Thoughts in Perspective

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hunger for Energy, Nuclear Fusion

(from the first issue of Thoughts in Perspective)

      The quest for energy eventually brought man to nuclear fusion, the process by which two atomic nuclei join to form a new nucleus. This process generates energy if the two nuclei have lower masses than iron. The problem is that at large distances the two nuclei repel each other because of the electrostatic force caused by their protons. Bringing them closer, just enough for the attractive nuclear force to take over is the key.


Description of a fusion reaction between deuterium and tritium
source: dailytech.com
   

In 1950, Soviet scientists Andrei Sakharov and Igor Tamm proposed a nuclear fusion reactor they named "tokamak". This model proved so important that to this day the tokamak reactor is the most well developed and well funded of all the proposed reactor systems. It basically is a device that confines plasma by using a magnetic field.
Right: Igor Tamm (1895-1971)
Bottom: Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)



The power of fusion was also observed by the armies of the two superpowers of the time. The US detonated the 10.4 megatons bomb (450 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki) on the 1st of November 1952 called "Ivy Mike" (left image) and the USSR tested their Tsar Bomba on October 30, 1961, with the incredible yield of almost 58 megatons.
 
     The history of fusion energy offers some very interesting moments and even today it tends to surprise. The reason is not necessarily scientific as we shall see. Like many scientific developments of the second half of the 20th century there is some suspicion that research into nuclear fusion enjoyed a forgotten help from Germany. I would like to give some, I believe, interesting examples to at least offer a possibility for this claim like Von Braun's well-known space ambitions, the Me 262 (or more likely the FW- Ta 183) that proved a stepping stone for the Soviet MiG 15, the popular soft drink Fanta which apparently originated in 1941 at the desire of Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola in Germany and the more specific product methadone used by those with opioid dependence.