Beyond Technology Diplomacy

  • Michel ClaessensEmail author


The story of ITER could have been a “chronicle of a death foretold.” All the conditions were set from the beginning to prevent it going ahead. But after many years of difficulties, changes, delays, and cost increases the world’s largest nuclear fusion experiment is now more than 65% complete. What the Royal Society wrote in 1999 still seems valid: “Will fusion energy work? There is now no serious doubt that a machine could be built which would provide net energy. The issue that is still highly controversial is whether the technological difficulties, including some very severe materials problems, can be overcome so that a machine producing energy at an economic rate could be anticipated” (Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering in Nuclear energy—the future climate. London, [1]). ITER is a good example of “technology diplomacy.” Starting in 1985 magnetic confinement fusion was chosen to promote international relations and help overcome political tensions during the Cold War. ITER demonstrated that diplomacy can be a catalyst for technological development: technology through diplomacy. None of the ITER members will contest the fact that the project has promoted its engineers and companies abroad and facilitated cooperation with other countries while developing commercial performance. Another interesting feature of this diplomatic technology is that ITER has facilitated the creation of a high-level pool of international technological expertise that members now have at their disposal to consult as they see fit. This expertise is essential for diplomats and policy-makers in addressing many areas outside fusion such as climate and energy issues. ITER is not the end of the fusion energy story it is just the beginning. The economic feasibility of tokamaks has yet to be demonstrated. More than a dozen projects around the world aim to achieve the same objectives as ITER using different technologies. The challenges are huge and there is still a long way to go, but an impressive international research effort is supporting the technological developments needed. After all it is entirely possible that ITER and fusion energy will change the course of civilization.


ITER Science diplomacy Economic Big science International cooperation Innovation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European CommissionBruxellesBelgium

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