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Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:27 am
by Richard Hull
The 1958 book, " Project Sherwood" by Amasa Bishop (AEC fusion overseer) has been in my libraryfor about 20 years. I have just now read it cover-to-cover for the third time! This book covers the US fusion power effort from the inception of the classified work done under "Sherwood" from 1952 until its de-classification just after 1958. It shows the early stellarator work constantly having fitful starts and road blocks. The same goes for the pinch machines, the mirror machines, the pulsed machines, etc.. Assumptions that were based on the best calculations never produced a fusion neutron. Tests of theories looked promising, until they up'd the power and the classic instabilities shut the theroy and a number of projects down.

It was all about plasma temperature for the fusion folks from year one, day one. They just couldn't seem to get there from here....ever! As we all know, the following 60 years from the publish date of this book still has zero results. The old buga-boos are still alive and kiciking, instabilites, failure to sustain fusion densities and temperatures. Device wall impacts, less than pristine pefect conditions during testing, etc.. The quest for the bigger before securing any wins with smaller systems is a constant and a given in the scientific fusion world. The beatdowns suffered by these pioneer systems are the same afflicting today's efforts.

Of particular importance, and of critical note to me in the reading, was Bishop mentioning 4 times all through the book that when a high power run was made to test what was hoped to be a breakthrough based on ideas and theories that, alas, they finally got neutrons! Lots of them... However, the measured plasma temperature would not support the quantity of neutrons detected during the test. The author openly states that there was no easily worked out mechanism for this rain of neutrons. The ultimate stab in the dark was that somehow, no one knew for sure, was that in the tangled magnetic web, deuterons were being accelerated and collision with other deuterons and neutrals outside the magnetic confinement zones were the source of the observed neutrons..... Well what do we know about that in our fusors! It is the very reason for our fusors functioning and doing fusion. Yet, unlike them, we are not supporting ten thousand ampere magnetic fields of 4 tesla.

Bishop noted that such neutrons, in future, were ignored and were called "false neturons", not originating from the plasma due to its temperature being too cold. This "we got neutrons, but not real neutrons", continued to plague Sherwood's best efforts in multiple different type machines and various iterations of each.

Bishop also noted that virtually every run that tried high power operation fusion the effort often collapsed from electron runaway within the plasma and its environs. We see that in the fusor if the grid gets too hot. Apparently their plasma got too hot, but alas, not hot enough to make their fusion dreams become a reality. It's Just those damned pesky false neutrons. (which were really fusion neutrons, but not the kind of fusion they wanted)

Where is sustained, usable fusion headed? Will it ever get there?... Or, is continuous fusion energy under the sole ownership of stars?

Richard Hull

Re: Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:36 am
by Dan Knapp
As I noted a couple of years ago, they are still seeing "those damned pesky false neutrons." viewtopic.php?f=55&t=9594

Re: Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 1:50 am
by Dan Knapp
Out of curiosity, I checked Amazon to see how easy it is to find a copy of Project Sherwood. They have a large number of used copies listed for as low as $3.50. I paid significantly more for my copy when I found it in a used bookstore several years ago, but still considered it a real find. I too found it a fascinating read, and also have reread it. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in fusion. One has to wonder if some of the experiments abandoned when we put all of our eggs in tokamaks might have ultimately yielded more success.

Re: Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:32 am
by Richard Hull
We have our hero and major fusor-fusion booster, Robert Hirsch for becoming the Angel of Death for most all of the failed fusion efforts of project Sherwood. Now, for those not in the know and who don't know their fusion history, Robert Hirsch joined the Farnsworth fusor team at ITT as a newly minted Phd physist in 1964. He is responsible for saving the entire Farnsworth effort which was for the most part, non-productive from 1959 to 1963. His machines, with the help of Gene Meeks, immediately started producing fusion neutrons in large amounts.

Hirsch and Meeks made a fabulous demo with a real fusor on a cafeteria dish cart and took it to the AEC to attempt to get funding in 1966 as ITT was tiring of supporting the effort as fusion was not part of their repertoire. According to my many phone calls and an in-person interview with Hirsch, they took the cart to the AEC in Washington and plugged it into a common wall outlet and did fusion. Interestingly, Hirsch told me that Amasa Bishop headed the meeting attended by a number of fusion physicists running stellarators, mirror machines and pinch efforts. Hirsch noted they were really impressed and a number of jaws dropped as their little 5" fusor poured out neutrons from a 120 volt outlet in the meeting room as he proselytized for funding further efforts in this area.

Hirsch said he knew his funding would never come when Amasa Bishop placed both hands behind his neck, leaned back in his chair and said "Gentlemen, if we decide to fund this effort, some moneys will have to come out of many of your budgets".... Apparently spincter muscles tightened all around the room. After lunch, the group re-assembled and told Hirsch they would get back to him. Once back on Pontiac street in Fort Wayne, ITT noted they would only continue to fund through fiscal year 1966-67. This would allow time for the AEC to pick up the working project if they decided to go with the fusor or end ITT's involvement if they did not.

The AEC decided not to fund the fusor work. The ITT project died and by mid 67 Hirsch moved on. The AEC did not completely forget Hirsch, however. His brash and eligant presentation was remembered and within a couple of years he was hired by the AEC. He would, ultimately, by the early 70's, be promoted to head the entire AEC fusion effort.

One of his first tasks, he explained to me, was to shut down most all of the money pit Sherwood "hanger-on" projects to clear the deck for the big Russian Tokamak concept which was doing some fusion, at least, in Russia. Hirsch told me he had no regrets killing the old languishing Sherwood "dead ends", but alas, the greatest regret of his life was opening up the Tokamak money pit. He noted that as the adminstrator of the fusion effort for the AEC, he had to choose something that seemed to show promise and the tokamak was it in the early 70's.

As the axe fell on the old Sherwood fusion efforts, Hirsch made enemies of many of the old line fusion physicists under Sherwood. Most would retire soon anyway. They rode their paying horses as long as possible. Unfortunately, a newer younger breed would be ensconced into the tokamak priesthood until it was run into the ground in the late 90's. Another fusion effort crew was now retiring. IEC fusion was touted to be "the real thing" as the new century dawned. Now, in 2017, the old stellarator concept of 1952 with much more polish and science behind it is being reborn. What was old is now new again.

That is the Hirsch story, in a few paragraphs, but could be worked into a much longer short story or into a real book telling the story of the entire Farnsworth fusor effort and its people.

As an aside, Hirsch might be our hero for his fusor successes, but he is universally despised and hated by millions of the tree hunging, save the Earth crowd for the pivotal role he played in starting and implementing HAARP, (High Altitude Auroral Research Project). Didn't know about that one, did you? I knew Hirsch was not a pal of the save the whale, earth shoe wearing crowd, so I queried about his involvement noting that I was just curious about his actual role....

For those wishing to hear this HAARP tale, let me know in a response here, and I will continue below.

Hirsch ultimatley would play many roles both political and scientific as his career advanced and would come to be a Washington scientific insider, fixer, energy adviser and consultant at a level you might marvel at.

Richard Hull

Re: Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 8:49 am
by Rex Allers
Yes, I was somewhat aware of HAARP from my Ham Radio interests.

I'd be happy to hear more about what you have learned about that story.

Re: Project Sherwood a third re-read

Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 6:12 pm
by Richard Hull
Hirsch has worked either directly for or advised a number of large energy firms during his career. It happened that at one point, he was VP of Research for a major oil producer, ARCO. This company owned the rights to huge natural gas reserves in Alaska above the Arctic circle. The gas could not be economically brought to market due to its location. Hirsch was tasked with figuring out a way to make this asset pay. He was at a loss, initially, to offer a suggestion.

Eventually, one of his scientists, Bernard Eastland had patents with an idea for a research project to study the action of RF energy pumped into the ionosphere at high latitudes. Hirsch realised that the amount of energy needed to excite the ionosphere from the ground would be tremendous, (billions of RF watts). The energy and land for the project might be the perfect opportunity to use some of his company's natural gas in-place! He started the ball rolling through some of his scientific government contacts and his company also made a major effort on their own to sell the idea.

The military seems to have ultimately become involved along with other atmospheric scientists' natural curiousity in pushing this giant antenna array and facility through to a real conclusion and actual acceptance at the higher levels. While the original idea was not Hirsch's, but one of his scientists', Bernard Eastland, Hirsch became the authority that pushed the concept to his company and the snowball went from there.

As in all scientific endeavors that involve large sums of money and government approval, the idea may come from a patent holding, yet inspired minion. Such ideas either die on the vine for any number of reasons, or, with the right authoritative interface pushing another major actor such as a company or military interests, major projects can grow around the original idea.

Abstract ideas, be they good or bad, need a special interface with a foot in both the scientific and political world, followed by a major player above them to move that original idea out of the lab into giant projects.

In HARRP's case, all the planets aligned..........The right idea, meeting an immediate economic opportunity, impressing the right entities, at the right moment.

The upshot************************

This entire thread is not so much about the book or about project Sherwood or Robert Hirsch, but is designed to show how a scientific endeavor, in this case the search for power ready fusion, can become its own monsterous, self perpetuating, public treasure gathering entity whose existence supports thousands of workers where ultimate success would put everyone inolved out of work! Sometimes great philosophical ideas are attractive and create efforts that attempt to move the world to a higher level, enriching the lives of many. This does not mean the implimentation is without major long term issues, often creating fast growing tumors within.

There you have it.

Richard Hull