The ITER (pronounced ‘eater’) project is an international plan to buildthe world’s first fusion reactor. One of the preferred sites is in theGreat Lakes basin – an area already saturated with nuclear facilities,waste sites and reactors. Proponents of the ITER project believe thatelectricity generated by fusion could be the long-term energy solutionfor the world. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elstonbelieves that we shouldn’t rule out other options:
The ITER (pronounced ‘eater’) project is an international plan to
build the world’s first fusion reactor. One of the preferred sites is
in the Great Lakes basin – an area already saturated with nuclear
facilities, waste sites and reactors. Proponents of the ITER project
believe that electricity generated by fusion could be the long-term
energy solution for the world. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Suzanne Elston believes that we shouldn’t rule out other
It’s really hard to swim upstream – particularly when every other
fish in the river is going with the flow. The problem started when I
first heard about the ITER project. ITER stands for International
Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor – and my community has suddenly
become the focus of a lot of attention because of it. A group of
international scientists is looking for a location to build the
experimental reactor, and my hometown in on the shortlist. Everyone
from the mayor on down thinks it’s a great idea.
I have to admit, my immediate reaction wasn’t quite so enthusiastic.
The ITER project is fighting forty years of nuclear history. There’s
the unfulfilled promise of power too cheap to meter. And there’s the
growing pile of nuclear waste that we still have figured out how to
But the ITER project is supposed to be different. It burns waste from
nuclear fission plants as a starter fuel for the fusion reactor. In
theory, once a reaction is achieved, only lithium and hydrogen should
be required to sustain it. If it works, fusion could be the ultimate
renewable energy source.
It sounds promising. And it’s also a long way off. Even the most
optimistic predictions say that commercially available fusion power
is probably 50 years away. We don’t have 50 years.
However, I think the bigger question becomes do we really want to tie
ourselves to yet another mega-source of electricity? Nuclear power,
large hydroelectric dams and coal-fired generation all have a couple
of things in common. They cost lots of money to build and they need
distribution networks to deliver. Fusion would be no different.
So instead of putting all our eggs in one energy basket, why not give
everyone their own basket? Let them create their own energy.
Experiments in fuel cell technology, for example, are showing
promising results. Test cars are already using small fuel cell power
plants. And the only by-product is water.
By simply installing a small fuel cell in the basement, every house
in the neighborhood could be energy self-sufficient. And fuel cells
aren’t the only technology that offer us this kind of freedom.
Imagine what this could mean. Goodbye grid. So-long overhead wires.
Goodbye to the fear of cancer from electromagnetic radiation.
Farewell to smog from coal plants and see-you-later radioactive
waste. Now that’s where we should be investing our money and our best