Earlier today, we discussed the merger between the nuclear power plant units of General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Hitachi (NYSE:HIT), how this deal appears to be a response to increasing consolidation in the sector (such as last month's takeover of Westinghouse Electric by Toshiba and Shaw Group (NYSE:SGR)), and the prospect of $200 billion in revenues going to this industry as the nations of the world build 100 nuclear plants over the next 10 years.

Make that $212.8 billion.

On Tuesday, the U.S., South Korea, China, India, Japan, Russia, and the European Union signed a multilateral agreement to construct an experimental nuclear fusion power plant -- as opposed to all other nuclear plants, which operate on the principle of splitting the atom, or fission -- in southern France. Although we all know cost overruns are par for the course in government-run projects like this, even the initial estimate of the cost of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) comes in at a hefty $12.8 billion, or more than six times the cost of our run-of-the-mill 1000-megawatt fission reactor.

Capitalism vs. statism
Fascinating, you say. But what does a multilateral government-initiated project have to do with investing? Well, the governments won't be building the contraption on their own. They'll be hiring contractors to do the actual work. And that's where the big boys -- GE/Hitachi, Toshiba/Shaw, and France's Areva SA (now partnering with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) and Alstom SA -- will come in.

Reviewing the details of the agreement, it looks like not all of the $12.8 billion will be spent in the 20-year period I discussed in the other article. Roughly half will be spent building the plant over the next 10 years. The remaining $6 billion or so is expected to be disbursed in dribs and drabs over the ensuing 30 years.

Speaking of 30 years, don't expect fission to go out of style right away. According to Raymond Orbach, undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, no one's expecting to see ITER actually contribute energy to France's electric grid for another three decades. Other commentators have estimated timelines as short as 10 years, and as long as 100. Former Russian Nuclear Power Minister Viktor Mikhailov, for example, has said that we will not see an industrial fusion reactor in operation until the 22nd century.

But that doesn't mean the contractors can't make money off experimenting with the concept in the meantime.

But enough about France. What's going on closer to home? Find out in: Will America Go Nuclear?

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Fool contributor
Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Fool's disclosure policy never says "nucular."