India and six other members of a global consortium signed a historic agreement in Paris on Tuesday seeking to establish an experimental fusion reactor that will emulate the power of the sun.
India, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the US and the European Union signed the agreement of the International Fusion Energy Organisation to build the $12.8 billion- reactor after a decade of negotiations, officials of the Department of Atomic Energy said.
Atomic Energy Commssion Chairman Anil Kakodkar headed the Indian delegation to the ceremony held at Elysee Palace in Paris and hosted by French President Jacques Chirac and European Union President M Jose Manuel Durao Barroso.
Originally called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor but now known by its initials ITER (or 'the way' in Latin), the facility will be built at Cadarache in southern France over a decade from 2008.
The project will research a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves by testing nuclear fusion. Instead of splitting the atom -- the principle behind existing nuclear plants -- it seeks to harness nuclear fusion, which is the power of the sun achieved by fusing atomic nuclei.
Speaking on the occasion, Kakodkar expressed happiness that all issues related to cooperation had been resolved and key officials like the director general and principal deputy director-general had joined the ITER team in Cadarache.
"The next step will be to strengthen the technical team at Cadarache with an appropriate balance of experienced and young engineers and scientists and to provide them an environment, which rapidly promotes the task of implementing the project," he said.
If the project is successful, a prototype commercial reactor will be built. If that works, fusion technology will be used in new reactors across the world.
"We must do this, ensuring that the critical human resource from the original ITER teams is fully utilised and that long-term and viable management tools for ITER are immediately put into place," Kakodkar said.
Referring to a 'sloka' from the Rig Veda, he said: "Our ancestors intuitively grasped the importance of the sun as the ultimate provider and sustainer of life on earth. What they perhaps did not see is that one day their progeny would imitate the sun right here on earth to cater to vastly increased energy needs."
"India is proud to be a partner in this enterprise of getting the man-made star, ITER, off the ground with our shoulders to the wheel -- like one of the seven mythical steeds pulling on the carriage of Lord Surya, the sun god," he said.
"Today, the world's common goal is the realisation of a clean source of energy, and fusion has the potential to provide abundant and clean energy based on sources available everywhere without significant ecological issues associated with the mining of earth's resources," Kakodkar said.
Speaking about India's energy needs, he said in spite of being one of the top electricity producing countries, it has very low per capita electricity consumption and the objective of electrifying all villages is yet to be realised.
"Studies indicate that even to reach a modest target of per capita generation of about 5000 kWh, total annual electricity generation has to be about 11 to 12 times the generation at present," Kakodkar said.
"We have been pursuing a fusion science and technology programme at our Institute of Plasma Research at Gandhinagar in Gujarat and our scientists have designed and fabricated two tokamak devices -- Aditya and the steady state superconducting tokamak SST 1."
Many technologies of relevance to fusion research were developed by Indian scientists and engineers in collaboration with private industries.
"We bring to the table a combination of strong commitment from the government and special scientific and technological skills, which are of relevance to ITER and to fusion research," Kakodkar said.