WASHINGTON, May 24 /PRNewswire/ -- The European Union, the United States, and five other nations signed an agreement today to build the first nuclear- fusion reactor. The aim of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER, is to provide a new, safe energy source that will cut oil demand and curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Costing an estimated 4.57 billion Euros ($5.9 billion), the project will be the world's biggest scientific collaboration of its kind and represent over half the world's population. "This is a truly crucial moment, for the ITER project and for global scientific co-operation in general," said European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, who hosted the meeting in Brussels. "Together we are forging a new model for large-scale global scientific and technical co- operation. We are sending an important message about seeing the value in working together to address our common challenges." Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and India are also part of the agreement which now gives the go-ahead for practical work on the project to start. The ITER project will reproduce the physical reaction -- fusion -- that occurs in the sun and stars. Fusion has several attractions as a large-scale energy source: its basic fuels are abundant and available everywhere; no greenhouse gas emissions; no transportation of radio-active materials; no possibility of "meltdown" or "runaway reactions"; no long-lasting radioactive waste to be passed on to future generations. Since the decision last June to locate the project at Cadarache in southern France, the 7 ITER Parties have been working together in a spirit of mutual confidence and co-operation, and have made remarkable progress towards the common objective of making ITER a reality as the next step in the path to developing fusion as an attractive, long-term option for supplying the energy needs of the world. The initialing of the agreements brings to an end a long and complex negotiation process. Now each partner will confirm the adoption of the agreement according to their national laws and practice. [In the EU, this means that the Council of Ministers will be asked to adopt a decision endorsing the agreement. The EU is represented by the EURATOM Community, within which Switzerland has all the same rights and obligations as EU Member States] It is hoped that all parties will have completed the process by the end of 2006, which, in tandem with the completion of the process of gaining all necessary construction permits at the site, will mean actual construction can start in 2007. DATASOURCE: Delegation of the European Commission to the U.S. CONTACT: Anthony Gooch, +1-202-862-9523, or Kasper Zeuthen, +1-202-862-9530, both of European Union Web site: http://www.eurunion.org/