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Hirsch Critiques US Fusion Program

November 24, 2002

Robert L. Hirsch, who led the U.S. fusion program during the period of its rapid buildup in the mid-1970s including the initiation of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor, critiqued the program in a presentation November 18 to the National Academies Burning Plasma Assessment Committee (FPN02-53 & 54). In his talk, titled "Fusion Power: I Think We're Lost," Hirsch said "The arguments against the commercial viability of DT tokamaks are strong and compelling. Then why spend time and money on a huge, expensive DT burning plasma experiment?"

Hirsch argued that the tokamak geometry and the need to shield the superconducting magnets from fast neutrons made DT tokamak power plants too large and expensive compared to fission plants of the same power output. He also expressed concerns about the need to replace and dispose of activated blanket structural materials and the impact this would have on plant economics. He said he believed "we can make fusion happen," but only if "commercial engineers watch over the program." He said, "Physicists in fusion are necessary but not sufficient." He said that the program should be looking more seriously at other than DT tokamak fusion concepts and other than DT fuel cycles. "Let's take advantage of all that has been learned and search for a concept or concepts that stand a chance in the commercial market," he said. He recommended "a careful review of the program by pragmatic, commercial world engineers." He said the Academies could carry out such a review but that it should be done "on the engineering side of the house."

For more information, contact Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, RLHirsch@comcast.net.