Galileo 2: UK now frozen out of European nuclear program – but China and Russia welcomed

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The two nations, currently at loggerheads with NATO and the West, are helping spearhead moves to build a nuclear fusion reactor in the south of France. The potentially world-changing reactor is a technological milestone and offer unlimited, clean nuclear power essentially from seawater. China and Russia will share development of the so-called tokamak – which has been called “the most complicated machine ever built” – while Britain has been excluded from the group because she left the EU.

Today Tory MP Tobias Ellwood demanded to know why Britain is currently excluded from the pioneering scheme and said the situation has worrying parallels with the row over the Galileo satellite constellation, which saw Britain frozen out of the pan-European project despite investing upwards of a £1billion and developing much of the technology.

The €20billion ITER tokamak development, which got underway in Provence this week, will generate temperatures similar to those of the Sun in what is effectively a massive experiment paving the way for the commercial production of fusion-based electricity.

The project involves a partnership between the EU, China, Russia, the United States, India, Japan and South Korea – but not Britain, whose involvement depends on the ongoing trade negotiations with the EU.

Mr Ellwood, Bournemouth East MP and a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, spoke out at a time of raised tensions between China and the West as a result of Beijing’s imposition of a controversial new security law in Hong Kong, and perceived belligerence with respect to the disputed South China Sea.

I certainly have concerns about the double-standards of Britain in a post-Brexit environment being excluded when China is in the room

Tobias Ellwood

He told Express.co.uk: “I certainly have concerns about the double-standards of Britain in a post-Brexit environment being excluded when China is in the room. “That makes no sense whatsoever.

“We are a trusted and valued figure and the economics and security of Europe is something where it should make no difference if you have EU membership or not.

“It is a reflection of the petty politics of the EU getting in the way of common sense.

“It has echoes of the Galileo argument there too, the satellite project, when we got booted out of that.”

Assembly of the tokomak, which is scheduled to take five years, got underway on Tuesday, with French President Emmanuel Macron delivering a special address via video link.

He said: “What brings together people and nations is stronger than what pulls them apart.

“ITER belongs to the spirit of discovery, of ambition. At its core is the conviction that science can truly make tomorrow better than today.”

Speaking remotely from China, Luo Delong, the Head of the ITER Council, praised “the entire ITER community – every Member, every Domestic Agency, every supplier company and contractor, and every staff member – for their dedication, perseverance, commitment, and hard work.”

He added: “If we are able to continue in this way I have great confidence that we will succeed.”

The EU, China, Russia, the United States, India, Japan and South Korea were all represented at the socially distanced ceremony – but not the UK.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told Express.co.uk British participation in ITER was not yet assured.

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Speaking remotely from China, Luo Delong, the Head of the ITER Council, praised “the entire ITER community – every Member, every Domestic Agency, every supplier company and contractor, and every staff member – for their dedication, perseverance, commitment, and hard work.”

He added: “If we are able to continue in this way I have great confidence that we will succeed.”

The EU, China, Russia, the United States, India, Japan and South Korea were all represented at the socially distanced ceremony – but not the UK.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told Express.co.uk British participation in ITER was not yet assured.

“Although we will continue energetically to seek an agreement with the EU, we must face the possibility that one will not be reached, and we must therefore continue preparing for all possible scenarios for the end of the transition period at the end of this year.

ITER’s website was amended on January 31 with a statement which reads: “The United Kingdom has formally withdrawn from the European Union and Euratom but has expressed strong interest in continuing to participate in the ITER Project.

“The terms of this new relationship will be negotiated during the transition period.

“Until a new arrangement is reached, the ITER Council has agreed that existing contracts, both with personnel and suppliers, will be honoured.”

ITER spokesman Laban Coblentz told Express.co.uk: “The UK remains a part of ITER in terms of our day-to-day work. As with many other aspects of Brexit, the question is how to ensure an ongoing relationship.

“We have had repeated assurances by UK government representatives that the UK wants to remain a part. The question is how that will be done.

“Europe is one of seven Members of the ITER project. Europe holds its Membership through EURATOM, which includes all members of the EU as well as Switzerland. One way for the UK to remain part of ITER would be to negotiate a membership in EURATOM, as Switzerland has done. That may be the simplest approach; but it is for the UK and Europe to decide.

“Meanwhile, since Brexit, little has changed regarding the UK involvement in ITER in practical terms. Our “Construction-Management-as-Agent,” the consortium that supports the ITER Organisation in managing construction and assembly on the worksite, is Momentum; and the largest member of Momentum is Wood (formerly Amec Foster Wheeler) a British firm.

“We have plenty of other, smaller supplier companies supporting ITER from the UK. We also have a fair number of UK scientists, engineers, and support staff working at ITER. The intention of the ITER Council, our governing body, is to continue to honour these contracts.

“The ITER Organisation puts a high value on the contributions of the UK to our project, which are rooted in decades of UK leadership in fusion research and development.

“Lastly, we at ITER continue to have a strong research connection with our colleagues at the Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham, which also maintains an international staff and a strong relationship with Europe.”

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