2020-02-18
Review of the book: ITER - The Giant Fusion Reactor
by Michel Claessens

 
It´s a thrilling, informative and important book. A splendid story-telling about fusion science, energy and sustainability at the arena of global politics and science.

I invite every student in technology, environmental science, political science and philosophy and of cause every politician to read the book and reflect. What do you think? Can hydrogen fusion, naturally occurring in the sun, be replicated on earth? Is it entirely possible that fusion energy will change the course of civilization?

I think that everyone who reads the book realize how such an extremely complex and long-lived project is now halfway constructed, and how determined the scientist and politicians behind the fusion story are and have been. A story started by Soviet and Western scientists discussing their fusion ideas in Harwell 1956, followed by President Ronald Reagan, USA and Secretary General of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev setting up a joint program for fusion energy in1985. Afterwards you embrace the goodhearted policy, (think you) understand the science behind and how the scientists theories and arguments differs. That’s really good pedagogics!

The headlines and contents are highlighted by relevant critical questions which pull your attention to continue reading. The disposition and the easy readable text gives you a glimpse of each step for- and backward, both in science, policies and funding. The author highlights the importance of the new project- and construction-oriented ITER Director General Bernard Bigot who, when appointed in 2015, took a lot of good and critical decisions i.e. reserve fund, risk management and human resource policies. His new management got the whole ITER ship on its right keel again. Thanks to him!

The chapters about management, safe and clean environment, commercial potential and communication are the most important as they talk, question and address young people for their opinions.

How a future fusion power plant will work is described in just 9 lines on page 62-63! That gives us, without a technical or scientific degree motivation to continue the reading. We recognize words like Tower of Babel, High-Tech Meccano, Holy Grail and Biggest Puzzle combined with references to classics like Galbraith. That gives us self-confidence. But it´s not necessary any longer to avoid the nuclear word. The “radioactive” generations are all soon retired. Today Radio Active is a commercial radio station in Sweden.

Technology diplomacy is really a good expression of how ITER is created. A patient and trustful 35 years of cooperation have just passed halftime in constructing the ITER facility. Another 15 years or more will follow. In the meantime 7 members representing 35 countries and 4000 employees are building global bridges over different policies, cultures, languages, religions and values. That’s in my opinion the greatest ability of ITER worth to be inherit.

Will fusion become commercial? Does it means that the “gain factor” has to be a multiple of 10 (10-fold return of energy), or is it enough with 3? Well, there are already high-profile investors putting billions in the embryonic market of fusion reactors. Among them Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and 13 companies are at stake. The new born European company Renaissance fusion (www.stellarator.energy) aims to put fusion electricity in the grid by 2032. What a trademark! Will the billionaires succeed? High risk in long-term investment? They have made it before.

The book gives me an association to the famous words of President J.F. Kennedy: We are going to the moon not because it´s easy, but because it’s hard. I also associates to the Nobel Prize´s idea “for the greatest benefit of all mankind”. It’s a duty for us elder to communicate this great ongoing science story and inject hope for young people. If we want a more sustainable future it´s time to start LISTEN TO THE SCIENCE and discuss how we going to do. Take part of ITER - Read this important book!

I´m proud to notice two Swedes who in an early stage contributed to ITER:
  • IAEA´s former Director General Sigvard Eklund (1911-2000). He was one of the few who was convinced that fusions activities needed to be coordinated at the global level.
  • Swedish minister of education and research 1998-2004 Thomas Östros. At the Council of EU ministers in 2000 there was a technical proposal enabling the EU to take part in the ITER negotiations. Only the Swedish Minister encouraged at that time the EU to commit to ITER.