Potential Ethical Considerations on International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1788 Words
Date:  2022-06-22

Due to its scope, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project presents several ethical concerns. As with many other untried technologies, there is always the fear of risks and the impacts that such technologies will have on the society. While the area of nuclear fusion has seen tremendous research with most of the research supporting the possibility of success in the area, the reality is that fusion, on a greater extent, is plain theoretical. The fact that the technology is largely unproven and the associated uncertainty of attainability associated with the project presents a critical ethical dilemma. At the moment, the production has not even reached the breakeven point-where the energy released equals the energy input-and there are uncertainties in scientific circles over the project's unattainability. While most predictions have shown that fusion has a huge potential in solving the energy requirements of the ITER project participating members and the world at large, with no proof and no evidence that the project will be successful implies that the project might actually fail and it will be hard justifying its implementation in the first place (Jassby, 2018).

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While at it, it is important to note that nuclear fusion has never been explored even remotely close to commercial exploitation. While the ITER project is under implementation, there is no expected production until 2050, though the project can still fail. It is important to appreciate that the planet's energy needs are becoming a concern. The fact that the billion-dollar project has so many expectations is taking such a long time to implement, and is consuming massive resources regarding financing, infrastructure, and human resource without providing a definitive guarantee can be thought of as unethical.

From a fiscal perspective, the question of whether investing the vast amounts of money in the largely uncertain project is ethical at all. It is important to note that there are many other clean energy avenues which also hold the promise of powering the planet and which are also proven such as solar and wind power. The development was scheduled to take up more than $7 billion in infrastructure development alone. The reality of the costs rising to more than that during this preliminary stages is likely. Other project costs include salaries for the more than 4000 people that the project employs and which it will continue to employ over the coming decades. While at it, it is important to note that this is only the experimentation stage. This means that the project, at full implementation, is extremely expensive and there is little likelihood that the costs will be justified. Also, the fact that the experiment could be scuttled or fail and never go into full production presents a critical ethical dilemma. If it fails, for instance, it will mean that this costs, which could have been utilized in other proven energy expenditures or other critical ventures, go to drain. In proceeding with the project, it is thus imperative that critical questions such as whether there is a good balance between investing in nuclear fusion and investing in other clean technologies that are coming up. While nuclear fusion holds much promise to the generation of the planet's energy especially in the future, the risks and the clear reality that the project may fail present critical dilemmas that, hopefully, will be resolved as the project progresses.

Economic Impact of ITER Nuclear Fusion Project

The implementation of the project comes at a critical time when the world is grappling with growing energy demands and diminishing sources of energy. At the same time, the need for clean energy that meets all the safety, health and environmental standards are merits that favor the pursuit of energy from the nuclear fusion technology (Nathan, 2012). Nuclear fusion promises to offer alternative and clean approaches to the generation of future energy. From an economic perspective, the nuclear fusion offers much promise into resolving the energy debacle of the future, and further guarantees cleaner energy that is safe for the planet (Brumfiel, 2010).

It is estimated that the world spends more than 6 trillion euros of energy, with the EU and the other developed countries bearing the largest expenditure of these costs. In this regard, it can be argued that spending $17 billion today as a measure to avert future energy demands which goes into trillions of dollars makes economic sense and that the risk may be justifiable (King, 2013). Nuclear fusion promises the production of many years of energy supply without issues. As it makes use of freely available resources (hydrogen isotopes), preliminary research indicates that the implementation might be cost-effective. In this regard, nuclear fusion can be said to offer a fairly good return to investment to the countries that are investing in the project.

With power demands growing, some of the traditional energy sources are being depleted. Fossil fuel has powered the planet for many years. Current reports indicate that these fuels are being depleted at a fast rate; which calls for remedy mechanisms. The Director-General of ITER, Carlos Alejalre, argues that there is a need for carbon-free energy on a very massive scale to successfully power the industrialization pursuits of countries like India and China (King, 2013). He further noted that one gram of fusion fuel is equivalent to 8 tons of fossil fuel. While there are many investment pursuits in renewable energy sources such as wind, the need for the main source of energy that could then be supplemented by the many renewable alternatives is critical (Dlabajova, 2017).

From an economical perspective, the money being spent on the project are spent within the member countries. Parts are designed in different countries which directly benefits local businesses, creates employment and also contribute to the local economies. Many of the parts will be manufactured in industries in China and Italy among other countries. In France, where the main activities of the project will take place, there are greater economic benefits that will be evident. Furthermore, the project collaborates and works with different research facilities and universities across the European Union and the United States. As at the moment, more than 300 companies from different participating countries have benefited from the initial investment in the organization and more stand to benefit over the coming few decades that the experiment will run. Upon completion and full implementation, more firms will need to be sub-contracted to implement and run it. The project provides many opportunities for these institutions to thrive and expand the size of the research. The success of the project will boost the competitiveness of the participating members as it will make them pioneers of the new technology. In general, solving the energy problem will be critical for the region and will greatly enhance industrialization as well as powering business processes in the said places (Duong, 2014). Fusion energy fulfills all the key metrics of modern energy needs: it is climate-friendly, it is highly sustainable and affordable to use and also supports job creation and economic competitiveness.

Political Implications, Influences, and Barriers

The project has been subject to a lot of political debate across the region since its inception. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev birthed the initial idea of the project in 1985, and since then it has elicited much political debate which has held its implementation. With the experiment finally rolling, on, however, it can be deduced that there has been adequate political buy-in into the project which will spearhead the further development of the project. The main political implication of the project has regarded funding. As the funds are obtained from the individual members in the partnerships, the funds have to be approved at their legislative or executive levels in the different countries. A significant section of the political class in these countries has been skeptical of the project (Rodriguez, 2016). The effect has been huge delays to the project and high unpaid bills.

When President Donald Trump came to power in 2017, he promised to cut funding to some of the research initiatives. Cutting funding would imply a reduction in the budget for ITER which threatened to affect the delivery of the project. In 2017, the U.S. Treasury had announced that it would reduce its scheduled contribution to the project in the year from $105 million to $50 million. Washington had also planned to also cut 2018's contribution to $63 million. In a turnaround plan, however, Congress ratified the Omnibus Appropriation Bill in which it doubled the intended contribution to the nuclear fusion project from $63 million to $122 million (Graham, 2018). The increase in the budget was thus critical to the project as the reduced budget would have affected the final delivery of the project due to delays.

The same debate has raged in the European Union parliament. As the EU is bearing the largest cost of the project at 45%, it is also bearing the biggest responsibility and liability of the project. As the budget for the project has been expanding every year than the initially agreed, the EU has been tasked with the problem of continuous mobilization of funds. The high expense to the project has been a focus by EU politicians, with some of them fearing that the expenditure could eat up the financial resources meant for other areas in the economy (King, 2013). The issue has been of great political significance in the EU due to the growing costs. The amount expected from the EU has grown by 67% from the initially budgeted 2.7 million euros to 7.2 million euros in 2011. Due to the commitment, the topic will remain a political spot for many years. In 2011, after much lobbying, the EU parliament promised to raise 6.6 million euros and not the 7.2 million euros estimated. The parliament argued that the move was to encourage savings and efficiency (King, 2013). The project has faced several delays in the past due to these political activities and opinions.

References

Brumfiel, G., (2010). Experts Fuss Over Cost Of Nuclear Fusion Research. Npr.org. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128778289

Dlabajova, M., (2017). ITER turns 10: Paving an ambitious way to a sustainable future. Theparliamentmagazine.eu. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/opinion/iter-turns-10-paving-ambitious-way-sustainable-future

Duong, K., (2014). Top Ten Reasons for ITER. American Security Project. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://www.americansecurityproject.org/top-ten-reasons-for-iter/

Graham, K., (2018). U.S. budget bill doubles funding for ITER nuclear fusion project. Digitaljournal.com. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/science/usa-budget-bill-doubles-funding-for-iter-nuclear-fusion-project/article/518441

Jassby, D., (2018). ITER and the drawbacks of fusion energy. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://thebulletin.org/iter-showcase-drawbacks-fusion-energy11512

King, A. (2013). Fusion: waste of research money or solution to world's energy crisis? - EuroScientist journal. EuroScientist journal. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://www.euroscientist.com/fusion-waste-of-research-money-or-solution-to-world%E2%80%99s-energy-crisis/

Nathan, S. (2012). Nuclear fusion, JET and ITER: Your questions answered. The Engineer. Retrieved 23 June 2018, from https://www.theengineer.co.uk/issues/october-2012-online/nuclear-fusion-jet-and-iter-your-questions-answered/

Rodriguez, C., (2016). Nuclear fusion project...

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Potential Ethical Considerations on International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project. (2022, Jun 22). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/potential-ethical-considerations-on-international-thermonuclear-experimental-reactor-iter-project

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