The Sun of Man
<v Dr. Harold Furth>We are trying to do exactly what the sun does. <v Dale Meade>We have to build big machines, very expensive machines to carry out our research. <v Steve Dean>There's no doubt the job turned out to be more difficult than people thought 20, 25 years ago. <v Lamar Coleman>Fusion is so important to the future of the world. <v speaker 1>3, 2, 1. <v Dr. Isaac Asimov>The only catch is that we don't have it yet. <v speaker 2>[Counts down in Russian]. <v Eugene Velikhov>In our estimation for the next century, we need fusion. <v Speaker>[music plays] <v Marc Levenson>It's a bright, sunny morning in Princeton, New Jersey, Rob Goldston leaves his car in the driveway and rides his bike to work. It's his daily quest for fusion energy, a quest to copy the sun.
<v Rob Goldston>And what we're trying to do is imitate the fusion process that goes on in the sun, create energy by the same kinds of physics. But within the laboratory. <v Marc Levenson>The laboratory is Princeton's plasma physics lab. It's been home to fusion research since Harry Truman was president. Goldston manages experiments run by the 75 scientists here trying to see if Fusion could be an economical alternative source of energy. The quest for fusion energy has been a long and winding road, much like the concrete corridors leading to Princeton University's fusion test reactor, a lot of fusion veterans walk through here. Goldston's 16 years in fusion science is only a fraction of the collective 2000 fusion research years that Princeton physicists have logged. This is where science hopes to open the door to a new future, where energy is safe, clean and unlimited, but even approaching that door has taken many years, lots of money and engineering wizardry like this huge fusion test reactor.
<v Rob Goldston>And there's a sense that it's a much more expensive experiment than we've worked with before. And so we have to be more careful than before. But it's mostly exciting. It's mostly an experience of new physics, new regimes we haven't been to before. So the, the experiment experiences exhilaration more than being, feeling a sense of being imposed upon by it. <v Marc Levenson>For instance, TFTR, as it's called, is among the world's largest fusion test reactors. Three hundred fifty million dollars worth of copper, stainless steel and cable. 50 years from now, history may remember TFTR as the forerunner of clean, safe, endless energy, but for what may already seem to be an endless era of research. TFTR amounts to one giant physics experiment to which dozens of scientists dedicate their time and their lives. <v speaker 3>This a one big amp shot with 12 mega amps of balanced beam injection. <v Marc Levenson>The control room resembles the Houston control center that monitors space shots. There's even a countdown. But instead of rockets blasting, here, motors wine. The sound of the reactor draining power reserves to fire up atoms and run giant magnets.
<v speaker 4>Perfect. <v Rob Goldston>Oh, that's pretty, that's a nice shot. Look at that, that's really quiet. <v Marc Levenson>They're called shots because each one lasts only about five seconds. Scientists feel if they can make fusion reactions last longer, we won't have to worry if we run out of coal or oil. <v Rob Goldston>If we do not have this alternative source of energy, we will be in in a world situation that would be much worse than where we could be if this energy were available. <v Marc Levenson>The energy available today won't be around tomorrow. The world's growing population forecast as high as 10 billion next century, will tax our depleting supplies of coal and oil. Today's nuclear power picks up some of the slack, but safety and reliability issues have already stifled the growth of nuclear fission. The answer to tomorrow's growing demand for power may not lie here on Earth. It may come from the basic energy that powers the universe. The sun and the stars, they're the universe's way of making nuclear energy, but unlike today's manmade reactors that split atoms, the sun makes them fuse together. Its immense gravity traps hydrogen atoms until the sun's blazing, core blends them into helium. Their fusion unleashes dynamic energy and titanic heat. The same atoms that power the stars are plentiful here on Earth, our oceans are rich with hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. This is how science understands fusion. Each atom of hydrogen is like a tiny planetary system. It rides a balance of a negatively charged electron orbiting around a positively charged nucleus made of a single proton. Water also has another type of hydrogen deuterium, an isotope that lends itself to controlled fusion research. It's got an electron, too, and a nuclear proton as well. But the deuterium nucleus also carries one neutron particle with no electrical charge at all. There's no shortage of deuterium. It's found in one in every 6000 molecules of seawater. It's also easy to extract, but more importantly, it only takes a teaspoon of deuterium to equal the energy you get from 100 barrels of oil. A typical fusion reaction would combine deuterium with another hydrogen isotope, tritium. Besides carrying two neutrons, tritium is manmade. It's also radioactive. But unlike today's nuclear reactors, where waste stays radioactive for thousands of years, tritium radioactivity would last less than 100 years. Fusing them forms harmless helium and releases massive energy, sending neutrons bursting away. In theory, those flying neutrons would strike a reactor wall that collects heat to drive electric turbines while also regenerating expensive tritium.
<v Rob Goldston>The nice thing about fusion is there's less radioactivity. And if you build the thing right, it really has no ability to disperse itself over the countryside. <v Marc Levenson>Imagine a busy train station, one where people hurry, no matter how crowded it gets. Now it's human nature for people to try not to run into each other. But let's just suppose that people kept coming in to the station, but nobody could get out. Well, eventually, as the crowd got more dense, there'd be a bigger chance of a collision. Well, it's that concept of density and confinement that science hopes will force hydrogen nuclei to collide, fuse, and release energy. Laboratories don't have the sun's gravity or size to clamp so much atomic density in place, but there are other ways to increase the chance that atoms will collide and fuse. The method at Princeton's plasma physics lab is higher temperature. Two years ago, scientists here used superhot beams raising the reactor temperature to a record 300 million degrees, six times hotter than the interior of the sun. Heat makes atoms speed up when they're hot enough, electrons break away from their nuclei. The resulting atomic swarm creates a plasma. It's a warm plasma that burns in a fluorescent light bulb. When plasma is hotter and denser, nuclei have a better chance to slam together. But the protons positive charge makes nuclei repel, just like people scurrying in a train station. They also respond to a magnetic field. It takes a strong one to trap nuclei till they collide. That's where Princeton's TFTR comes in. Embedded inside is a donut-likechamber where plasma is made. Surrounding the chamber, two sets of powerful magnets. Their grip resists the plasma's struggle to strike the reactor wall and cool. In effect, binding protons onto a collision course. But plasma is as hard to confine as it is to see. It's like trying to hold Jello with an elastic band. The view from inside the chamber shows carbon bumpers glowing with hot gas, a sign that some burning plasma is leaking away. Solving the plasma confinement problem could solve the fusion mystery. Right now, Princeton scientists have to put in a lot more energy than fusion reactions give back. By 1991, they hope to break even. That means getting as much energy out as they put in. But TFTR is designed only to test the conditions to make fusion. If future reactors work, they'll make plasma ignite just like a match lights a fire. With enough fusion reactions, the plasma would stay hot by itself and outside power needed to ignite it could be turned off.
<v Rob Goldston>But we haven't yet got the thermal insulation to the point where the fusion power that's generated would be enough to keep the thing going on its own. We still have to put in our own power from outside. <v Marc Levenson>The Austrian born physicist who runs the plasma physics lab has been researching fusion for over 30 years. Dr. Harold Furth foresees an experimental reactor by 2010. He also knows the old Fusion axiom that success is always 20 years away. <v Dr. Harold Furth>But now scientific success is now 20 years away. You know, it's at hand. What's 20 years away is the proof that this will be economically attractive. <v Marc Levenson>Princeton's plasma physics lab is among several facilities around the world researching magnetic fusion. Now, that's one approach, but it's not the only one. That satellite dish reminds scientists here that they have some competition. It enables Princeton's computers to communicate with another computer more than 3000 miles away at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco. This California computer complex is the nerve center for magnetic fusion research around the world.
<v computer>Unknown DDL user message. <v Marc Levenson>It looks a little like a coin laundromat. But there's no cleaning here. It's all thinking and some tape changing courtesy of a robot that works like a jukebox. Livermore's supercomputer is a multimillion dollar project run by the Department of Energy. It serves plasma research in more than a dozen American universities, as well as fusion labs in Japan, Europe and the United States. A high tech pumping system pipes special liquid that keeps superfast processors cool. But in supercomputing, they're the hottest thing. They enable several fusion researchers to tap in at the same time. <v Max Allison>One of those processes over there might be sending data to to New Jersey, for instance, and another processor might be sending it to my dichromate across the across the room here. <v Marc Levenson>Livermore supercomputer is designed to do in moments what a personal computer might take years. It's become the world's first electronic fusion ambassador.
<v John Kileen>For this particular center plays a crucial role in the international development as well as the U.S. development of fusion. <v Marc Levenson>But ironically, most of Livermore's magnetic fusion research no longer exists. A 300 million dollar project using parallel magnets, sometimes called Mirror Fusion, was shut down because it cost too much to run. But there is other research here that could give magnetic fusion a run for its money. <v speaker 1>3, 2, 1. <v Marc Levenson>This is Nova, 176 million dollar investment, the cornerstone of what's called inertial confinement fusion, and it takes something this big... To hit something so small. The bottom tip of that metal arm holds a tiny pellet containing fusion fuel. It's the dead center of a five story target chamber that looks more like a giant metal octopus. <v Ben Fredericks>And when I first started, I walked in here and it's like being in, you know, a space movie or something. But after a while, it becomes second nature. There's a lot of things to think about wh-, you know, when you're doing this, this is just one small part of it.
<v Marc Levenson>But this one small part plays a big role in fusion research. Laser fusion, in effect, turns pellets into tiny hydrogen bombs. It only takes a microsecond, but slow motion shows how a laser beam makes the pellet shell blast away. That makes the fusion fuel inside heat up and implode. And researchers hope, make deuterium and tritium fuel fuse. <v Michael Cable>All of this with a goal of trying to improve the fusion process with each shot so that we understand better what's going on for the ultimate goal of trying to get more energy out of this pellet than we put in it with the laser. <v Marc Levenson>This is a scale model of the NOVA laser. The real thing is over 300 feet long, longer than a football field. It's designed to fire a lot of power in less than a blink of an eye. In fact, in a billionth of a second, it drives 200 times the power of all the power plants in the United States. <v speaker 1>6, 5, 4, 3, 2 ,1. Good job.
<v Marc Levenson>You could fit Nova's Control Room in a corner at Princeton's TFTR. <v speaker 5>Yea, we got it. <v speaker 6>Yeah. <v speaker 5>Well, good, good show. <v Marc Levenson>But the laser it controls is the biggest and most powerful in the world. It's the third generation of Livermore lasers, each raising hopes that inertial confinement is the way to go. <v Michael Cable>That requires a certain minimum fuel pellet size, which we do not have enough laser energy to compress a pellet that size. <v Marc Levenson>Means you're going to have to build an even bigger laser. <v Michael Cable>It means it's most likely that we will have to have an even bigger laser than Nova. <v Lamar Coleman>One of our challenges for the next year and a half to two years is to refine our concepts for a technical and economic baseline, to show us how we can build that laser at what we tend to call an affordable cost. <v Marc Levenson>Reportedly, it was a secret nuclear bomb that told researchers how much power that bigger laser would need. In a 1986 project dubbed Centurion Halite, scientists found the bombs intense radiation made a fusion pellets hydrogen fuel ignite. But Livermore has little to say about it. Much of the work here is classified. Even the energy funding comes from a defense pie. They're not just pursuing commercial power here. Laser fusion let's science study the effects of nuclear weapons within the safety of a laboratory.
<v Lamar Coleman>Beyond that, there's not much detail, I'm afraid, that I can go into in that area. <v Marc Levenson>Livermore and Princeton are going after the same fusion goal in different ways. They call it a friendly rivalry where nobody's ahead. <v Lamar Coleman>But scientifically, I'm sure that we view it as some some sort of a race and a rivalry. But it's not an intense one. <v Dr. Harold Furth>It's a very good thing that not all the hopes of the future should dangle from a single thread. <v Marc Levenson>These hopes cost lots of money. Next year's magnetic fusion budget totals over 351 million dollars. There's another 164 million for inertial confinement, but those funds are over 100 million less than peak years. When the energy crisis gave fusion research funding a boost. <v John Clarke>It's very difficult to motivate political figures who are beset with day to day problems to think 25, 30 years in the future. <v Marc Levenson>In the near future, the next decade, Princeton plans to build a new machine designed to achieve ignition. But budget cuts mean the compact ignition program, better known as C.I.T., may have to wait another two years.
<v Steve Dean>And the machine after that may be so expensive that one government may not be willing to pay for it and we may have to have several governments contributing into it. And that really slows down development. <v Marc Levenson>In the Fusion community, Steve Dean is a household name. He's a physicist by trade who lives, breathes and literally drives fusion. A few years ago, he left a job at the Department of Energy, raised private corporate funding and moved into a nearby Maryland office. <v Steve Dean>Actually, I'm going to be over at NRL next Tuesday. Are you going to be in the neighborhood of the plasma physics division? <v Marc Levenson>Dean's Fusion Power Associates keeps labs in private industry up to date on fusion research. He's also kept up with a bottom line. Whether costly research and expensive reactors will price fusion out of the market. <v Steve Dean>I think that's a real problem if that turns out to be the case. I personally believe that that we can make discoveries and come up with ideas and methods that will be cheaper than what our knowledge allows us to do today.
<v Marc Levenson>Dean is not the only one who thinks Fusion will take a global commitment. Fusion scientists are now marking more than 30 years of international cooperation. A top emissary of scientific glasnost frequently meets with American scientists in Washington. Eugene Velikhov is the Soviet science minister. <v Eugene Velikhov>Secretary-General Gorbachev, in meeting Vice president, told him exactly he's interested in fusion and our government is interested and make a decision to try to make this internationally. <v Marc Levenson>But fusion science is a lot older than 30 years. Seven American presidents have funded it. Those first funds, though, went to study a fusion science that's both secret and explosive. The hydrogen bomb, the deadliest force known to man. Its wild fusion energy that's uncontrolled, its development after World War Two inspired researchers to try to tame it. But back then, plasma physics was virtually an unknown science. That's why a 1951 edition of The New York Times caught science by surprise. In a front page article, Argentina's president Juan Peron boasted a laboratory breakthrough, claiming an Austrian physicist working near Buenos Aires successfully controlled nuclear fusion. Skeptical scientists later found there was no breakthrough and no fusion energy. But the story would turn a Princeton physicist into one of the fathers of modern fusion research. Dr. Lyman Spitzer started thinking about new ways to control fusion reactions. But he needed a little seclusion to think them through. So he and his wife went on a Colorado ski trip.
<v Dr. Lyman Spitzer>So I was all primed to think about magnetic fields, very esoteric subject. And I figured out on the on the lift that the magnetic fields should be a method of of of of acting at a distance, pushing on a hot plasma and keeping it from from striking the walls where the crush would immediately cool. <v Marc Levenson>Spitzer worked out his ideas and got the Atomic Energy Commission interested. <v Dr. Lyman Spitzer>We grew and grew and grew. And now what you see here is a direct result or at least an outcome of those of the of the early of that early project. These coils that you see here, these carry electric current in this direction, and that produces a magnetic field that goes around this racetrack as we as we call it, that in principle can hold the plasma in. And if it's hot enough, the nuclei will, will- hydrogen nuclei will fuse and produce electric power. <v Marc Levenson>Knowing he was copying the energy of the sun and the stars, Spitzer called his device the Stellarator. He used it to mount Project Matterhorn. It was Princeton's first fusion research and it was cloaked in secrecy. But Fusion's first pioneers got disappointing results.
<v Dr. Lyman Spitzer>And in fact, if we'd gone right ahead and built a device that was ten times bigger than this. It would have worked very much the way the present devices are. <v John Clarke>Looking back, it's not surprising that the people were were disappointed in their early efforts. There was no way they could have succeeded with the knowledge they had at the time. <v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>Stuff. You know, we had some. <v Marc Levenson>But from Russia came some early fusion genius. Doctor Andrei Sakharov and his wife Yelena, live on the seventh floor of a Moscow apartment. Together, they've braved the Kremlin's muscle to fight for human rights, a fight that's won Sakharov the Nobel Peace Prize. <v Yelena Sakharov>[speaks Russian]. <v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>[speaks Russian] <v Marc Levenson>But Zakharov Science won him worldwide respect after working on the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Zakharov turned to more peaceful science. In the early 50s, he and Dr. Igor Tamm wrote a theory of magnetic confinement, fathering the concept that inspired modern fusion research.
<v Yelena Sakharov>[inaudible] but after many, many fathers. <v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>I have the inner great feeling that a when a thing that took part in the beginning of this very essential work. <v Marc Levenson>Sakharov speaks broken English, but speaking in Russian, he told us through an interpreter, the fusion science that grew out of his early theories is making good progress. <v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>[speaks in Russian]. <v translator>This work turned out to be much more difficult and lengthier than it had presented itself to Sergei, Tamm, and myself in 1950. But the fundamental principle problems have been overcome. The reasons for instability have been explained. And it seems to me that we not only know that the magnetic fusion device is possible, but also the parameters in which magnetic fusion can become a real operating machine. <v Marc Levenson>How do you think fusion might change the world? <v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>Yeah.
<v translator>I think that controlled fusion reactors will decide problems of energy production, which already have other solutions. And therefore I do not think that fusion will change the world. Its purpose does not have that revolutionary character that the other great discoveries of the 20th century have had when something was being solved for the first time. All the same, I think that practically it will be very important for humanity. I think that large scale atomic energy production will receive a great deal from controlled fusion. In the first stage, I think that this will take the form of the breeder reactor. Controlled fusion reactions to obtain uranium 238 for use in atomic energy production. Of course, this means the atomic energy is founded upon fission with all of its difficulties and dangers. For this reason, I support the idea of placing all nuclear power underground. <v Marc Levenson>The fusion breeder that Sakharov mentioned is a concept the Russians still study but found too impractical by Western and Japanese science. It was the concept of safety, though, that prompted Sakharov to return to English and remind Fusion researchers to never forget.
<v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>We have no right to have another Chernobyl's. <v Marc Levenson>The man who's given his life to peace feels science must do the same for the atom. <v Speaker>[program music plays] <v Marc Levenson>That's not a new idea. Hopes resting on the nuclear promise led the world's scientific nations to start sharing knowledge. So the cloak of secrecy surrounding fusion and fission research started to lift. <v program narrator>Just before the opening of the conference, the United States and Great Britain jointly announced the declassification of their thermonuclear research programs. And the United States unveiled its most promising experimental devices, actual operating machines like Princeton's B2 Stellarator. These represent the various paths being explored in a quest for a new source of power. Many of these machines were operated throughout the conference. The Princeton exhibit included a model of the university's Stellarator laboratory devoted entirely to fusion research. Another approach the racetrack Stellarator, in which the twist in the magnetic field is produced by current flowing through adjacent groups of wires in opposite directions. The Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory showed a number of operating devices, including Scilla, in which the plasma is superheated by compression. All of the machines are still in the experimental stage, but from one of these research channels may come the elusive secret of cheap, plentiful power. A secret which certainly will be unlocked the sooner as a result of international cooperation.
<v Marc Levenson>Fusion first worked in secret because governments wondered if nuclear byproducts might help make powerful bombs. They knew that in theory, a plasma chamber wrapped inside a uranium blanket would lead to a fusion breeder reactor capable of making plutonium, a key ingredient for nuclear weapons. <v Dr. Harold Furth>People were afraid maybe this was some sort of shortcut for making fissionable material for bomb. So by 58, it was clear that building a fusion reactor just had to be one of the toughest ways on Earth to make material clandestinely for bomb. And then it made sense to declassify. <v Marc Levenson>Suddenly, Fusion was heard around the world. And at a 1958 atomic energy conference in Geneva, researchers from a host of nations showcased their fusion science. <v John Clarke>Soviets were there, the Japanese, the Europeans. And it was remarkable because up until that time, all these programs had been conducted in secret. And when people opened the veils and they showed the other parties what they had done, it was all the same.
<v Speaker>[clock tower bells ringing] <v Marc Levenson>But not for long. In the mid 1960s, Russian scientists working in Moscow announced a major fusion achievement. Using Sakharov's theories the Soviets improved on the donut like confinement chamber. Researchers at places like Moscow's Kurchatov Institute invited the world to copy their idea and the world copied away. They even copied the word Tokamak, a Russian acronym that applies to today's most common fusion research device. The Soviets opened their fusion research doors years before anyone ever heard of glasnost, symbolizing that scientists around the world find it a lot easier to cooperate than their respective nations do. Perhaps it is today's spirit of glasnost that led the Soviets to invite our cameras in for a rare and comprehensive look at fusion research here in the USSR.
<v speaker 2>[speaks in Russian ] <v Marc Levenson>This is Russian fusion research at work. The lab looks a lot different than Princeton's TFTR, but the goal is exactly the same. <v Dr. Igor Golovin>The ignition of the ?DT reaction? is the most important step in all our work. Will work thirty eight year and if we don't ignite that action, the public opinion will be against fusion 40 years spend it and not igniters in action that this... Unluck. <v Dr. Samuel Hokin>[speaking in Russian] <v Marc Levenson>You're watching some of the international spirit to make fusion work. The man standing is Sam Hokin, an American exchange scientist from MIT. He learned fast that it helps to speak Russian here.
<v Dr. Samuel Hokin>[speaking in Russian]. <v Marc Levenson>He also learned from dusty oscilloscopes an obsolete technology. After hearing how Russian science suffers from technical setbacks and shortages, he came to Moscow armed with his own personal computer. <v Dr. Samuel Hokin>And that's something that all American scientists and our Western scientists know, that when you come to the Soviet Union to do exchange work, bring your own equipment, everything including a voltage meter, soldering iron, whatever you want, because even if it's here, it's hard to find and it's things get tough. <v Marc Levenson>But the brainpower here is top notch. Doctor Vyacheslav Strelkov manages Moscow's fusion workhorse, better known as T10. It's older and a lot smaller than Princeton's TFTR, but it leads the world in a key type of plasma heating technology, where most other Tokamaks use electric heat and so-called neutral beams. T10 uses gyrotrons that generate the same kind of heat you get when you turn on a microwave oven. <v Dr. Vyacheslav Strelkov>It is generator so-called g-gyrotrons. Each one unit produces about 200 kilowatts power and all energy use the [inaudible] go to the plasma in order to heat the plasma. On this machine, we have the temperature of the plasma, about 10 KV electron temperature of the plasma.
<v Marc Levenson>And that is in terms of real temperature, what? <v Dr. Vyacheslav Strelkov>High [inaudible]. It is about one hundred million degrees centigrade. <v Marc Levenson>How come you're still working with an old style kind of experiment? <v Dr. Vyacheslav Strelkov>It is not because this experiment is rather difficult and the way we could. We have many problems. So we continue to experiment on this machine and build a constructive one. <v Marc Levenson>It's called T-15, it's the Soviets first modern generation Tokamak experiment, when it's ready, it will look just like Princeton's TFTR. But there are some key differences. The Soviets are building T-15 with a superconducting coil. It will act like a power bank, storing the energy to heat and confine the plasmas, minimizing the power T-15 will have to drain from Moscow's power company.
<v Dr. Vyacheslav Strelkov>A real thermanuclear reactor must have only the superconducting coils. It is impossible, practically impossible, to have a German nuclear reactor as usual, usual magnet. <v Marc Levenson>T-15 is supposed to start in December. That's more than five years since Princeton turned on TFTR. The Soviets had hoped T-15 would have been working right now, but it suffers from a five year lag that underscores a fundamental complaint that bureaucratic rivalries and managerial conflicts often slow down soviet scientific development. <v Dr. Vyacheslav Strelkov>Does not, not so many difficulties, not scientistic difficulties, technology difficulties and also difficulties of organization. Manager maybe, problem of management. <v Marc Levenson>Another problem, radioactivity. First generation fusion reactors will burn radioactive tritium. The Soviets say both they and their American counterparts have painful memories that will force them to minimize contamination.
<v Dr. Igor Golovin>Their public opinion no is against radioactivity. We know in the United States and now after Chernobyl in our state that their opinion is that they and their energetic must be with such low level of radioactivity. <v Marc Levenson>There's plenty of energy and enthusiasm here to make fusion work. The Russians hope T-15 will help them catch up to fusion science around the world. <v Dr. Samuel Hokin>Russia until now has been pretty much out on its own. And as experiments get bigger, as it looks like a fusion reactor is going to be a big, complicated, expensive thing, at least at the beginning, it is clear that international cooperation is necessary. <v Eugene Velikhov>It is nonsense to make a competition in such a field as fusion because it is a very long term goal and we benefit from the development of Tokamak in the United States.
<v Marc Levenson>The Soviets appealed for joint fusion development, historically gets a lukewarm response at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. It's a concern that the Russians are subtly trying to grab Western technology. As one House staff member put it, we don't want to give away the store. Among those concerned, the New Jersey congressman who chairs a House Science and technology committee. <v Rep. Robert Roe>As it is now, in my judgment, we're a little paranoic on technology transfer. I don't mean that unfairly. I mean legitimately, we have concerns there. We're all going to have to change our ways at how we do business internationally and our concern of technology transfer and the protection of our country, which everybody understands. But if we're going to be doing these big things together, we're going to be breaking new ground and do joint missions to Mars. And so with the Soviets and so forth, we're going to have to be in a position of being developing new methods, which we don't exist today. <v Marc Levenson>Those concerns held back researchers like Doug Post. He's a Princeton physicist. We met last April. That was just before he left for Germany, where he and teams of scientists from around the world are working to design the international test engineering reactor, better known as ITER. The multi-billion dollar reactor would be a joint project to be built after the turn of the century. Originally, Post and other scientists hope the Munich Conference would actually lead to construction.
<v Doug Post>But the US Defense Department was concerned that there would be issues associated with technology transfer with the Soviet government. And so they basically downgraded it to a design study. <v Dr. William Graham>Before we get to the big construction area, we've got to see this relationship between the Soviet Union and the Western countries continue to mature by quite a bit. I can't tell you how that's going to go. That's up to the Russians. <v Eugene Velikhov>But if we make a proper steps in the arms race control and disarmament have to start and better relation. I think, why not? <v Marc Levenson>But if east and West grow close enough to start a test reactor construction, then where would it be built? Princeton's TFTR is the latest in a series of plasma physics lab experiments. With C.I.T. plan to start in 1996, it's unlikely that Princeton would have time, place or room for another project. California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory hopes to build a new laser even bigger than Nova to perfect inertial confinement fusion, so it's unlikely that ITER would be built there. In fact, it's unlikely that ITER will even be built in the United States. The U.S. is only one of four major fusion research nations. The betting money on ITER's location somewhere in a rural tract in Europe.
<v Steve Dean>We're very nationalistic when you when you get right down to it. And I think especially on the- in the Congress, you'll see a lot of resistance to having that U.S. money go abroad. <v Rep. Robert Roe>If we had to stop some of our own plasma work in this country that we're working on and again in Princeton, Tokamak and so forth and a- versus participating in funding another program in Europe, I think we would we would work with it. I know we would go to the domestic end. You understand where I'm trying to come from? So I don't think that the decision process is at hand as yet, nor do I think that the case is set. And anybody determined that that program would be built in Europe or any place else at this point. <v Rob Goldston>So why don't we start with our usual agenda and see what the status of the machine beams and so forth? <v Marc Levenson>But before ITER they're still TFTR. Every Monday morning, Rob Goldstone leads a crowded conference updating Princeton Tokamak progress. <v speaker 7>We've had about three or four choices of pumps on the RF- RF limiter and it turned out the difficulty that we're seeing the hotspot most likely was insulated on the limited amounts.
<v Marc Levenson>It's like managing a baseball team, except here they use computers instead of bats, and their field is a mysterious and challenging level of plasma physics. <v Rob Goldston>We have to talk about how how we implement this procedure to save the machine and also let us operate. <v Marc Levenson>But if TFTR works, the machine won't be saved. It only burns deuterium now, but in two years, Princeton plans to wrap up research with 100 tritium shots. Resulting radiation will make TFTR literally too hot to handle. Maintenance would require special tools and special robots. Those planned Pretium shots raised government concern. Federal research found TFTR's radiation would pose no danger, even in the unlikely chance that safety systems fail. In fact, a geology study concluded there's only a one in a million chance that even harmless trace amounts of tritium would penetrate underground water supplies. Yet tests are underway to see if, in a worst case scenario, like a major fire, nearby Princeton neighbors would still need an emergency response plan.
<v news report>Leaking radiation apparently went unnoticed for three hours yesterday. The nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island plant overheated and shut down at four a.m. <v Marc Levenson>Three Mile Island, a symbol for what can go wrong with nuclear power. Loose radioactivity contaminated one of the reactor buildings. The device itself radiated with what nuclear scientists call after heat. <v Speaker>[drilling sounds] <v Marc Levenson>After heat could affect fusion too. Fusion reactors would produce a safe helium ash that's a lot simpler to dispose than the radioactive waste from today's nuclear fission power plants. And no matter what happens, the reactors plasma chamber would contain no more than four seconds of fuel at any one time. But fusion also makes neutrons that bombard the chambers wall, that would make the wall radioactive, and that contamination would also spread to the reactors supporting structure. <v Rob Goldston>But compared to a fission power plant where the thing has that much energy inside, this thing really hasn't got the energy to not only damage itself, but damage a containment building and end up moving out. It doesn't- you feed the fuel in very slowly into a fusion power plant. You don't keep it there the way you have to in a fission power plant all the time.
<v Marc Levenson>That's if engineers build it right. The challenge of material science is to develop metals and compounds that resist radioactivity. <v Dr. Igor Golovin>The material of the first wall, cannot work in such big neutron fluxes 30 years at the most big changes after some three or four years and therefore such a reactor must stop and it must be repaired and first wall, must be changed. That is not a commercial kind of machine. <v Steve Dean>We might even be able to make a wall that last 30 years. And there are other possibilities, too. We may go to a fuel cycle that doesn't involve tritium, for example. Then the neutron flux on the wall goes down a lot. <v Marc Levenson>A safe fusion fuel cycle might involve a little travel like a trip to the moon. The moon is loaded with helium three. An isotope not found here on earth. Burning deuterium and lunar helium would be a lot safer than tritium. Both Soviet and American space programs plan some lunar mining missions, possibly to bring back helium three.
<v Dr. Igor Golovin>If lunar helium three can be and that Vitek and may be economic with energetic and economic advantage or in competition with all other fuel existing on the earth. That is, I think, our goal to give to the mankind power without radioactivity or with a very low level of radioactivity. <v Marc Levenson>Engineers think a fusion reactor might look something like this. There'd be a concrete igloo to contain radioactivity. Robotics would be needed to maintain the reactor structure. Such a reactor could be up to 50 years away. But the promise of fusion provides fuel for imagination. It could not only power our utilities, it could run our rocket ships too. <v Dr. Isaac Asimov>On almost every count, fusion would seem to be superior to fission. The only catch is that we don't have it yet.
<v Marc Levenson>But Isaac Asimov uses Fusion all the time. His noted science background helps him dream of worlds that turn from today's heavy chemical rockets to tomorrow's faster fusion rockets that burn lighter hydrogen fuel. Meaning a trip to Mars that would take us months today, might only take a few days tomorrow. <v Dr. Isaac Asimov>We'll be able to pack more energy into a spaceship so that we can we can have more bang for our buck. What we really need to make my science fiction work is faster than light travel, but I don't consider that much of a possibility at all. Still, with fusion alone, we ought to be able to reach any point in the solar system we want without too much trouble. And maybe if we take a little trouble, reach some of the nearest stars. I must admit that I had rather thought that we'd have done it some time ago. The fact that we haven't done it yet is a little disheartening.
<v Marc Levenson>That disappointment is felt by a growing number of scientists as well as the very industry that would sell fusion power. <v Ken Matson>At this point, there's a significant risk in whether or not fusion will actually work. <v Marc Levenson>Ken Matson works for the New Jersey utility that supplies the energy that runs Princeton's TFTR. Utilities don't supply much more than that. To support today's fusion research. Beset by problems plaguing the nuclear fission industry, they're waiting for more promising results in fusion before jumping in. <v Ken Matson>If you had fusion and that that worked, but you couldn't maintain it economically or you couldn't operate it economically, then it isn't a viable technology. Even though it works. It's not a viable technology for our ratepayers. <v Marc Levenson>That doesn't mean power companies forget. Nestled beneath California's purple foothills lay sprawling research. Microchip manufacturers, computer firms, laboratories. They checker flat land south of San Francisco, appropriately called the Silicon Valley. Among the science centers here, the Electric Power Research Institute, a think tank supported by the American power industry. They think a lot here about nuclear physics. But Dr. David Worledge also thinks about fusion, a much different type than current research.
<v Dr. David Worledge>The technique here is to try to avoid the use of plasmas or at least to try to avoid the use of very high energy. <v Marc Levenson>It's called Muonic catalytic fusion, in which a bulky, heavy electron acts like a powerful glue bonding, deuterium and tritium a lot more tightly than a normal electron would. So tight the nuclei run a better chance of fusing, and instead of super hot plasmas particle accelerators would generate muons at low temperatures. It's an old idea littered with technical problems, but EPRI sees new promise. <v Dr. David Worledge>We're interested in this process because at a very low level of funding, with very small scale experiments, one has an opportunity perhaps to participate in a breakthrough. Perhaps in the next five years. <v Marc Levenson>We may need a breakthrough on any type of alternative energy source for more reasons than we realize. Most commercial power plants today not only make energy, they make pollution, too. The fossil fuels they burn send gases into the air.
<v Speaker>[sound of planes flying over traffic] <v Marc Levenson>And it's not just power plants. Anything that burns also pollutes. They fill our skies with carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, along with other manmade pollutants, chlorofluorocarbons and methane. Gases that have come to be known as the greenhouse gases. Greenhouses trap sunlight and heat, an efficient way to make plants grow better. It works well for botany, but it's not so good for humanity. As greenhouse gases encircle the earth, trapped sunlight raises temperatures making climates change. Professor Ned Reiss teaches meteorology at New Jersey's Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He's accustomed to tracking weather patterns like winds, rain and humidity. But lately he's been tracking something else. <v Prof. Ned Reiss>What we're looking at here is the global average concentration of carbon dioxide for the last twenty three years, beginning in nineteen fifty eight and extending up through nineteen eighty one. And the ups and downs that you see here are the variations over the course of each year. Carbon dioxide increases and decreases with season, but the important thing to see is that the general trend has been upward and it shows that during those 23 years there's been something like a 10 percent global worldwide increase of carbon dioxide that has taken place.
<v Marc Levenson>There are signs that the greenhouse effect is taking its toll. Some meteorologists point to recent heat waves and a costly Midwestern drought. There is evidence of desert migration in Africa that's gobbling up the already limited farmland. And if the greenhouse keeps up, scientists fear some melting of the polar ice caps will make the oceans rise, triggering beach erosion and floods. <v Prof. Ned Reiss>It's possible that some of the things that have taken place in the Sahara Desert regions, the droughts that we're seeing now, could be some of the first manifestations of that kind of a forerunner of things to come. But the the time range that we're talking about, where, where the the effects are going to become incontrovertible is going to be in the next few decades. It's going to be very, very difficult to do anything about it because the fossil fuel combustion is something that has been an integral part of our our civilization for a very long time. The most important thing that we could do would be to try to go to some alternative types of fuel. But building building a few nuclear power plants, nuclear fusion facilities around the U.S., for example, probably wouldn't have too much of an effect. That would have to be a very large scale type of thing to really make a difference.
<v Dr. William Graham>Now, there's speculation in how strong those effects are and how much carbon dioxide it takes to create that sometimes called greenhouse effect. But it's only prudent that we look to other forms of power generation which don't create carbon dioxide for the long run so that we do manage to maintain our environment in a form that we find both productive, comfortable and otherwise acceptable. <v Marc Levenson>Presidential science advisor Dr. William Graham works in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. His office is down the corridor from the room where Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and his secretary, Fawn Hall, shredded Iran-Contra documents. But for Dr Graham that nearby modern American history is hardly as significant or pressing as what man's doing to Earth. <v Dr. William Graham>These aren't short term effects I'm talking about. There was a big place. It's got a big atmosphere, but over the long run, we want to be careful that what we put in the atmosphere doesn't have undesirable side effects and fusion can help in that.
<v Marc Levenson>Our sun has been burning for over four billion years. It's only in the last hundred years that we've really come to understand why. Perhaps in the next hundred years we'll also learn how to harness the sun's energy here on Earth. On paper, fusion energy sounds like a clean, safe, limitless source of power. But to make a sun of man here on Earth will take some hard decisions. After 40 years of expensive research, can we afford the cost of 40 more? Can we afford the risk that maybe it won't work? If you ask the scientists, you'll be told we can't afford to wait. <v John Clarke>With a growing human family we're going to need more energy to power the world. And there just aren't that many sources of energy around. I looked up the population figures the other day, and at the time that the fusion program started, there were two billion people in the world. Nineteen fifty three. Today there are five billion people in the world. That's three. You know, it's more than doubled. By the time we find out whether or not we can really build a fusion reactor. Say, shortly after the turn of the century, there'll probably be another three billion people in the world. And by the time we can start producing energy with fusion or any other new technology, we're talking about 10 to 15 billion people in the world. There's just simply no way you can support that population with conventional energy sources.
<v Steve Dean>Fusion, of course, is designed. Not for us, but for our children's future, because we know that in the 21st century, the world is going to run out of coal and oil. And what are we going to do when that happens? If we don't do the work now, we won't be in a position to ensure our children's energy future and their standard of living in the 21st century. <v Dr. Harold Furth>The time when there will be a lot of fusion power being commercially applied, when when fusion takes over, a good share of the power requirement will be sort of 2040, 2050. That seems like a very long time away. But if you draw a little graph on when the crunch really hits the rising power requirements around the world with a growing population and the rising standards of living crossing over with the falling fossil fuel resources, you'll find that the crunch hits in 2050. So that is not a bad time to be able to shoulder a big piece of the load.
<v Eugene Velikhov>Because the fusion mostly depends of our brain, not from our- not from the resources and other. In the modern time, high technology win, and such case I am sure we win about how fast is the question. <v Lamar Coleman>Fusion is so important to the future of the world, to populations, to civilization, that it's a technology that we have to develop. We can't afford to overlook any options. <v Dale Meade>There will be something that's useful for mankind. Maybe my grandchildren, my own children now are of an age that this won't happen in their lifetime. It's like working on the first layers of a pyramid. You can see the final product in your mind, but it will be generations after my generation that will actually finish this. <v Dr. Lyman Spitzer>And we can be confident within a few years we will know that the laws of physics make it possible to to extract energy from fusion for the welfare of mankind.
<v Dr. Andrei Sakharov>We have no right to have another Chernobyl's. <v Princeton Instructor>Plasma. What is plasma? That's not part of your blood. That's not what we're talking about. A plasma is a fourth state of matter. <v Marc Levenson>They could be future plasma physicists, but today they're only visitors. Princeton's plasma physics lab runs hundreds of tours each year. This one is no different. As always, the labs auditorium rings with curiosity and questions. <v student>When this thing is running. What's like the radiation level on the floor? <v Princeton Instructor>Very high. <v Marc Levenson>While chasing the fusion mystery, plasma physicists often find themselves splitting time between science and public relations. They know how good PR helps save federal funding, but it also helps educate and inspire. It may take two more generations of plasma physics before the world enters the fusion era.
- The Sun of Man
- Producing Organization
- New Jersey Network
- Contributing Organization
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- "This one-hour documentary provides an in-depth look at research and development of fusion energy--by which energy is released from the fusion of hydrogen atoms, as opposed to today's nuclear fission that derives energy from atoms that are split. "Fundamental to the documentary are clear, non-scientific explanations and vivid animation to help the [non-scientist] understand and develop an interest in the fusion process. "The hour focuses on the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab that's experimenting with a huge, 350-million-dollar [Tokamak]--the most common device used in today's fusion research. But from Princeton, the viewer is taken to San Francisco's Livermore Laboratory for a more defense-oriented approach to fusion (laser fusion), and to the Soviet Union for a rare and candid glimpse at Soviet fusion research. The cornerstone to the Soviet segment--an interview with the father of today's fusion science, Dr. Andrei Sakharov--the first time Sakharov has spoken about fusion on Western television. "The Sun of Man traces the forty-year history of fusion science and projects the political obstacles that Soviet-American relations may pose. It also demonstrates the relative and comparable safety and cleanliness of fusion over today's nuclear fission reactors that create centuries of dangerous radioactive waste. "Most importantly, The Sun of Man underscores the vital reasons why societies around the world must seek alternative energy sources now to prepare for the middle of the 21st century when our supplies of fossil fuels will begin to run out. And, in underscoring the need for cleaner, less-radioactive nuclear energy, The Sun of Man leaves the viewer with Sakharov's provocative quote, 'We have no right to have any more Chernobyls.'"--1988 Peabody Awards entry form.
- Broadcast Date
- Created Date
- Asset type
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producing Organization: New Jersey Network
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-76ccd27a7d7 (Filename)
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- Chicago: “The Sun of Man,” 1988, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-4j09w09z3s.
- MLA: “The Sun of Man.” 1988. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-4j09w09z3s>.
- APA: The Sun of Man. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-4j09w09z3s