The History of D-T fusion at ITT

Reflections on fusion history, current events, and predictions for the 'fusion powered future.
Post Reply
User avatar
Richard Hull
Moderator
Posts: 12517
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

The History of D-T fusion at ITT

Post by Richard Hull » Mon Jan 27, 2020 7:20 am

In rolling through my past notes and interviews I found the answer to the foggy issue of when D-T fusion began at the ITT - Farnsworth effort. The URL below goes way back to my digging into the issue via early phone interviews in 1998 where no one really remembered definitively as to be read below. (songs site)

https://www.fusor.net/old-boards/songs. ... -1665.html

In late 1999 I spent that week long in-person interview in Fort Wayne and then Bloomington. While I had talked with everyone via phone and all mentioned Fred Haak whose phone number I could not ferret out, I met and talked with both Fred Haak and Gene Meeks over three days in a row. Fred was fuzzy but would check his old notebook at home. The next day he recounted the time frame and circumstances of the D-T usage. Note: Fred had a stroke 3 years prior to my 1999 visit and his memory was cloudy, but as he noted, was coming back via our stimulus with Gene pulling them out into his conscious again. Soon Fred was spouting off stuff that Gene did not remember. Most of this, however, was after Gene was no longer in the Farnsworth "pit" team, but working solely with Robert Hirsch with his "cave" fusor.

Fred noted that Hirsch came and spent the summer of 1963 in the lab as a visiting participant while he was finishing up his doctoral degree. It was Hirsch who noted that they were just starting to get D-D to work in the last bell jar fusor once they reversed the polarity to due ion acceleration. (this is a big story itself). Their results in 1963 were terrible but real fusion, nonetheless. Fred said the group, with Farnsworth present, held a meeting. Hirsch merely suggested that D-T fusion would do better. No one had thought of it, apparently! Fred Haak, having joined the group in 1961, as the third team member, was snatched out of the tube lab where he had worked for about 8 years. Fred said he chimed in that one of the physicists at Pontiac street in the tube lab, ( named - Litener), had an industrial license from the AEC to use Tritium in vacuum tubes. While Fred talked to the license holder, Hirsch had Farnsworth looked into their getting a license for the fusor lab. Farnsworth put the Admiral on it who everyone knew was a mover and shaker.

There is a technical story here. Tritium is not found on earth in accessible amounts and is a reactor produced product only. In the early years after WWII, it was 100% allocated to defense work. By the early 1950's the AEC was licensing it as there were enough reactors around to have some small surplus of the gas. I have two isotope catalogs in my possession. Only the government distributed Tritium under license and in my 1952 catalog it was sold for $1200/liter (STP) still a rare item. By the early 1960's the AEC sold all its isotopes only to large licensed wholesalers and got out of the isotope sales business. A company named NUMEC sold licensed isotopic materials to industry and researchers. In my 1965 catalog 3H (tritium) was offered for $60/liter. A much better price as many more reactors were on line then. The licensing requirements were tightened as the years went by and radiological issues were faced by industries using isotopes.

The Admiral reported back to Farnsworth that to get a Tritium license might take a year or more and demand a lot of ancillary expenses. Therefore, they used the license of the on-site physicist who got his license very easily in the more lax 50's licensing atmosphere. This was not strictly legal as the license holder was not part of the using body or project. He had also not ordered tritium in the last few years. So, as Fred told me, "We gave it a shot". Tritium was ordered and it showed up with a lot of paper work. One of the new AEC provisions was that in the area of its use all workers submitted a weekly urine sample. Tritium is taking up in the water of the body forming HTO or as I call it "Tritter". It is excreted rather rapidly in the urine. if the urine tests come back heavily loaded with tritium in the urine the AEC will pay a nasty visit to find out why the workers are getting so much in their lungs. Not desired, needless to say.

Fred said that while the gas was not horribly expensive, all tests where improvements in hardware were tested on the pit fusor, they continued with D-D. If the improvement was good and more fusion resulted in D-D fusion, they would do a record run with D-T. This held costs down and the risk of a constant loading of Tritium getting out into the lab.

The Pit was being installed and D-T was first used in the first Farnsworth "Mark" series fusors in the late summer of 1963. It kicked out about 100 times the best they ever did with the bell jar fusors! The mark series was the first Farnsworth fusor to really shine.

Upon graduation in early 1964, the Admiral had hired Hirsch due to his glowing work last summer. Hirsch came in with his own ideas and saw the limitations of the pit fusor and later in 1964 the Cave was set up and Meeks was to join Hirsch in his separate effort. Steve Blaising was brought in from the vacuum lab to replace Gene as technician with Bain and Haak. This would end the slow boil angst between Bain and Meeks and, as Meeks told me, " George and I became very congenial after that."

According to Meeks, "We never used D-D in the cave, only D-T, so on Wednesday everyone had to pee in a jar". So 5 jars each week went to the testing facility out of state. The reports that came back were all far below the allowed amount. Hirsch noted that the AEC never had to investigate or even show up just to inspect or see the operation.

Gene Meeks and Hirsch confirmed that the mark series pit fusors never did equal or surpass the smaller "cave" fusor numbers. A storied incident told by a rather short term technician, (Jack Fisher), with the pit fusor MK II was recalled by Steve Blaising, who was not there for "the event" but Jack Fisher was and told him about it. Blaising said he did not believe it, but in full disclosure, mentioned it. (maybe at some point we might expound upon it.)
A note here......there were about three very short term technicians on the team. John Cornealius was one. He lasted about 1.5 years, Gene noted. He was not liked, as he was uninspired by the work, itself and afraid of the radiation that started to pour out in early 1963. He was much later killed in a car crash.

in summary, 1963 summer, Hirsch suggested D-T fusion. Haak got it via the on site licensed physicist. The Pit fusor ran one test with it to verify increased fusion. 1964, Hirsch formally hired by ITT via the Admiral. Cave is built and two teams are formed. The Farnsworth "pit" team consisted of George Bain, Fred Haak and Steve Blaising. (Blaising replaced the rad frightened Cornealius). The "Cave" Hirsch fusor team consisted of Robert Hirsch and Gene Meeks.

Richard Hull
Attachments
pit mkI -1.jpg
The fabulously beautiful but not high performing Mark II "pit" fusor. I call it the warp core fusor.
Pit mk IIA -1.jpg
The Farnsworth mark II or III the best and final "pit" fusor. Not pretty, but very complex compared to the cave fusor. the Mark II had many variants with alphabetical sub lettering.
MEEKSANDUNKNWONFUSOR.jpg
Last iteration of the Cave fusor circa 1967 Gene Meeks in photo. The best performing fusor of the entire project. Gene Meeks designed and patented the gun design under ITT patents.
MEEKSANDUNKNWONFUSOR.jpg (319.59 KiB) Viewed 1323 times
Cave.jpg
An image of an early cave fusor circa 1965. It would go through about 4 changes over the life of the project.
meeksmehaak.jpg
First trip to Fort Wayne 7 days spent there. Pontiac Street plant. Left to right... Richard Hull, Gene Meeks, Fred Haak....The day we toured the plant.
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

Post Reply