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.
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