For more than thirty years, the prospect of unlimited fusion energy has attracted scientists and the public. Joan Lisa Bromberg's book documents the history of the American magnetic fusion reactor program. It is also a lively account that will inform interested citizens of limited technical background who are concerned with the nation's energy strategy. The book carries the story from the program's inception under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1951 to its operations under the then-new Department of Energy in 1978.
Fusion concentrates on the four federally funded laboratories where most of the money has been spent (about $2 billion so far): Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Princeton. It recounts the crucial experiments along the way - the ones that succeeded, the ones that failed, the ones that showed "promise." And it explains and diagrams the various magnetic configurations and devices that were developed and tested: the "stellarator," the "pinch," the "mirror," the "tokamak."
With the government and the public constantly looking over the scientists' shoulders, it is no surprise that research directions were heavily influenced by extrascientific pressures: "the major decisions in fusion research have always emerged from a medley of technical, institutional, and political considerations." The intermingling of science and politics is demonstrated in specific detail.
The magnetic fusion reactor project is, of course, ongoing. Latest target date for producing commercial power: 2050. Estimated total cost: $15 billion.
Dr. Bromberg has written extensively on topics in the history of modern science.
About the Author
Joan Lisa Bromberg directed the Laser History Project from 1982 to 1989 and is author of Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source, a history of the federal fusion energy program.