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I have heard a lot of garbage about a runaway fusion during the ITT effort, but until my chat with Steve Blasing, It was just a rumor. Only Fred Haak seemed positive that they probably achieved self sustaining on one occassion, but it was unconfirmed and I looked at it as one person anecdotal and personal impression.

Fred had told me of a single incident when he and George Bain were running a test on Phil's machine in the pit when the system just "lit" up and went crazy. George killed power, but the thing refused to shut down and actually got brighter to the point that they were in a state of panic.

The device powered down only after three holes were actually burned totally through the fusor shell! This, Fred noted, was absolute fact. They had no neutron instrumentation running during this test. I had slightly discounted this when George commented that he remembered the incident, but was unsure as to the cause, but didn't believe it was a self sustainer, as it was not repeated upon repair. (5 week down time!!)

Steve Blasing told me that Jack Fisher (another superb but short time team technician) was there that evening and freaked out! He told Steve about the event the next day. Steve, who collected the Nuclear Chicago film badges each month, collected them early as well as four non-personell badges placed on each of the four walls of the pit room and sent them for processing and interpretation.

Steve and Jack were stunned when the badge report returned a "beyond reading-intense exposure" (totally exposed) entry for all badges!! This info was not forwarded through normal channels as they were afraid this would not bode well for a continuance of the work there. It was a freak occurrance and the event was unexplained.

Steve noted that normally the badges showed close to zip exposure over a full month as the levels were low and machine runs rather infrequent. No badge was ever over exposed or unreadable during the entire 8 years of monthly reports, save for this one incident.

Apparently only George, Fred and Jack were present for the run. Phil was not present and it was just before Hirsch arrived. Best Guess was late 1963.

The relating of the Jack Fisher story to Steve went something like........'The thing lit up in a brilliant light which shown out of the pit!' George quickly cut power and the glow continued for a short period actually increasing up to the point when a loud pop and hissing signalled the loss of vacuum. Everyone was scared to death. George was very upset that the fusor body was punctured and burned. Fred was all agog about this being the self sustaining reaction they were after. George cautioned all to slow down as analysis was needed. Jack could hardly wait to tell his pal and fellow tech, Steve, the next day. Steve's reaction was to immediately pull the badges and send them off for reading.

I called Fred Haak this morning to re-verify the event and just who was present. Fred said that Phil was not there, but was lifted by the report of the evenings run.
There were, indeed, only George, Fred and Jack there.

Did they do it??!!

Steve said they had a lot of false alarms over the 8 years, but this event just impressed the hell outta' him. Steve also commented to me that Phil always said to the team in numerous meetings that there would be a magic level of ion currents, applied voltage, etc. where the potential wells would stabilize and the reaction would proceed on its own.

Was he right?

I leave this to the individual readers to muse over.

I am normally ultra-skeptical, and this case is still just falling on two individuals statements with one as hearsay (Jack passed away recently). I have also pooh-pooh'd the idea on this list of self sustained reactions in the ITT effort. However, there is the fact about those badges, verified by Steve who was indeed the instrument man and the Rad safety officer for the team.

I now have a new respect for the possibility of their having awakened the dragon if only for a second.


Remember, this never happened again even with improved machines from 1964 onwards.

Richard Hull


Film badges are read on the basis of fogging (densitometer reaings) they are most accurate with light to moderate fogging and fold over to the exponential as they become nearly opaque. Steve noted that opaque was the level of the badge exposure seen at this incident.

Working under the assumption of neutron fogging from fusion, the health issues could be either severe or non-existant.

Steve could not remember the REM limits on the badges and there is no way to know how many times over full fogging the badge was fogged.

With an RBE 0f 10 or more, about 20 rem short term full body dose would be needed to detect blood chemistry changes which might actually go un-noticed by those so exposed. 50 rem or more would show up as noticable anemia or lethargy for a few days. Steve was unaware of any sick time or moping around following the event.

Assuming 20 seconds for the event,(guess), and the pit shielding against dangerous lateral exposure, the guys probably got away with just a moderately heavy short dose. No one thought to check with a geiger counter in the pit (mainly around metallic parts) quickly for short lived isotopes. If the flux were to hit 10e11 or higher a lot of residuals would be around following shut down which would have been easily detectable and have given at least a crude indication of the realized flux. Due to the short duration of the burst, most of the easy geiger detectable stuff would probably decay in a few hours, but be analizable in a critical laboratory environment (MCA) for a week or two.



The last thing I want to see is more lore, myth, supposition and speculation get slowly melded into an apparrent "whole cloth" for the future when this honest reporting is long gone. So transmit this tale well and true with all provisos and cautions.

Speculation often becomes myth which can be reborn as established truths by the unwitting as well as the unscrupulous falsfiers.

Regardless of your feelings, stand your ground and speak the truth, offering both sides of the issue.


Created on Tuesday, May 15, 2001 12:19 PM EDT by Richard Hull