Hunger for Energy, Nuclear Fusion

(from the first issue of Thoughts in Perspective)

      The quest for energy eventually brought man to nuclear fusion, the process by which two atomic nuclei join to form a new nucleus. This process generates energy if the two nuclei have lower masses than iron. The problem is that at large distances the two nuclei repel each other because of the electrostatic force caused by their protons. Bringing them closer, just enough for the attractive nuclear force to take over is the key.

Description of a fusion reaction between deuterium and tritium
source: dailytech.com

In 1950, Soviet scientists Andrei Sakharov and Igor Tamm proposed a nuclear fusion reactor they named "tokamak". This model proved so important that to this day the tokamak reactor is the most well developed and well funded of all the proposed reactor systems. It basically is a device that confines plasma by using a magnetic field.
Right: Igor Tamm (1895-1971)
Bottom: Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)

The power of fusion was also observed by the armies of the two superpowers of the time. The US detonated the 10.4 megatons bomb (450 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki) on the 1st of November 1952 called "Ivy Mike" (left image) and the USSR tested their Tsar Bomba on October 30, 1961, with the incredible yield of almost 58 megatons.
     The history of fusion energy offers some very interesting moments and even today it tends to surprise. The reason is not necessarily scientific as we shall see. Like many scientific developments of the second half of the 20th century there is some suspicion that research into nuclear fusion enjoyed a forgotten help from Germany. I would like to give some, I believe, interesting examples to at least offer a possibility for this claim like Von Braun's well-known space ambitions, the Me 262 (or more likely the FW- Ta 183) that proved a stepping stone for the Soviet MiG 15, the popular soft drink Fanta which apparently originated in 1941 at the desire of Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola in Germany and the more specific product methadone used by those with opioid dependence.
FW-Ta 183
source: www.militaryphotos.net

Igor Kurchatov, source: ruspedia.rt.com Klaus Fuchs
    The consensus is that shortly after the second World War countries like the US, UK and the USSR began their research into fusion more like a side-project of fission, more exactly the atomic bomb. The prize was indeed that which offered your country the option of holding the world at gunpoint. The Allied countries had the Manhattan Project initiated 1941 at the order of Roosevelt and the Soviets entered later in the game, in 1943, headed by Igor Kurchatov. Germany on the other hand started it's active research into atomic bombs in 1939. All countries involved had great scientists however after the end of the war the Soviet Union had more to gain from caught German researchers and spies in the West (like Klaus Fuchs).

      Max Steenbeck and Manfred von Ardenne are two German physicists involved, after the war, in the Soviet atomic bomb program and they had supposedly met and even worked with Ronald Richter. Due to a puzzling lack of information my advice is to tread carefully. Past the unquestioned aspect of Richter's difficulty in being recognized by fellow researchers, especially regarding the Huemul Project we find that his work was not completely in vain. Richter proposed the use of acoustic heating of high temperature arcs which Jose Antonio Balseiro, the leader of a group appointed by Peron to evaluate the project, found as unsustainable.  Richter's research (and in some respects Peron's announcement of its success)  in my opinion triggered Lyman Spitzer's imagination for creating the Figure 8 Stellarator in 1953 and thus achieving "ignition", igniting global research in the field.
Max Steenbeck,
Manfred von Ardenne,
source: dhm.de
Ronald Richter
and family
Jose Antonio Balseiro
source: guigue.gcastro.net
      Going back again for a couple of years we find that Max Steenbeck, known also for his betatron device, worked while still in Germany, on a toroidal pinch device which he called "Wirbelrohr" ("whirl tube") with the desire to produce a particle accelerator.
    Another notable moment in fusion research was the announcement made by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons on 23 March 1989 that they achieved "a sustained nuclear fusion reaction". Their research was attacked almost in a frenzy manner by both journalists and fellow researchers. Fleischmann moved to France in 1992 and co-authered papers on cold fusion with researchers from the US Navy and Italian laboratories INFN and ENEA. Pons continued to work with him, in the end rejecting his US citizenship.
Martin Fleischmann
source: nndb.com
Stanley Pons
source: wikipedia
EAST tokamak reactor in China      At present a myriad of countries are financing their own nuclear fusion programs spearheaded by two international endeavours called ITER (world's largest nuclear fusion reactor) and DEMO (still a proposal). To exemplify the level achieved till now in this field of research the EAST tokamak test reactor in China had achieved in 2013 a confinement time of 30 seconds.

ITER tokamak test reactor
source: ITER Organization 2011

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