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A Star in a Bottle - The New Yorker


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ITER was first proposed in 1985, during a tense summit in Geneva between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who agreed to collaborate “in obtaining this source of energy, which is essentially inexhaustible, for the benefit for all mankind”:

Since then, the coöperation has expanded to include the European Union, China, Japan, South Korea, and India. In the ITER lexicon, each partner is a Domestic Agency. Unlike any previous scientific collaboration, no partner has full control, and there is no over-all central budget. Each country makes its primary contribution in the form of finished components, which the ITER organization will assemble in France. The arrangement could serve as a model for future collaborations—or as one to avoid. At the headquarters, there is a circular dais, where representatives from the Domestic Agencies come and sit, with flags and placards before them, like members of the U.N. Security Council. But there are limits to diplomacy in nuclear engineering. Big machines either work as they’re supposed to or they don’t. Compromise and politesse can be disastrous. Thousands of components—many of them huge machines in their own right—must be slotted beside one another, more or less perfectly, and there will be scant ability to correct imperfections after they are delivered. Ultimately, the project’s success may rest on a simple question: Will everything fit together?

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