The answer to our planet’s future energy concerns may be being hatched in southern France. At the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, scientists from the US, the EU, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Russia are closing in on the ultimate energy dream: nuclear fusion. Raffi Khatchadourian writes for the New Yorker:
[I]f it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on ITER will be built, too—generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity’s will. Iter, in Latin, means “the way.”
Khatchadourian’s piece is more than just a captivating piece of longform journalism—though it is certainly that. It’s a well-researched rundown of the current state of fusion research, complete with a history of the field to date, and a layman’s explanation of what scientists hope fusion can actually do. Take the time to read the whole thing.It would be hard to overstate the importance of commercially-viable fusion energy. It would help us meet our ever-increasing energy demands without driving up greenhouse gas emissions, and would do so without the risk of Chernobyl-type meltdowns. Across the Atlantic, researchers at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have had their own fusion breakthrough recently, overseeing for the first time a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it consumed. That’s good news for everyone but doom-saying Malthusians, whose Chicken Little warnings of some dystopian future are looking more and more off base.There’s still work to be done, and a lesson here for the world’s green policymakers: government dollars are much better spent on the research and development of technologies like fusion, than on cockamamie subsidy schemes meant to prop up uncompetitive solar and wind farms.