Making progress backwards

With each passing year, fusion-generated power gets further away.

If you’re my age &#8212 that is, if your childhood reading included books such as Our Friend the Atom &#8212 one of the things you’ve always known is that all energy problems are transient, since eventually we will learn how to do controlled fusion and the world’s oceans will be its fuel supply.

In the late 1950s, fusion power was commonly said to be thirty years away. But for decades the horizon seemed to recede as fast as we moved forward; by 1975, fusion was expected to be ready sometime early this century, and by 1990 the schedule had slipped back to something like 2020.

A nuclear engineer of my acquaintance tells me that this is no longer the case. Instead, we’re moving backwards. Now no one seriously expects commercial-scale fusion power in the next thirty years. The more we learn about the problem, the harder it gets, and each passing year adds to, rather than subtracting from, our distance from the blessed day when we can thumb our noses at ExxonMobil and the House of Saud.

It seems to be possible that fusion will arrive about the Twelfth of Never.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: