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Imelda Marcos Has an $829 Billion Idea

Her new passion is an obscure isotope that could be the missing piece in the clean-energy puzzle
Imelda Marcos Has an $829 Billion Idea
Photograph by Erik de Castro/Reuters

Imelda Marcos wants to save the world, albeit stylishly. Wearing a simple, discreet slide sandal, the 84-year-old former first lady of the Philippines greets a visitor to her spacious, memento-laden Manila apartment with a surprise: Before reminiscing about politics, fashion, or her years in and out of power, she wants to talk seriously about energy.

It seems that uncommon amounts of deuterium, an isotope also known as heavy hydrogen, reside in the water at the bottom of the Philippine Trench. To get it, all you have to do is cruise out 170 miles east of the Philippines and bring water up from the ocean floor, about 6.5 miles below the surface. Marcos, the widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who died in disgrace and in exile in Honolulu in 1989, says she spends millions of dollars a year to maintain her exclusive right to extract water from the trench in the hope that having an abundance of deuterium can speed the development of advanced nuclear fusion reactors. She’s seeking billions of dollars from foreign investors to fulfill her vision.