Meeting Information

How Fusion Can Become Relevant

May 22, 2013
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Speaker: Dr. Wallace (Wally) Manheimer, NRL (Retired)

Speaker’s Presentation:
How Fusion Can Become Relevant format_pdf
Wallace Manheimer - May 22, 2013

Topic: How Fusion Can Become Relevant

Time and Location: 1:00 PM, with Q&A to follow; in a 1st floor conference room at the American Center for Physics (, 1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD-- off River Rd., between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.

Abstract: In theory, controlled thermonuclear fusion can be billed as one of a relatively few possible solutions to the carbon free energy dilemma. A brief review of other 'sustainable' options, solar, wind, biofuel and sequestration shows that they are nowhere near ready to provided the required power any time soon. However fusion has undergone difficult times lately. Its two large flagships, ITER (International Tokamak Experimental Reactor) and NIF (National Ignition Facility) appear to be taking in water. ITER's schedule has slipped years, and its construction cost estimate has more than tripled since 2005. NIF, while running and routinely generating megajoule laser shots, has still come in at billions over budget. Also, as of November 2012, its neutron production is more than three orders of magnitude down from what had been promised; so far failing in its namesake mission. Yet tokamaks and lasers remain fusion's best hope.

Although fusion's problems are more immediate, one thing that could help it greatly in the long run is to reduce the requirements on the fusion reactor by an order of magnitude. It would be more helpful still if fusion could fit in easily with current energy infrastructure. The tremendous potential of fission suppressed hybrid fusion, or more briefly fusion breeding, is that it offers exactly that potential. This talk will discuss fusion breeding and show how it might offer a solution to the energy dilemma within a reasonable time span. A single fusion breeder reactor can power at least 5 light water reactors (LWR's) of equal power. Thus an ITER or NIF sized device can be an end in itself, rather than a stepping stone to who knows what DEMO, decades and decades later. As a fuel producer, fusion is an order of magnitude more prolific than fast neutron reactors like the integral fast reactor (IFR). But IFR's can burn the actinide wastes of about 5 LWR's of equal power. This is a reasonably mature technology, at least compared to fusion. The combination of fuel production by fusion, power production mostly by LWR's and actinide waste treatment by IFR's have the potential of providing 20-30 terawatts of carbon free power, economically, environmentally soundly, and with no proliferation potential, at least as far into the future as the dawn of civilization was in the past.

Biography: Wally Manheimer graduated from MIT undergraduate and graduate school, with both degrees in physics. Since 1970 he has been at the Naval Research Laboratory in the Plasma Physics Division. During that time, he worked on laser fusion, magnetic fusion, plasma processing, microwave tubes, high power microwaves, radar systems, nuclear disturbed upper atmospheres and a little bit on the Earth's radiation belts. During the time at NRL he had two external sabbaticals, one at Culham Laboratory as a visiting scientist in 1977-1978, and one as a visiting professor at Moscow State University in 1995; and one internal sabbatical in the Radar division at NRL. He has been retired since 2004, but has continued to work at NRL as a consultant mostly in laser fusion. For 15 years, he had become convinced that the fusion program, both magnetic and inertial, has been making a serious mistake in pursuing pure fusion rather than fusion breeding. He has written everal scientific papers on the topic and looks forward to returning to the DC area to discuss this important issue at the MASPG.