Fusion Message Board

In this space, visitors are invited to post any comments, questions, or skeptical observations about Philo T. Farnsworth's contributions to the field of Nuclear Fusion research.

Subject: History of Fusion
Date: Aug 08, 3:02 pm
Poster: Richard Hull

On Aug 08, 3:02 pm, Richard Hull wrote:


I am currently reading an interesting book which appears to be researched well and at least follows the thread of early fusion efforts high points to a degree which might interest we amateur fusioneers.


Fusion, The Search for Endless Energy by Robin Herman, 1990, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-38373-0


It is a lay presentation and a bit fluffy, but catches the human side as well as the basic devices and machines of the early days.

The author does capture the essence and dispair of the "real soon now" philosophy and offers some explanations, which I fear may have come from the big boy fusion crowd itself, as a mea culpa. The female author is a graduate of Princeton (journalism) which she recognises may bias her a bit, but she tries to overcome the temptation, as she notes in her intro to the book.

It is a work published in 1990 and therfore doesn't follow developments after that period.

The author places Bob Hirsch in numerous places throughout the work (as she well should), and while praising him for his go getter attitude, comments on the well documented disdain held for him by many of the Princeton annointed. She even comments ever so briefly on the ITT Farnsworth effort and Hirsch's involvement there.

One thing that stunned me was The author's revelation regading Hirsch's AEC recommendation to "force" the Princeton crowd, more or less against their will, to build a giant Tokamak! (which they did, of course) She notes some of the folks at Princeton didn't want to move so fast. This is in total opposition to what Hirsch told me!

He noted in my interview with him that as an AEC wheel and later presidental advisor, he shut down two giant projects for fusion at goevernment labs and felt fusion just got too big, too fast. The author notes that "Hirsch was a man in a hurry". He wanted a big Tokamak to once and for all either prove itself or fail. In this manner, it was hoped, fusion efforts could abandon a failed idea and change course quickly so that money could be poured in other directions in the search for fusion.

This sounds a bit like Hirsch put the Princeton people "on the "pot" and was waiting for some quick results hoping they would "get off the pot" sooner rather than later. It is without question that Princeton's well established fusion team was the most influential fusion group in the world at that time.

Could Hirsch have been this clever? If this was sensed by the big boys, no wonder there is acrimony and bad feelings. Here they were saying "real soon now" and this new AEC pushy guy steps in, calls their bluff, loads up their coffers, says "produce or die", and in the same breath, immediately shuts down two rival fusion efforts elsewhere. They see him as brash, decisive and in more of a hurry than they were to see results. Most of all, it was this cloaked ultimatum that killed any love for Hirsch.

To hear the author talk, the Princeton guys were dragged relutacntly into creating the giant Tokamak there in the 70's and it was all Hirsh's fault! Hmmm. Interesting....

Was it grudge payback time? After all the Princeton boys on the AEC funding oversight committee had nix'd Hirsch's bid to extend the Farnsworth fusor research during the now famous 1968 AEC fusor funding meeting requested by Hirsch and ITT. This is a tale in itself..........

But I digress.......

I recommend this book to anyone who is clueless as to fusion's real history around the world. I must also admit to be delightfully entertained and informed anew by the effort. Considering she had the ear and inside track to a lot of Princeton Tokamak guys, she has managed to play it fairly straight.

From the first crude Princeton "Stellarator", to the abortive "Zeta" affair, to Tuck's "Perhapsatron" she spills the fusion beans with even handed treatment for the most part.

I highly recommend this as a good, but slightly fluffy historical read of early fusion.

Richard Hull