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About the Author

Todd K. Harding served as the head of the U.S. ITER Agreement negotiating team from 2003 to 2006 and as a member of the ITER Council from 2006 to 2008.

New Perspective

ITER: International Fusion Energy Science and Diplomacy – Realized

https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7757

A tenth anniversary is a momentous occasion. It is an exciting milestone for Science & Diplomacy as well as for international fusion energy cooperation.1 The decision to explore international partnership in fusion energy following the 1986 Reykjavik Summit and the hard work of ITER’s international partners over several decades is coming to fruition. ITER is now beyond 75% facility completion in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France,2  and progressing toward its first plasma.

Since the conclusion of the ITER negotiation in 2006, the ITER parties3  have been engaged in an effort to realize the vision that formed the foundation of the international cooperation some four decades ago. “ITER stands as a monumental example of scientific and engineering prowess, a unique testimony to the merits of international collaboration and a triumph of human aspiration ….” (ITER Press Release, May 14, 2022.)

ITER is an example of sustained and necessary scientific diplomacy. It is no easy task to maintain agreement and progress toward a common goal in a multinational environment. Agreement to the organizational concept (cost-sharing, voting rights, risk posture, etc.) was an achievement, but the ability to translate that success into a functional, large-scale science facility is an entirely different feat. The multinational approach to design, manufacturing, and construction combined with organizational and leadership challenges led to the project experiencing delays, moving completion beyond the original timeline. The difficulty for seven different parties, with seven different scientific structures and construction policies and procedures, all coming together to produce a working system as complex as ITER is without precedent. 

ITER demonstrates that international cooperation doesn’t solely rely on the determination and experience of government leaders, public servants, and the skilled diplomatic corps. Success is also contingent upon a corps of diplomatic scientists who can navigate achieving not only consensus on the scientific merits but the necessary dedication, resilience, and perseverance to strive for agreement at the diplomatic and government levels.

When it comes to the exploration of the fundamental questions in science that require large scientific facilities and the knowledge and capacity of scientists from institutions around the world to unite in common purpose, the science will lead to diplomacy and the diplomacy will enable the science. ITER stands as an example of what international diplomacy can achieve. We now await the results of the experiments that should provide evidence that magnetic fusion energy is possible on a commercial scale and can provide an unlimited future source of energy for our world.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7757

 

Endnotes

  1. Todd K. Harding, Melanie J. Khanna, and Raymond L. Orbach, “International Fusion Energy Cooperation: ITER as a Case Study in Science and Diplomacy,” Science & Diplomacy, No. 1, March 9, 2012, https://www.sciencediplomacy.org/article/2012/international-fusion-energ...
  2. Video of the facility: https://www.iter.org/news/videos/634
  3. ITER members are China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.