It probably comes as no surprise to readers to learn that I, a science journalist, used to read voraciously as a kid growing up in the wide pre-web world of the 1970s. Almost every evening straight after school I would visit the library at the end of our street to scan the shelves for any new books, focusing on science, technology, animals, space, dinosaurs and more. Of course, some kids today will not even know what it is like to use a physical, bricks and mortar library, to have a library "card", to enjoy the sound of the librarian's "stamper" thudding down on to the "Return By" label. The label with its scary proclamation that you must get said book back to the library within the month or face a hefty fine. For juniors that usually amounted to tuppence a day. Given the length of time since I last returned a book to my childhood library I estimate that fine is probably about 50 pounds in today's money taking inflation into account.

Anyway, I have seriously digressed. In those countless books that I pored over were images of long-extinct saber-toothed tigers (now referred to as saber-toothed cats, which sounds far less threatening), woolly mammoths (which scientists are perhaps on the verge of resurrecting), Neanderthal "men" (who seemingly still live among us, locked in our genetic history), giant telescopes, Saturn's rings, Jupiter's spot, nebulae, galaxies, orbiting space stations with "gravity-generating" rotating centripetal force structures. Of course, the International Space Station has none of that mock gravity business and despite the oddity is rather square. Nevertheless, it's still a thrill to glimpse it crossing the sky, as I did recently as we departed an outdoor gig where another memory of the 1970s, new wave rock band Blondie were playing. And, of course, moon landers, space shuttles (remember those?) I've digressed again, I'm afraid...but that's perhaps the point of this story.

One recurrent feature of many of those desperately out of date science books and encyclopedias of the time was the notion of nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fission had proved itself almighty for quite some time through its explosive manifestation of Einstein's theory of "E equals m c-squared" in the atomic bomb and its controlled and yet fallible system of heating water to drive electricity-generating turbines in nuclear power stations. Fusion was, in my childhood, theoretically at least, an energetic cure-all, it would offer us endless energy from the simple-seeming process of colliding atoms, something any star worth itself does almost endlessly. And, all without smoggy pollution or the modern worry of carbon emissions and climate change. Allegedly.

However, I note with some sadness that all those diagrams, all that theory, those giant magnets, toroidal plasmas and such are yet to deliver. A paper entitled "Twenty five years of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor" published in the International Journal of Nuclear Knowledge Management recently (2013, vol 6, pp
97-110) reviews the state-of-the-art with respect to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). This project started by a consortium of scientists and others from Japan, the European Union, South Korea, China, India, the USA and Russia in 1985 (long after I'd left school and was somewhat less keen on regular evening visits to the library, preferring the university union bar by then, the bar known as the Mens Bar, not for some weird sexist reason, but as shorthand for Mens Agitat Molem) is yet to materialize as our power panacea. Mind over matter notwithstanding. Despite the promise of an output ten times the energy input some pundits suggest that we are unlikely to feel the benefit until at least 2050. If I survive the Great East Anglian floods of 2049 by which time the North Sea will have reclaimed the swamps we call The Fens, I may well find myself sitting in the local library, aged mid-80s musing on how long it took many of the promised wonders of my childhood reading to finally arrive. And musing too on the long-winded digressions that science and technology took to make them manifest.
David Bradley blogs at and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".