Nuclear fusion gets a boost as 31 countries sign reactor agreement

After years of debate, 31 countries have agreed to build the $12.8 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France. (Ah, “experimental reactor” — was there ever a more comforting phrase?) Deemed “the victory of the general interest of humanity” by French President Jacques Chirac, the fusion plant — backed by Russia, China, India, the U.S., the E.U., Japan, and South Korea — will seek to turn seawater into fuel by imitating the sun’s atom-combining processes. Ideally, fusion releases 10 million times the energy of, say, a chemical reaction generated by burning fossil fuels. But scientists have yet to reach that hoped-for point. “Fusion could become the dominant source of electricity on Earth in a century or so — we have to work to try to get it,” says ITER’s Jerome Pamela. “Not doing so would be irresponsible.” Critics ask why the world isn’t pouring resources into proven alternative-energy technologies instead. But where’s the fun in that?