For several decades now, the possibility of nuclear fusion – producing energy by joining atomic nuclei rather than splitting them – has held the promise of cheap and clean power for all, without the waste produced by existing fission technology.
But somehow fusion is rarely high on the agenda in debates about the future of energy. Arguably, recent technical innovations indicate a working fusion reactor is now a realisable project in the medium term. Several major projects - such as the European HiPER project – now exist with the goal of advancing this dream over the next ten years. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the promise of cheap clean energy has not been universally welcomed.
Some argue we have been here before, and the technological promise will simply not pan out. Others that the dream of fusion is an unwelcome and unrealistic mirage that encourages us to ignore the problems of climate change.
How close is this technology, and what does the current climate of thinking on fusion research tell us about today's attitudes to energy? What part, if any, could or should fusion play in the future development of our society- Battle of Ideas
Bob Bingham is Professor of Physics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and a Laboratory Fellow at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Bingham has written over 500 scientific and technical papers and is active in space and astrophysics plasmas as well as laser plasma interactions and plasma accelerators.
Bingham is group leader in the area of fundamental physics, with interests in neutrino physics, accelerator physics, turbulence, etc. Bingham co-ordinates a theory programme on plasma accelerators and is building up a laboratory astrophysics programme that involves high power lasers.
He is a member of the HiPER team, the European high power laser fusion project.
Rob Clowes is a founder member and the chairman of the Brighton Salon: a serious but fun discussion forum based in Brighton. The Brighton Salon, modeled on the Salons of the 18th Century, has been organizing cultural activities, especially its monthly meetings in Brighton since the summer 2006.
In his professional life Rob teaches and conducts research into core issues in the philosophy of cognitive science at the University of Sussex where he holds the posts of Visiting Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow. He is a member of the Centre for Research in Cognitive Science (COGS) which is an inderdisciplinary centre focused on the nature of cognition.
Here he works on the nature and material basis of consciousness, the use of simulation in the study of mind, the role of language in mind and most recently he has been working on the relationship between cognition and technology through a number or prisms but with special regard to the growth of social networking technologies.
Joe Kaplinsky is a science writer and researcher. He has carried out experimental research in low temperature physics and more recently in biophysics. Kaplinsky has worked as a patent analyst on a wide range of technologies including computing, nuclear waste disposal, electricity generation and chemical engineering.
Kaplinsky has written and contributed to debates on many topics dealing with science, risk and democracy. Kaplinsky recently contributed a chapter on Chernobyl and nuclear power to the collection Science vs. Superstition: The case for a new Scientific Enlightenment, edited by James Panton and Oliver Hartwich.
Michael Massey is an Associate Fellow in the Energy, Environment and Development Programme at Chatham House. After a law degree he joined DTI in 1975. He worked in a range of policy areas including aerospace, Post Office, competition and coal privatization.
In the 1980s he undertook a review that recommended a more engaged and proactive approach by DTI to environment policy and sustainable development and also represented DTI in the preparations for the Rio Summit in 1992. Returning to sustainable development policy in the mid-1990s, he led DTI policy on environment and sustainable development at national, EU and global level.
He was a regular member of the UK delegation to CSD, including Rio+5 in 1997 and led EU work on Science and Technology at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. He left DTI in March 2005 after nearly 10 years as Head of Sustainable Development and CSR policy.
After a first degree in Physics, Alex Penn changed her field of study to Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems and Complexity Science at the University of Sussex, looking at the evolution of communities, origins of co-operation and the interaction of self-organisation and evolution.
She has a long standing interest and involvement in sustainability issues and in what contributions novel scientific approaches can make. As well as basic science she works on applying new evolutionary theory and complexity science to solving practical problems such as the regeneration of soil ecosystems in degraded land. She promotes the integration of sustainability, complexity science and societal concerns through interdisciplinary academic conferences and workshops.
Outside her academic work she has been teaching and practising permaculture for many years. Permaculture is a systems-level approach to design of sustainable communities, organisations and agricultural systems, based on applying principles from evolutionary and ecological dynamics in order to design low-maintenance, robust and resilient organisations. Community participation and the combination of ecological, economic and social sustainability are key to this approach.
She has a PhD in Life Sciences from the University of Sussex, has held a Fellowship at the Collegium Budapest Institute for Advanced Study and is currently a Life Sciences Interface research fellow in the Science and Engineering of Natural Systems group in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton.