paris.

The EU's winning reactor bid came as no surprise, since Japan signaled last week it would withdraw its proposal to host the plant.

France gained concessions from the EU over financing of the multibillion dollar project, but - if the experiment succeeds - the Europeans stand to gain much more.

The EU will bankroll 40 percent of the estimated $12-billion price-tag to build the reactor over 30 years. In addition to paying its EU share, France will pick up another 10 percent of the costs for hosting the plant in Cadarache, near the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

The other five countries involved in the project - Russia, Japan, South Korea, China and the United States - will pay for the rest.

"It's important," said Douste-Blazy, noting the heat wave blanketing Europe and the global warming focus of next week's Group of Eight summit in Scotland.

While France and the EU stand to benefit from the project, "the important subject is that European and the world have new energies," the foreign minister said.

Advocates argue nuclear fusion is a cleaner form of energy production than either nuclear fission or fossil fuels. They hope the upcoming plant will be able to convert sea water into energy, by emulating the power of the sun.

Apart from clean energy, Europe stands to gain a lot if the nuclear reactor proves successful.

Firstly through jobs. Some 8,000 construction workers are needed just to build the plant - estimated to translate into a $2.4 billion windfall for the economy of the southern French region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur. Not bad for France, where unemployment now tops 10 percent.

The reactor will also employ dozens of researchers, technicians and administrators. Under a May agreement in Geneva, the project partners decided Japan would get roughly 20 percent of the posts, according to Le Monde newspaper. And the EU agreed to back a Japanese candidate to head the reactor.

But that still leaves another 80 percent of the slots to be filled, many of them presumably by European workers.

Jobs are also one concrete fallout of another European dream. Dubbed Galileo, the EU project aims to build a local equivalent and rival to America's GPS.

The green light delivered Monday for Alcatel and EADS to go forward with their bid is not a final confirmation. Berlin, the largest EU contributor to the project's budget, wants German companies to get a major share of the development contracts.

Then again, there are many jobs to be had. Up to 150,000, according to news reports, to build and deploy a constellation of 30 satellites, aimed to be up and running in 10 years.

To their supporters, both the nuclear reactor and the Galileo project embody the stunning potential of a unified Europe - a vision seriously shaken by the May defeats of EU constitution in France and in the Netherlands, and with the recent collapse of EU budget negotiations in Brussels.

And both projects add to the call by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for Europe to be at the cutting edge of research and development.

"This program is emblematic of what the Commission and Union can do in terms of industrial policy," said Francois Lamoureux, the European Commission's head of energy and transport.

Still both projects are both expensive and fraught with uncertainty.

Environmental groups, in particular, criticize the experimental reactor as a waste of money - and a project that fails to address pressing global warming concerns.

Greenpeace, for example, noted that while the world must reduce greenhouse gasses by 2050, the nuclear reactor is unlikely to make a dent on the gasses before the second half of the century. That is, if it even succeeds in meeting high European and international expectations.

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Eurely And iNavSat Applaud Today's GJU Decision For The Galileo Concession
Brussels, Belgium (SPX) Jun 28, 2005
The founding members of the Eurely and iNavSat consortia applaud the green light received from Galileo Joint Undertaking (GJU) to pursue their joint approach for the Galileo Concession.

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