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Fusion history beyond the fiascos

Abstract : It is 50 years since the first international symposium on fusion energy research took place in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the second United Nations ‘Atoms for Peace’ conference. There, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States announced the declassification of controlled fusion research, raising the hope of clean and limitless energy for mankind. In his new history of fusion research, journalist Charles Seife argues that such grand hopes push researchers to make unjustified claims of major advances. But in pursuing the controversies generated by a few isolated individuals, Sun in a Bottle neglects the more important story of the wider fusion community. At the first Atoms for Peace conference in 1955, its chairman Homi Bhabha said: “I venture to predict that a method will be found for liberating fusion energy in a controlled manner within the next two decades.” But the proceedings of the second conference in 1958 remind us that the scientific leaders of the main delegations were much less optimistic. Edward Teller from the United States said that the state of controlled fusion was “similar to the stage at which flying was about 100 years ago”, and that the technical difficulties of fusion “are likely to make the released energy so costly that an economic exploitation of controlled thermo nuclear reactions may not turn out to be possible before the end of the twentieth century”. Similarly, reviewing work in the Soviet Union, Lev Artsimovich stressed that “worldwide collaboration is needed for progress”. Soon after, a network of collaborations under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency and Euratom (the European atomic-energy community) was established in the domain of magnetic fusion. Results were openly shared and, two decades later, a major European facility, the Joint European Torus (JET), was constructed at Culham, UK. Scientific progress since then has been impressive — the foundations of a new ‘plasma science’ have been established.
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Contributor : Bruno Savelli <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 4:07:08 PM
Last modification on : Monday, April 12, 2021 - 11:30:29 AM

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Jean Jacquinot. Fusion history beyond the fiascos. Nature, Nature Publishing Group, 2009, 457 (7227), pp.265-266. ⟨10.1038/457265a⟩. ⟨cea-00910228⟩

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