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    An international agreement to build the world's first fusion power reactor, known by the acronym ITER, has been signed in Paris.

    (recasts, adds paragraphs 5-15)

    PARIS, November 21 (RIA Novosti) - An international agreement to build the world's first fusion power reactor, known by the acronym ITER, has been signed in Paris.

    Russia, the United States, Japan, the European Union, China, South Korea and India signed the document in Paris Tuesday.

    The $12.1 billion project will be launched in January 2007 and is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological potential of nuclear fusion amid concerns over growing energy consumption and the impact of conventional fossil fuels on the environment.

    The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is expected to produce clean and safe energy by 2016 for 20 years in Caradache, in the south of France.

    But the leader of the Russian Green Party said he doubts the practical expediency of building an ITER reactor.

    "I, as well as all independent experts, have serious doubts that this project will have any practical value. There will be none in the next 10-20 years, although, needless to say, it does have some scientific value," Alexei Yablokov said.

    He said talk about the project has been going on for about 30 years now, but things have not moved much beyond that.

    He criticized the participants in the project for what he described as incorrect prioritization in developing energy resources.

    "The money should go instead into providing environmentally clean sources of energy," he said, adding it would be better to spend the funds (about $10 billion) to develop renewable sources of energy.

    He also queried the safety of the construction project.

    "When I ask physicists whether they can provide at least a 90% guarantee that they can build an environmentally clean reactor, they scratch their heads and say 60% is the best they can do," he said, adding the technology will never be entirely safe.

    But former Nuclear Power Minister Viktor Mikhailov said nuclear and especially thermonuclear energy is safer and more environmentally friendly than fossil energy sources, although he said an industrial fusion power reactor will not be built until the 22nd century.

    "I still believe that thermonuclear energy should be developed and promoted. At the same time I am convinced that this is technology of the 22nd century," he said.

    He also said Russia has made a very substantial contribution to the ITER project.

    "Russia's lead in this realm is not contested by anyone in the world, and I believe that the thermonuclear reactor is a very important step in developing mankind's energy strategy," he said.

    The idea of ITER began when the Soviet Union suggested that the four most advanced nuclear nations - the U.S.S.R., the U.S., Europe and Japan - create a "tokamak" reactor, a doughnut-shaped chamber to confine in a magnetic field incandescent plasma that no material can withstand. Thermonuclear fusion of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium then proceeds in the plasma.

    In mid-June, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded three researchers the prestigious Global Energy prize for their work on an experimental nuclear fusion reactor.

    Japan's Masaji Yoshikawa, France's Robert Aimar and Russian Academician Yevgeny Velikhov won the prize for developing the scientific and technical foundations for the ITER project.

    Established in 2002 on Russia's initiative, the international prize has been granted for outstanding theoretical, experimental and applied research, development, inventions and discoveries in the field of energy development and power generation.

    In 2006, the prize was worth $1.1 million and was shared among the scientists.

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