IAEA talks aimed at finally determining a nuclear fusion site have again failed to choose between France and Japan, causing France to step up its efforts to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) on its own account at its Cadarache site.

After the ITER countries met in Vienna in early November, French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin offered to double his country’s €457 million contribution to the €4.57 billion project if it is built at Cadarache. Support from the EU and Russia could draw in China’s backing, and the EU and France would formally leave open the option for the US, Japan and South Korea to participate. President Chirac also highlighted France’s determination to host ITER during a recent visit to China, although publicly all parties have emphasised their wish for a concensus The US, however, favours Japan’s candidacy.

Russia has already made it known that it believes Europe could start constructing the reactor without the approval of Japan, the US and South Korea. Evgeni Velikhov, president of the prestigious Kurchatov Institute in Moscow and head of Russsia’s ITER programme, said before the Vienna meeting that the project could only proceed after a compromise between France and Japan, but that “if the present discord persisted, France might go ahead and use its own resources to build the reactor in Cadarache, a decision that would be supported by the EU, Russia and China”.

A statement after the Vienna meeting said that negotiations between Japan and France were ocurring around “intensive discussions on the balance of roles and responsibilites between host and non-host in the joint realisation of ITER”.