Do We Need ITER, the $45-Billion Fusion Experiment?


We got a book that certainly will help to answer this question. “The Giant Fusion Reactor” (Springer 2020) is the first book published on the ongoing fusion energy megaprojectone of the most fascinating endeavours of our time

We have many reasons to announce this book. The author of “The Giant Fusion Reactor” is a former communications director at ITER Michel Claessens. Thanks to his activity, EUSJA could send its members to Cadarache twice. Science journalists attended the venue of ITER project and got the information first hand. There were a lot of articles after these study trips. And now the public has got a book that provides for the first time an insider’s view into the world’s largest fusion reactor, which is currently under construction in southern France. The book offers a behind-the-scenes look at this controversial project, and examines the history, technology, economics and politics of this global major endeavour.

“A unique look behind the scenes with insider information, scientifically and historically one can’t read anywhere else. The numerous citations of people and the personal stories bring the project closer to the reader. Certainly an outstanding example of good science communication”, – says Bettina Roselt, journalist, Fusion in Europe magazine. “In such uncertain times, it is important for people to have a reminder of what we can achieve if we work together and that, with enough determination, we can solve the challenges we face. That is why this book is so important”, comments Daniel Clery, journalist from Science Magazine. but it is better to turn to Michel himself Here are some interesting passages from the book.

            In Short. In Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, a small village in southern France, 35 countries 1 are building the world’s largest fusion reactor. The first experiments are now scheduled for 2025, and full nuclear operations in 2035. The reactor will then heat up minute amounts of hydrogen isotopes (only 2 grams) at 150 million degrees, which will trigger their nuclei to fuse, like in thesun and the stars. This should generate a tremendous thermal power of 500 MW. Fusion might become a new source of energy on Earth -safe, clean and using abundant fuel.

            Diplomacy. ITER is a “diplomatic technology”: the idea was put forward by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 as a way out to the Cold War. The research community seized the opportunity and raised the profile of fusion, presenting it as a major scientific and technology challenge. Then the fusion community succeeded to “market” tokamak technology as the necessary way to a new energy source on Earth. ITER and fusion energy may well change the course of civilization. However, the way is still long and uncertain as the project will fail to answer some key questions.

            Results. ITER will confirm that we can master fusion energy on Earth. In addition, ITER will test several technologies to breed tritium inside a tokamak – in my view the most valuable contribution of ITER. It will look like thin results for the public but fusion is the only disruptivetechnology that we have in stock. Also, ITER will show that 35 countries can work together and take up a global challenge -hence it is a benchmark for international cooperation.

            Cost. This is the billion-dollar question: is the experiment worth the budget? According to the best estimates detailed in my book, the “value” of ITER in Europe will be EUR41 billion ($45billion). ITER will be the most expensive scientific facility on Earth.

            What is next? ITER may lead to the commercial development of fusion energy – but not before 2050. However, there are about 20 private companies developing similar or competitive technologies. Experts in the field hope that any fusion technology would emerge quickly to meet the pressing needs of mankind and reduce the threats of irreversible climate change.

More information about the book:

https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030275808#aboutBook

 Contact: michel_claessens@yahoo.fr, @M_Claessens, +32-475-912526

Photo: www.iter.org

About Viola Egikova

Viola Egikova - science journalist based in Moscow, president of Intellect, former Vice-President of the European Union of Science Journalists' Associations, Programme Coordinator of All Russia Science Festival