Several weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to visit and give a talk at ITER (www.iter.org), the multinational laboratory for building a fusion reactor. This visit was especially meaningful since my younger son (Christopher) works at the lab.
The goals of ITER are quite lofty – to harness the energy of the stars and thereby provide mankind with a safe, cheap, and inexhaustible source of energy for the future. However, aside from the value of the science, the way that they are approaching this goal and their commitment to the environment impressed me deeply.
ITER is a collaboration between the European Union, the United States (which will hopefully keep paying its dues), China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. What is unique about their mission is that all member nations will be self-sufficient in development of the fusion technology, i.e., each nation will be capable of building a working reactor without depending upon any other nation for resources, technology, etc. Therefore fusion power will not be controlled by a few nations (like fossil fuels) and not become a tool for political machinations.
ITER’s commitment to the environment is demonstrated by the way they are constructing the massive ITER site. The reactor site is an area of many acres and is, according to them, the flattest man-made space on earth. It involved clearing a large forest and enormous volumes of earth. Trees from the forest were relocated and attached to trees in a nearby existing forest. This action enabled the wildlife living in the relocated trees to move to living trees. Likewise the relocated earth was moved to protect any wildlife that lived within it. I have never heard of a similar project to protect native wildlife (clearly much of it microscopic).
ITER’s goals and approach towards reaching those goals provides a great example that big, multinational science can still work and provide benefit to all.
By the way, anyone interested in my talk, on Web Science, can see it at http://files.me.com/bebowhite/zceh7g