Editorial: From science fiction to science fact

A super-hi-tech facility deep in a forest in the South of France just might be able to turn nuclear fusion into a reality

Share

With its tantalising promise of limitless energy, nuclear fusion
has long been the stuff of science fiction. Now, though, a
super-hi-tech facility deep in a forest in the South of France just
might be able to turn it into science fact.

The physics is exhilarating stuff. It takes temperatures of an unimaginable 100 million Celsius or more – 10 times hotter than the core of the Sun – to fuse two hydrogen nuclei. But when they do, it produces a burst of energy and an atom of non-toxic (and extremely useful) helium.

Iter, in Provence, will not be turned on for another decade. Neither is it guaranteed to work. Although fusion has been proved possible in theory, it has never been tried at a scale that could be used as an energy source. Experts are optimistic, however, and it is difficult to overestimate the implications of success. At a stroke, humanity's reliance on dirty, dwindling fossil fuels would be brought to an end. So, too, would our need for conventional, nuclear fission power stations, with their dangerous reactors and toxic waste – a point that is particularly pertinent today, on the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Finally – and most world-changing of all – successful large-scale fusion would, by eliminating energy scarcity, remove one of the sharpest brakes on technological development and dissemination.

In fact, even before our energy problems have been solved, there is cause for celebration here – and that is that Iter is so wonderfully international an endeavour. If tribute is to be paid to one individual, it must be to Evgeny Velikhov, the scientific adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev who was so active in pushing fusion to the forefront of Cold War politics. Under the "Atoms for Peace" initiative promoted by Mr Velikhov, Russia's "tokamak" reactor technology was put on the table in nuclear disarmament talks, and a worldwide scientific collaboration second only to the International Space Station was born.

Now, with some 34 countries contributing brains, money and equipment to the facility in France, the centre in Cadarache is thus not only a possible solution to one of our most pressing practical problems. Nor is it merely a stupendous advance for science. It is also testament to the potential for global teamwork to benefit all of human kind. Inspiring, indeed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Fabric Inspector

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Fabric Inspector is required to join an awar...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities & Project Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities & Project Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Software Testing Manager

£30000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

£17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A young person in the UK is now twice as likely to be poor as a pensioner  

Britain is no country for the young – in jobs, income or housing

Ben Chu
LaGuardia Airport: a relic from a different, gentler age  

New York's LaGuardia Airport to be rebuilt: It could become the best gateway to America

Simon Calder
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash