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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

£30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts

Björt Ólafsdóttir
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor