Apr 28, 2013

One giant (energy) leap for mankind?


Category: Energy
Today you can read that the £13bn ITER fusion project has made a breakthrough: "One giant leap for mankind" the article breathlessly proclaims. Well, not exactly. They've just received final design approval for a crucial component - I am sure they are pleased, but why do the media lose their grip like an infatuated schoolboys, every time the boffins tell us they've cracked it?

The article, and accompanying expensive video, is in the UK Independent newspaper. I don't want to be cynical about this, and it might work (and then again, it might not), but even if everything goes to plan, fusion still doesn't look as if it will produce commercial power for at least 30 years. The Economist is still being proven right that practical fusion is always 30 years away from delivery.

Though there is said to be far less danger from radiation and accidents, the greatest current danger is perhaps that if people (including journalists at a good newspaper) believe that fusion will save us (and again, who knows, maybe it will) then will that be yet another excuse for putting off taking action now to be more careful with energy (and everything else)?

As to my question about infatuated schoolboys, is it that not enough journalists have a good scientific education? That was my covert conclusion fifteen years ago when I studied how scientific matters were covered by a certain prominent BBC news and current affairs programme. If that is correct, or is at least a contributing cause, then it won't be easy to fix, but it could theoretically be done in less than 30 years.