The practical research began with the notion that electrical power could replace the huge gravitational forces, which the sun seems to exert on its own “body of hydrogen”. This proved, for early developers of “hot fusion reactors”, to be a thrilling mark toward which to reach. The essential differences between “neutral” gravitational forces and “polarized” electrical forces only became apparent with later experiments.
Electrically driven hot fusion reactor temperatures must be held at over a million degrees before the hot fusion reaction takes place. The first researchers made use of an effect, which was discovered in Victorian electrical laboratories. Glowing electrical discharges which, otherwise filled their containers, could be made to “pull away” from their container walls completely by increasing the amount of applied electrical current. Further increased applications of current caused the glowing discharge to “pinch”. Thus withdrawn to the container axis, the discharges intensified their brilliance beyond the ability of investigators to continue gazing on their light.
The “discharge pinch”, a tightly constricted wriggling thread, held a strange energy secret. Early hot fusion researchers retraced the phenomenon, designing their own different pinch discharge systems. In some of these experiments, electrical power was applied in order to ionize and “pinch” deuterium gas at high pressure. Fritz Paneth conducted these investigations in the 1930’s, discovering an incredible and anomalous release of excess heat when tungsten and bismuth electrodes were immersed in a high-pressure deuterium atmosphere. The heat made his arc electrodes glow with a dull red heat. This red heat was sustained for a long time after the initiating current was withdrawn. An early fusion reactor.
In similar early experiments with deuterium arcs and palladium electrodes, Dr. Paneth demonstrated the practical and controlled release of fusion reaction heat. Although he was not aware of the true source of this heat, these reactions evidenced radioactive emissions equal to those of radium! Few researchers forgot his work until the Second World War. In typical manner, the scientific community forgets what treasures it possesses. After the War, new fusion experiments were engaged, but did not recall the successful high mark to which Dr. Paneth raised the art.
The first post-War designs were simple cylindrical discharge tubes having opposed electrodes. The more amperage applied, the more pinch was obtained. The more pinch, the closer the theoretical approach to hot fusion. Several early researchers measured neutron emissions, a sure sign that hot fusions were taking place. The problem was, of course, that a reactor would necessarily have to produce its own sustaining hot fusion reaction. This required a tremendous application of electrical power. Furthermore, the arc systems failed because electrode metals would melt into the arc, contaminating the reactions before hot fusion could occur. Contaminants blocked the reaction.
Others tried using a phenomenon discovered by Thomson. Developed by both Tesla and Lenard, the “electrodeless discharge” occurs in sealed glass bulbs when held near oscillating electrical or magnetic fields. In a powerfully oscillating magnetic field, gaseous discharges can “pinch” without metal electrodes. Replacing a transformer coil with a deuterium filled tube effectively approaches the design for a “practical” hot fusion reaction chamber. Magnetic energy induces electrical currents of high amperage in the tube contained gas mixture. The magnetic pressure increases the applied power to a tremendous crescendo and the deuterium gas nuclei begin fusing together. The goal of systems such as these was to reach “self-ignition” temperatures. Self-ignition is the temperature at which it is possible to withdraw all of the externally applied electrical power. Once the initial ignition is achieved, one could simply supply the plasma with fuel. Obtaining electrical power from the reactor is then possible. But, there are significant problems in this prospect.
At the point of self-ignition, the deuterium-tritium mixture is hot. Superhot. This is why the technology is referred to as “Hot Fusion”. These superhot ionized gases are dangerous. Containment of the heated hydrogen is the main problem with achieving hot fusion on earth. The ionized gas has to be kept from ever touching the container walls. If they touch, the results are devastating. A hot fusion reactor is far less than a controlled hydrogen bomb, but dangerous nonetheless. Photographs of the numerous failed projects reveals far more than ruptured containers and systems. They are miniature blast sites.
According to the academicians, the key to achieving controlled hot fusion reactions is still found in magnetism. A powerful magnetic field can both ionize and contain the gas away from the container walls. Magnetic containment systems were called “magnetic bottles”. Ionized deuterium nuclei fused only as they absorbed energy from applied magnetic fields. The input magnetism acted simply as a “spark” to possibly ignite the nuclear reaction. If all this energy could be sustained for a critical few seconds, hot fusion would begin. Once hot fusion has begun, the extra energy would appear as an electrical “blast” against the applied magnetic field energy. The problem of retrieving any of the released energy would be simply solved through the transformer principle. Hot pulsating fusion cores would induce pulsating electrical currents in field coils, externalizing the extra energy. The theoretical resulting output would dwarf input power by several electrical gigawatts! Power forever. Or so they say.
COLD WAR DREAMS
Nuclear hot fusion formed THE socio-scientific dream. Hot fusion was THE cold war quest. Chevrolets, rock and roll, space travel, and FUSION! Exciting fads, they were the external focal points of human social consciousness. The quest for “reaching fusion” began several years before the end of the Second World War. It occupied the minds of theoreticians, researchers, and scientific developers in every nation. Though forgetful of previous achievements in energy science, the promise of fusion research was limitless energy. Fusion, the single focus of social discussions on future energy, was interrupted one night by a solitary invader from space.
The Space Race abruptly appeared when the Soviet Sputnik was launched. All of the applicable American industrial resources were powerfully moved as by a strong wind when Sputnik appeared in the sky. Suddenly space, the politically necessary new venue, became a technological theme of major importance. The new and unexpected runner in the arena where science met politics, space industries were confined exclusively to the military funding process. The military owned the space race, and still does. This momentary shift in interest, from Fusion to Space, was not to last for very long. While the Space Race had its overt political overtones, the race for Hot Fusion had lasting and more permeating implications. Long after the satellites became capsules, and the capsules became lunar landers, fusion remained the single central technological quest.
- DEADLY SOUND: Vladimir Gavreau
- ELEMENTARY CHEMISTRY