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Revamped finance plan to lure businesses to Iter

Fusion for Energy (F4E), the agency that manages the EU’s contribution to the Iter fusion facility, has agreed to take on more financial risks and offer businesses better intellectual property access if they participate in the project.

In a statement on 1 October, Barcelona-based F4E said that collaboration between industry, SMEs and research organisations is crucial for Iter’s success, and that without their commitment “commercial fusion will remain a distant dream”. It added that “getting the business sector on board and finding the best possible way to work together is high on the agenda”.

The new policy, which was announced at the 11th International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology, could be seen as a way of speeding up completion of the project by making it easier and more attractive for businesses to take on contracts at the site.

The policy promises changes to IP rules, so that contractors have ownership of all the IP generated. It also offers them exclusive rights to exploit IP in all fields except that of fusion, and non-exclusive rights in the field of fusion.

The financial incentives set out in the policy include dropping the mandatory pre-financing guarantee for contracts of less than €1 million and abandoning the need for performance guarantees for contracts of less than €10m. F4E adds that “financial compensation may be provided for the preparation of bids in the framework of competitive dialogue”.

F4E says it plans to reduce liabilities for businesses and waive liabilities for third party nuclear damages, or damage occurring on the Iter site. It will also bear the cost for insurance premiums related to risk insurance.

Finally, F4E has committed to reducing the administrative burden of the tendering and contract processes. This will involve aligning contractual documents to industry standards, creating harmonised selection criteria and introducing e-procurement systems.

Iter, which is funded by contributions from the EU as well as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, is currently under construction in Cadarache, France.

However, the project has suffered major overruns in costs, with the EU’s contribution now estimated at €7.2 billion, and is around 20 years behind schedule in terms of construction. In April this year, a report commissioned by the European Parliament from the consultancy Ernst & Young said that bad management within the agency had put the project at risk.