The international environmental organization Greenpeace is against ITER, the recently agreed-upon nuclear fusion reactor that will reside in France. (See the recent Technologyreview.com article on the reactor.) It’s too expensive, they say (about $15 billion dollars), and the money could be better spent on “10,000MW offshore windfarms, delivering electricity for 7.5 million European households.” In any case, they argue, the project “is a dead end, as the technical barriers to be overcome are enormous.”
This strikes me as penny-wise and pound-foolish. Sure, nuclear fusion–fusion that generates more power than is expended on its production–has been 25 years in the future now for about 50 years. It’s a difficult task, but thousands of scientists aren’t dedicating themselves to ITER because it’s a “dead end.” It’s a worthwhile task, and, if it happens, it would truly solve our energy problems–which are going to be severe–forever. Besides, Western society is certainly rich enough to fund both ITER and offshore windfarms–it’s just a matter of priorities; and, given the long-term task of providing energy sustainability, delivering electricity to 7.5 million households is a very shallow goal. We have to shoot higher.