Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

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Paul_Schatzkin
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Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:42 pm

Have any of you seen this article written by our friend Robert Hirsch?

http://issues.org/31-4/fusion-research- ... -new-path/

It's dated "Summer 2015) so I don't know for sure when it was published, but I surmise sometime in the past coupla/few months.

In it, Hirsch takes a long sober look at the $50-Billion (!!) being spent on ITER and pretty well declares it one of the deepest money pits ever dug:
Since a power-producing tokamak was understood to be very complex and expensive, a number of countries decided to develop a prototype together. It is called ITER and was initially supported by the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Union, and Japan. Later China and South Korea joined the project, and the 500 MW ITER was formally launched in 2007 to be built in France. ITER is a 30-meter tall device that will weigh over 20,000 tons and include roughly a million parts. The project has already encountered significant cost overruns and delays, and completion is now planned for 2027—about a decade later than the original target.

As this analysis will show, tokamak fusion power will almost certainly be a commercial failure, which is a tragedy in light of the time, funds, and effort so far expended. However, this particular failure does not mean that fusion power is a dead end. Research is under way on other technological approaches, which can benefit from the lessons learned from the tokamak experience. First we must understand where the tokamak approach went off the tracks.
Now, I know a lot of the regulars here think that the Fusor is a fun thing to play with but has no practical future, but jeez, at least it's never cost $50-BILLION dollars to build one!

For me, I read something like this and just get past the irony: there is a fusion process that gets not even a measurable fraction of what's being spent on ITER THAT BEARS HIRSCH'S OWN NAME but does he ever suggest "maybe we should take another look at this one..."?

Nope.

Last week I crawled around in my basement until I found the recordings I made when I was researching my Farnsworth bio back in the early 'aughts. There are a couple of interviews there that I did with Hirsch (the interviews were recorded on something called "mini discs" - now all I need to do is find something to play them on).

My recollection could be fuzzy here, but my recollection is that what I wanted to know from Hirsch was "do we have a definitive answer regarding the viability of the Farnsworth approach to fusion?" And what I recall is that Hirsch's answer was something along the lines of "no, we don't have a definitive answer."

I thought I had quoted along those lines in the book, but looking now at pages 245-247 that's not what I am seeing. What I am seeing instead is Hirsch marveling at they way these things get funded, and extent to which the authorities in the field were dismissive of Philo Farnsworth:
...they were...uncomfortable with Farnsworth, in the sense that he was an inventor, a farm boy with just dribs and drabs of education, who in fact conceived and developed one of the most significant technological advances of the 20th century, and here he was coming along with fusion, and I don't know if it was ego or what but there was something strange there..."
Really? Ya think?

Now here he is, speaking disparagingly of the ultimate ITERation of the approach that he aligned himself with after he couldn't get anywhere with the Farnsworth approach. I wonder if he'd be willing to take another look at it now? You know, now that he's in his dotage... what's he got to lose?

(How old is he now, anyway? Has to be at least in his 70s, maybe closer to his 80s... but I can't seem to find a birth date anywhere, not even in his Wikiedia page.)

There's an e-mail address at the bottom of the article linked above. Maybe I'll ask him...

--PS
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Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Adrian Hindes » Sun Oct 25, 2015 9:38 am

It really is unfortunate the way ITER is turning out. One can hope that eventually once its built it won't be a complete waste of money and achieve its Q target to demonstrate the possibility of fusion power. That being said, all the problems outlined by Hirsch in that article are quite worrying for modern tokamaks and research endeavours, but I wonder if MIT's ARC design addresses them anyway. I'm putting my money on ARC (assuming it gets funded).

But hey, the W7-X stellarator at the Max Planck Institute recently finished construction. I'm still pretty hyped about University of Sydney's recent IEC paper too.

Still though, the ITER situation is a continued disappointment. Do let us know of Hirsch responds to your email!

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Re: Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Sun Oct 25, 2015 1:28 pm

I haven't written to Hirsch yet. Maybe tomorrow.

What does UofSidney's IEC paper say? Can we get a link here?

--PS
Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of Fusor.net
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Richard Hull » Mon Oct 26, 2015 6:39 pm

About Hirsch. He did his Phd work one summer at ITT 1963 and came to work there after his Phd was awarded in 1964. Assume he was 24-26, that would make him on the order of 75 years of age now.

Hirsch was the guy who brought the Farnsworth team into doing fusion! He was the one to suggest using D-T. They really sort of dabbled at fusion until Hirsch came there and lied about their efforts until 1962. Hirsch moved on in 1968 as any Phd would do, but kept the idea of fusion via IEC alive in his heart. Unfortunately when he rose to become head of all fusion research at the AEC, he shut down many worthless fusion efforts, stellarators and mirror machines, etc. He tried to get some funding for IEC but failed. In a face-to-face, private interview I had with Bob Hirsch, he noted that at that time, (early 70's), he looked around and only the Russians tokomak design showed any significant advance. The biggest mistake of his life, he noted to me, and with great regret, he directed all fusion funding by DOE towards the Tokomak. He noted that within 10 years he saw his mistake for what it was. He had created a horribly self-propagating monster.

Hirsch is openly hated by the "greenie weenies" for his prime role in creating HARP while at ARCO. Poor guy....Can't catch a break.

He worked at Rand Corporation in 2001 and was abruptly fired when he wrote an openly critical final report for Rand and submission to DOE as part of a 50 million dollar study awarded to Rand by the government DOE to look at future energy possibilities over the next 50 years related to coal, renewables, solar and nuclear energy.

In his report, he effectively poo-poo'd solar and renewables, stating that only coal and fission energy would sustain over the next 50 years and that solar was not viable at all. He noted that natural gas would be a possible player, as well. Fusion, he noted, was not even in the running. DOE immediately rebuked Rand and asked that the report be reworked to something more palatable and inline with the modern thinking and their already extant funding efforts. Hirsch stood firm after a suggestion he rework the report. He refused to alter his original report and was fired, according to him. Rand, for their part, refused to comment on his firing, publicly. Perhaps a complete re-do was possibly submitted by Rand. I doubt Rand defalted on the contract over a mere paper.

I will note that Rand and or DOE said the report, as originally submitted, was flawed on a number of issues, data and assumptions by the author. Make of that what you will.

So be kind to Hirsch over the long haul. He has always tried to do the right thing as he saw it at the moment and has stood his ground well.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Richard Hull » Mon Oct 26, 2015 7:21 pm

The great beauty in Hirsch's article is the care he takes in close examination of the EPRI 1994 effort. Remember, EPRI IS the power companies!!

EPRI is where the rubber will meet the road. A bunch of high minded greenies and egg-head physicists will not pack the gear needed to put one watt of fusion energy at your wall outlet.

The economics, bean counting and hard nosed considerations stand as a real road block to the first real, long term, power generating fusion reactor....Assuming it is ever a scientific reality.

Key to it all is the "moving target" of future regulatory demands both nuclear and environmental.

I still say not one person alive at this moment in time, even newborns, will have one watt of fusion energy at their outlet in their lifetime, save for a lucky donkey turning all current fusion thought on its head.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: Hirsch Throws In The Towel (?)

Post by Adrian Hindes » Sat Oct 31, 2015 11:15 am

Paul_Schatzkin wrote:I haven't written to Hirsch yet. Maybe tomorrow.

What does UofSidney's IEC paper say? Can we get a link here?

--PS

I did link it on my other thread: http://arxiv.org/abs/1510.01788

Also, I've been emailing Joe Khachan, one of the co-authors on the paper. They sound very cautiously optimistic about the design but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

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