See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 6

The Problems with ITER and the Fading Dream of Fusion Energy

On the road to unlimited energy, the world's most complex science experiment encounters a few potholes
Fusion, ITER Project, Geoff Brumfiel,

Sculpture by Sachiko Akinaga, Photograph by Hironobu Maeda

Geneva was cold and gray when air force one touched down in November 1985. President Ronald Reagan had come to meet Mikhail Gorbachev, the newly appointed leader of the Soviet Union. Reagan was convinced that the risk of catastrophic nuclear war was high, and he wanted to reduce the two superpowers’ swollen arsenals. Gorbachev also recognized that the arms race was strangling the Soviet economy.

Yet the tête-à-tête quickly degenerated. Reagan lectured Gorbachev on the history of Soviet aggression. Gorbachev attacked Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, an ambitious plan to knock incoming nuclear weapons out of the sky. Negotiations nearly broke down. At five in the morning, the two sides agreed to a joint statement with no firm commitments. At the bottom—almost as a footnote—Reagan and Gorbachev inserted a gauzy pledge to develop a new source of energy “for the benefit of all mankind.”

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article