THE FUSOR REACTOR: Philo Farnsworth

Fusion technology would revolutionize every aspect of our technology. New metals. Bizarre alloys, stronger than steel, lighter than magnesium, and harder than diamond. New transportation. The power for reaching space, small and compact. One could ascend from any earth station and proceed directly into orbit. New medicine. Operations with light, anesthetic rays, healing rays. New communications. New architecture. New municipal works. Electrical cars buzzing along sleek unweathered multi-lane highways, whizzing past waterways carved into the Midwest by fusion powered earth movers.

New industries. All new and “fused”. Like glass, fused, smoothened, lovely, and whole again. Nuclear Art. Fusion, the new and strange fire, would change our world. Le Bon, Moray, and the others were not even recalled now. The first dream forgotten, their dream images snapped apart like a cut necklace. Glass beads dripping off their string into a cup of cheap wine. The dream fragments plopped unwillingly into the new vessels.

How the material forms would actually fulfill themselves in real technological expressions did not much matter. That the quest would be fulfilled was enough for most. Healing the wounds and outrage of the former World War, most people simply wished for a peaceful, happy life in the here and now. All of them, working class people. These are the ones who are most touched by the regulators and those who design the working class perimeters. Aware of governmental machinations, now tired of having sacrificed their sons and futures in wars designed to protect foreign investments, most second generation working class people had reached their tolerant patriotic limit.

Fusion would become the accessible, expectable lifestyle of the American Nation. It was the promise, which drove our consent. A dream for citizens, it prompted many to seek professions in related fields of endeavor. Hot fusion reactor designs are not new. The methods toward achieving the “hot fusion dream” have varied in form and principle over the last forty-five years. It was a fractured dream however. It forgot the first discoveries, which made it a redundant exercise.

Each of the Cold War hot fusion projects had wonderful sounding names. They were each worthy of the fractured dream, which empowered them. Scylla, Project Zeta, The Astron Project, The Stellarator, the DCX, ALICE. The names retained their magick until a few more years. Projects appeared in every major industrial corporation. Each project site was enormous and covered up in secrecy. These were usually federally funded, and closely monitored by government agencies, especially whenever success seemed imminent – regulators had found something new to regulate. The race was on. Those who were first to reach the goal would bear away the technical prize, the admiration of generations, and the wonder of an age.

The public needed to (be) educated concerning the forthcoming energy. General Electric even demonstrated a simple hot fusion reactor in their 1964 New York World’s Fair pavilion. A public exhibition of Nuclear Fusion! Visitors waiting on lines outside the exhibition, awed by the explosive thunder and light display seen through the doors, waited in hope of glimpsing the future. Powered by a truck sized capacitor bank, the immense current discharged in a thunderous explosion through an enclosed tungsten spark gap.

Shocked witnesses were completely taken aback. The deuterium gas through which this lightning bolt surged was held under a futuristic looking dome of thick Plexiglas. The sudden and blinding red-white discharge produced internal neutron counts, which made neon number displays, rise into the thousands. Each spectator left the windswept pavilion doors, looking into the lovely setting sun and dreaming of the sweeter day.


Several developmental stages appeared throughout the technological history of hot fusion devices. Arc discharges were first used because the power delivery to arcs was far greater and more direct than the systems, which employed “electrodeless discharge”. Electrodeless discharges produced weak arcs by electrostatic or magnetic induction of plasma states through glass walls.

Arc discharges were replaced by “magnetic mirror systems”. Magnetic mirrors were a hybrid system, which relied on arc discharges in deuterium gas. They employed large external magnetic wrappings in which arc terminals were enclosed. It was found that higher temperatures could effectively be attained with this system, the magnetic “mirrors” blocking the excessive loss of particles and heat from the plasma ends. Nevertheless, these were arc terminal systems. Contaminants from the electrodes poisoned and limited the upper thresholds of heat stored in the plasmas thus produced. Mirror systems failed.

Projects changed from arc research to electrodeless discharge research. Mirror systems were abandoned, replaced by transformer-like magnetic containment systems. Magnetic containment went through several developmental improvements. The most notable early transformer-like plasma system was the famous Project Zeta, a British endeavor. The toroidal glass vessel of Project Zeta was poised in a large transformer core. Pumped by huge electrical oscillations, the torus sprang to burning life. There seemed great promise in this new avenue.

With the deployment of information on magnetic containment systems came a new zest for the research. “Loff’ bars were developed by a Soviet plasma researcher of the same name. His thrilling successes with a magnetic system of his own design caught interest throughout the hot fusion world. The idea was the wrap the torus in various pitched coilings, as well as surround the torus with parallel bus bars.

The combined field symmetries stabilized and centralized the internally pinched plasma, reducing its own pulsations. But heat loss was still the main concern. No amount of applied energy could get the plasma up to ignition temperatures. It was not that size was the critical issue either. Most of these facilities were huge to begin with. The main engineering problem was not size. The main engineering problem in each of these hot fusion systems was the excessive heat loss. Inability to approach ignition thresholds kept the prize at a tantalizing distance.

Long before ignition could ever be attained. Hot fusion temperatures are enumerated in millions of degrees. No material on earth can withstand such a blast. There were materials problems as well as severe problems with containment. The ionized gas channels of these temperatures vaporized their containers, and research sites as well. In truth, none of the early systems could ever deliver the sufficient power needed to overcome the ion leakages. Moving through their containment systems like bees through nets, ions seeped fuel and heat away as fast as was supplied. As a result, all the potential ignition power simply seeped off in the heating process. This dangerous state often destroyed both the devices and the dreams of those who designed them.