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The Fusion Quest Hardcover – March 6, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

Fusion as a source of energy has been a long-sought but never-achieved dream of the scientific establishment. The idea sounds simple enough: create cheap, limitless energy by the same processes that fuel the sun. The problem, however, is scale: how to reproduce the continual fusion of hydrogen atom nuclei in a reactor that is much, much smaller than the sun. This is the puzzle T. Kenneth Fowler describes in Fusion Quest, a book that argues passionately in favor of continued fusion research. Though there has yet been little success in the field, Fowler insists that so much progress has been made that fusion power will likely be possible within the next century. He spends most of the book explaining the challenges that face physicists in realizing this dream. The Fusion Quest is more technical than the average popular science book and will probably appeal more to those readers who have some background in physics and mathematics.

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Starting a fusion reaction, as in an H-bomb, is one thing; controlling fusion to generate power is another, almost fantastic, thing. According to Fowler, a prime mover in the civilian thermonuclear field for decades, fusion technology has so far advanced that reactors are foreseeable within the next 50 years. He hopes to inspire the rising generation of science students to enter a field whose holy grail, in theory, promises an unlimited quantity of pollution-free power. The difficulty resides in the tremendous problem of containing a ministellar core without destroying the reactor, and Fowler discusses the development of two solutions: magnetic confinement of hydrogen plasma and the laser compression of hydrogen. He clearly explains the physical essentials of plasma behavior, magnetic fields, and lasers that govern the design of reactor projects, all of them costly, big, and international. Nonspecialist introductions to fusion are scarce; Fowler allows libraries to fire up bright tyros dreaming of trying out a tokamak. Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (March 6, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801854563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801854569
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,650,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
T. Kenneth Fowler headed the research effort for thermonuclear power production at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for a good many years. He directed the development of the magnetic confinement method known as the "tandem mirror", ultimately culminating in the MFTF-B facility (read Mirror Fusion Test Facility) which was shut down by the Reagan administration DOE.

The book is directed at the interested layperson who is unafraid of putting on his thinking cap and considering how a few basic equations work. Which is to say, he delves into the technical details of such topics as the Lawson criterion for plasma ignition, plasma pressure, plasma instabilities. These are presented in qualitative terms without excessive technical detail (i.e. mathematics).

Fowler goes beyond the physics of plasma confinement and into the engineering of the experimental reactors as well as that of planned operational thermonuclear power plants. He explains the three basic methods of heating DT plasmas to thermonuclear temperatures: electrical discharge (ohmic heating), neutral beams, and RF microwave heating. He explains the engineering of the lithium blanket needed to trap the outgoing neutrons, produce steam for electricity production by turbines, and breed tritium for the DT fuel cycle. Of course, the magnets and lasers needed for plasma confinement are given due treatment.

Most of the book deals with the tokomak (torroidal pinch) and the Inertial Confinement Fusion method (exemplified by his discussion of the NIF National Ignition Facility). He spends a page or two discussing his own work with the mirror machines. Advanced topics are included such as the Fast Igniter, as to be soon demonstrated at the multinational HiPER facility in Europe.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A good read. I learned some new things!
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James Davison on September 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
My first encounter with nuclear fusion was when I witnessed a test of the University of Texas at Austin tokomak reactor during 1975. Sparks the size of my fist jumped as the huge relays closed, sending thousands of amps of current surging the the huge electromagnets that would squeeze the tenuous torus of hydrogen gas into an inferno hotter than the sun -- crushing hydrogen nuclei together to produce energy. Nuclear fusion held the shining promise of limitless cheap energy, with virtually no radioactive waste or accident risk. Since that time I have watched incredulously as national fusion effort foundered helplessly, while our nation squandered its resources on foreign petroleum, and burned into greenhouse gases. After reading this book, I have a better understanding of why we failed. The problem is not money -- Fowler recounts the millions spent of muscular hardware. The real problem is the inability of our nation to harvest our best minds to work on the promise of limitless energy, and the failure of nerve by our country's leaders to make fusion a goal. It will take more than this book to revitalize the fusion effort -- it reads like a dull college lecture, complete with tests at the end. Nevertheless, fusion students will appreciate a chance to aquaint themselves with the specialized terminology and details of this specialized field of physics. Real fusion enthusiasts might be curious enough to look at a less successful attempt at fusion -- Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furor by Eugene J. Mallove.

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