U.K. Wins ‘Mega Contract’ to Manage EU’s Biggest Science Project

  • Consortium led by Amec Foster Wheeler wins $193 Million Deal
  • ITER fusion reactor in France to begin testing in 2025

A group of companies led by Britain’s Amec Foster Wheeler Plc won a 174 million-euro ($193 million) contract to manage construction of the biggest science experiment in the European Union -- days after the U.K. voted to exit the bloc.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, awarded the 10-year “mega contract” to the Momentum joint venture, which also includes France’s Assystem and South Korea’s Kepco Engineering & Construction Co., according to a statement. The fusion reactor, expected to cost at least $20 billion, is due to start testing in 2025.

“Britain and the EU have always been strong and active in ITER,” Steve Brauner, a spokesman for Amec Foster Wheeler, said by phone from Paris, where he was preparing to announce the deal. “There’s no reason for Brexit to affect that.”

While policy makers and businesses grapple with the outcome of Thursday’s vote in the U.K. to leave the EU, scientists and researchers have moved to ensure the results won’t disrupt long-term cooperation. Researchers at U.K. universities have received more grants than any other EU country since 2007, with more than 7 billion euros awarded, according to the scientific journal Nature.

The EU is ITER’s biggest budgetary contributor, covering about 40 percent of the over-budget reactor’s construction and operating costs through the European Atomic Energy Community. As part of its funding for ITER, the European Commission committed to give the U.K.’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy 283 million euros from 2014 to 2018. 

“Our British member is a strong contributor to the European fusion program,” the EU said in a statement. “We will be working hard to continue the collaboration after 2018.”

ITER has become the make-or-break demonstration project that will help determine whether nuclear fusion has a future as a source of energy and electricity. Unlike traditional nuclear plants, where atoms are broken apart, fusion makes energy by smashing atoms together at high speeds so they merge into plasma that burns hotter than the sun.

“Britain has always been a major player in fusion and will continue to be,” Brauner said.

Construction of the ITER reactor began in 2013 in Cadarache, France, after decades of negotiation and planning among the consortium’s members. They are the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S.

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