Friday, 23 February 2018

Let There Be Light - A Review

The South by Southwest Film Festival nominated film, Let There Be Light, is a documentary following a group of scientists and their mission to deliver near limitless clean energy to the world. Much of the film follows the Iter project, currently being constructed in Cadarache, South France, and it’s technological and managerial difficulties. The rest of the film makes a strong effort to highlight the history of fusion and alternative fusion concepts being pursued around the world. This is the quest for the Holy Grail of Energy.

Let There Be Light gives an insight into the world of fusion research and does very well at translating difficult fusion concepts for a wider audience. Interesting animations are overlaid onto scientists’ gestures to help display these concepts and ultimately allows for everyone to understand the basics of fusion. The film also outlines various methods of producing fusion, including dense plasma focus (DPF), which is described by Eric Lerner, President and Chief Scientist of Focus Fusion. Unfortunately, for those of us seeking more in-depth science, this is as detailed as it gets.


This, however, can be overlooked for the focus on the human drama behind the science. The starring scientists are enjoyable to watch, especially the banter between them, as they pursue their dream of achieving sustainable fusion energy. This is where the light truly shines upon the documentary, as the film highlights a wide range of physicists, engineers, and other specialists working together to create Iter, which will be the world’s largest tokomak fusion reactor.

As Iter is possibly the biggest science experiment ever designed and is currently seen as the next big stepping stone to achieving fusion power, it comes as no surprise that a large proportion of the film focusses on its construction. The project is the culmination of over 30 years of work of 37 countries across the world and the film does well to highlight the difficulties facing it; not just technically but also at a managerial level.

However, the film perhaps dwells on this too much. Whilst it is true the Iter project has seen problems, it has also seen a lot of promising progression, little of which is shown in the film. This induces a feeling of futility in the audience. In addition to this, very little is shown of JET, the current largest tokomak reactor, and its research. The research conducted at JET in recent years has had a strong positive impact on the design of the Iter reactor, such as the validation of the Beryllium and Tungsten wall. The film also suggests that very little progress has been made towards sustained plasmas, despite stellarators around the world achieving this goal and JET holding plasma for up to 30 seconds. These are just a couple of examples of fantastic achievements in the fusion industry which may have inspired and encouraged more than the film managed.

Overall, the film does well to highlight the challenges being faced in the fusion world, both technical and managerial, and presents a pleasant insight into other routes to fusion power. Partnering this story with some charming animations and the good cinematography, and the result is an enjoyable film, despite its slightly negative outlook.


Reviewed by the UKAEA Graduates, written by Mark Ascott

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