There have been some pretty radioactive climate change ideas making the rounds at the COP21 talks in Paris. Team Hansen’s wildly unrealistic notion of switching on 61 new nuclear reactors a year was taking the cake until an even fruitier one reared its familiar head: the nuclear chimera known as ITER.
ITER was originally called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, with ‘experimental’ being the operative word in that lofty title. Which is perhaps why today they refer to it only by acronym (apparently the word ‘thermonuclear’ also had some rather explosive connotations.) The official website equates ITER with its coincidental Latin meaning, ‘The Way’.
ITER was initiated in 1985 by then presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. The multi-nation project included not only the United States and the already crumbling Soviet Union, but the European Union and Japan. Today there are 35 countries in the partnership.
If it ever gets completed and actually works, ITER will be a fusion reactor known as a Tokomak. Fusion is the physicists’ wet dream, and they’ve been hallucinating about ITER for precisely three decades and Tokomaks and fusion itself for even longer.
ITER itself isn’t even the final step to electricity-producing fusion power plants. Its purpose is in “preparing the way for the fusion power plants of tomorrow.” A tomorrow that is heralded as ten years away, decade after decade.
Wrestling with plasma
Indeed, ITER has been such a perpetually longstanding aspiration that I can delve for information into my father Mike Pentz’s 1994 memoirs without risk of being much out of date. A physicist and founder of Scientists Against Nuclear Arms, here’s how he assessed the challenge of fusion, something he began wrestling with back in 1948.
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