In wandering here and there on the Internet I ran across mention of a new novel by David H. Spielberg entitled “On Deception Watch.” According to the Amazon blurb about it,
This is an epic drama about unlimited energy, the realignment of international power in a truly new world order unlike anything envisioned before, and deadly conflict between political and military centers of power. Controlled fusion energy ignites a firestorm of competing interests from within the top levels of government to the “oil patch” to the United Nations and ultimately to the world. How is it that a visionary physicist/entrepreneur was able to achieve the technological breakthrough of the century?
The author himself adds some detail to the picture;
I wrote a novel, “On Deception Watch,” that was triggered by my visit to KMS Fusion,” a real company that in 1975 really accomplished laser fusion ignition of a deuterium/tritium target and was then harassed to death by the federal government and its assets essentially looted by the feds. My novel is about the premise of a company that does what KMS Fusion did and then what. Check out KMS Fusion, Keeve Siegel, the president of the company, and my novel. One exploration in it is about what replaces the United Nations. The story takes place about 25 years in the future.
W-e-e-e-l-l-l. It wasn’t quite like that, and I doubt the author believes it himself. According to Xlibris, he has a Ph.D. in physics and, if so, I’m sure he doesn’t really believe KMS accomplished ignition back in 1975. Still, the above account isn’t going to mislead anyone whose tastes don’t already run to yarns about the Da Vinci Code, the Celestine Prophecy, and the Maya calendar, because the original papers about what happened then are still available, and many of the people who did the experiments are still around. We’ll cut Spielberg some slack and call it “poetic license,” forgivable from an author who’s just published his first novel. Regardless, the story of KMS is certainly fascinating even without such embellishments.
In fact, there was a guy named Keeve (or “Kip” as he was better known) Siegel, his initials were KMS, and he was a brilliant entrepreneur who, back in the 60’s, became convinced that inertial confinement fusion (ICF) was within reach using the laser technology then available. Gathering a crew of talented scientists, he founded KMS Fusion and built the “Chroma” laser in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and, without government funding, actually succeeded (in 1974, not 1975) in demonstrating fusion from a laser-driven implosion in the laboratory for the first time, beating embarrassed teams at Los Alamos and Livermore National Laboratories to the punch. It was a remarkable achievement, but was still orders of magnitude away from “ignition,” usually defined as equivalent to “scientific breakeven,” which occurs when the energy released from fusion equals the energy carried by the laser beams driving the reaction. Siegel, a very heavy man, died dramatically less than a year later, suffering a stroke while appealing for government funding before the Joint Congressional Committee on nuclear power. According to the Wikipedia article about him linked above,
At this time, KMS Fusion was indisputably the most advanced laser-fusion laboratory in the world. Unfortunately, outright harassment from the AEC only increased after the announcement of these results. According to one source in the faculty of the University of Michigan, the campaign against KMS Fusion culminated with a massive incursion into the KMS Fusion facilities by federal agents, who effectively put an end to its operations by confiscating essential materials on the grounds that, inter alia, all information concerning the production of nuclear energy is classified information which belongs exclusively to the federal government.
As usual, caution is due in taking Wiki at face value, and this account is pure mythology. The AEC was abolished in 1974, so was in no position to “harass” KMS. If the government continued to “harass” KMS after that, it chose an odd way of doing it, because KMS actually succeeded in securing a multi-million dollar government contract to continue its research after Siegel’s death. This was renewed several times, and KMS became a major player in the government ICF program, eventually becoming the lead laboratory for target development and production. The company eventually ran afoul of its sponsors at the Department of Energy in the early 90’s for reasons that had nothing to do with suppressing its research results, and lost its government contract to General Atomics, which continues as the “lead lab” for inertial fusion targets to this day. KMS continued a shadow existence for many years, but that effectively ended its role as a player in ICF.
That said, it’s quite true that there was friction between KMS and the inertial fusion guys at the national laboratories, just as there has always been friction between the national laboratories themselves. The teams at Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia all coveted the research dollars that were going to KMS, whose management didn’t endear itself by a bad habit of lobbying for earmarks over and above the funding DOE wanted it to have with the aid of Michigan representatives in Congress. The lab guys all seemed to believe that this money came out of their hide. They argued that the Chroma laser in Ann Arbor was obsolete, and that KMS should end experiments there and concentrate on target fabrication. Well, after KMS’ collapse, Chroma was cannibalized, the lion’s share of its optical innards going to Los Alamos. There, after being rechristened “Trident,” this “obsolete” laser continues in operation to this day!
As for ignition, it turned out that the slogan of “online by ’79” was a tad optimistic. Mother Nature had other ideas. The computer power available when KMS was founded was very limited, and the computer programs that had predicted the possibility of ignition with relatively small lasers like Chroma were limited to looking at the problem in one dimension. It turns out that multi-dimensional effects, such as the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, make ignition much harder to achieve than the first generation of computer codes predicted. It’s probably a good thing, too, because otherwise we may have succeeded in blowing ourselves up by now with pure fusion weapons. In any case, we kept building bigger laser facilities, eventually culminating in the recent completion of the National Ignition Facility at Livermore, a massive, 192 beam system capable of delivering a nominal 1.8 megajoules of blue (frequency-tripled) light. As its name implies, its goal is to achieve ignition, and the critical experiments designed to achieve that goal will take place in the next couple of years. I am not optimistic that they will succeed, but am keeping my fingers crossed that they do.
Meanwhile, I wish Dr. Spielberg every success with his novel. It sounds like a great yarn, and should bring a smile to the faces of ICF old timers.
39 thoughts on ““On Deception Watch” – The “Conspiracy” to Kill Fusion”
I’d like to see proof that anyone actually succeeded in triggering fusion with a laser that long ago … That would be amazing… almost as amazing as the story of it being hushed up by “vested interests” in the USA !
I too am keeping my fingers crossed for Livermore to crack fusion very soon… but I know it’s not going to be anything like as easy as some of the publicity makes it sound… too busy trumpeting about “The way for the future” and not enough about the difficultioes involved !
I hear someone is putting together a movie about the fusion story. Sounds like it could be really big… It’s a pretty complex tale to tell !
Here’s to fusion… Laser fusion and magnetic !
With regard to your comments about KMS Fusions’ problems with the AEC, the May 1974 issue of New Scientist has the following comments in an article entitled “Fusion Prospects:
“Atomic Energy Commission scientists, noting that the KMS demonstration represents a ‘small but significant initial step toward the achievement of laser fusion power’ were less bullish, arguing that the early 1990s is a more likely bet for the first demonstration laser fusion reactor. Even thst date is ahead of predictions for commercial power using the older fusion approaches.
In fact the AEC is undoubtedly embarrassed by KMS, because the agency recently lost a court case regarding the company’s right to patent its fusion work. the AEC had also been concerned at the company’s work in what was, until recently, regarded as a field with more military than civilian applications, and even now, the company which has no AEC funding, is in a Catch-22 position of being allowed by the agency to use classified information that it (KMS) has generated by its own efforts.”
Sounds to me like a fight until the end … of the AEC.
Nice find. It’s interesting to speculate on whether Siegel himself would have stayed in the fusion business for very long after the rosy projections of the 1D codes didn’t pan out. He was a realist, and may have decided to cut bait if he hadn’t died so dramatically in Washington before he had the chance.
Ignition and breakeven are two different things. Ignition was verified by the telltale neutron emission prediction for fusion. It was just such lack of evidence that cooled the excitement regarding cold fusion. I was actually in the KMS Fusion lab shortly after they achieved implosion fusion using ONE laser and the sophisticate optical path that was the key to KMS Fusion’s success. The Russians were on the phone, GE was on the phone, University of Rochester was on the phone. There was plenty of excitement until Siegel, who was the driving genius of the program, died without an effective replacement. Dismissively calling the achievement of KMS Fusion a small step is like calling the first nuclear pile at the University of Chicago by Enrico Fermi’s team “only a small step.”
Scientists still argue over the definition of ignition, but there can be no doubt that something remarkable happened in Ann Arbor back in those days. A little company without government funding had beaten the rest of the world, clearly demonstrating the production of fusion neutrons from a laser-driven implosion for the first time in history. It was a momentous accomplishment, and a remarkable story, and I am grateful that you have taken the trouble to memorialize it.
Yes, It did happen as described, all of it. I was a technician there that built part of the laser. I also built instruments for Los Alamos and Sandia. The government and those laboratories where very intent on shutting us down. They wanted the money. There is no incentive to make it work. The longer they work on it, the more money they get. There are four laboratories, and they divide the money up.
No doubt many at the labs wanted to shut KMS down, or at least limit its role to target fabrication. They thought every dollar KMS got for experiments came out of their hide. As for government, if it had always been their goal to shut the company down, why did they fund them with millions of dollars for so many years. Eventually DOE did award the KMS contract to General Atomics, but not because they wanted to cover up any supposed progress towards fusion at KMS, or for any other nefarious reason. In the end their hostility was due to the fact that KMS management had a bad habit of maintaining a lobbyist in Washington at government expense, and using Michigan Congressmen to add more to the KMS piece of the inertial fusion pie every year against DOE’s wishes.
If KMS had really made such great progress with a sub-kilojoule laser that they were on the threshold of achieving high gain and, with it, the ability to produce cheap electric power, how is it that scientists at Livermore have so far been notably unsuccessful in even achieving a gain of one on the NIF, a similar glass laser, but orders of magnitude more powerful (1.8 megajoules). If you helped build the laser, you must know that a time of 20 years elapsed between the time it became operational and the time KMS was shut down. What remarkable progress was made during the last 10 years the laser, then known as Chroma, was in operation? Good science was done, but there were no stunning breakthroughs, nor have there been any since KMS was shut down. Chroma was re-christened Trident, and the last I heard is still in operation at LANL.
And, BTW, I was there, too. I worked at KMS for ten years, and was there until the end. I appreciate a good yarn as much as anyone, but the idea that “all of it” happened as described in the book is nonsense. Any honest KMS old timer will tell you the same thing. Ask for yourself. The last I heard some of them were still meeting for lunch every Thursday at Paisano’s in Ann Arbor.
In 1971 I found the controlled supercritical state for laser induced fusion processes for commerical power production …it is still classified.i.e. a composite fuel pellet in a certain geometric array of pellets see der spiegel/time mag in 1972….well seigel/bruchner are dead (the DT glass sphere’s pellet….lubin hung himself (the Nd laser- but over Hampshire Instruments…and I am above the sod….the folks who screwed everything up….Teller/Nucholls/ General Giller at DMA AEC… some of the boys at LASL….to say the least after 40 years…I conclude that “some” of the government folks were very very jealous phd scientists and did some murderous deeds invoking National Security… no “Selfish Security”…so so sad
I was a service technician for a KMS vendor, Continental Water Conditioning, in the 1980’s and 90’s. I have been present when they had fired the lasers. Quite a moment. I have always appreciated the diverse clientel I had the oportunity to service, virtually every penthouse building on U of M campus, as well as many research and development companies such as KMS Fusion, that were on the cutting edge of future technology. I still have a vendor dosimeter, stashed somewhere.
I have always wondered what had become of the company and the technologies they were developing. I really thought that we would be much closer than we are. Very sad and makes one wonder, what could be. Sounds somewhat similar the the Tucker automobile story. I pray that China or another power will not beat the United States in solving the engineering to make commercial use. I can only imagine the consequences. Thank you to all commenters for my education.
The demise of KMS came in the early 1990’s, when they lost their major DOE fusion contract. DOE had been annoyed with them for some time for using a political lobbyist to attempt to get more money from Congress each year than the funding agency wanted them to have. It also annoyed the national weapons laboratories, Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia, who were also involved in fusion research, and believed that any extra money for KMS came out of their hide. At least partly for those reasons, the KMS contract was awarded to General Atomics in San Diego. Aware that its heavy reliance on one contract made it vulnerable, KMS had tried to diversify over the years. These attempts met with limited success, but not enough to save the company in the end. Interestingly enough, KMS’ Chroma laser, which the national labs had long argued was obsolete, lived on, or at least a big part of it did. One of them, Los Alamos, took it over, and renamed it Trident. The last I heard, it is still chugging merrily along! See, for example,
Good description by Helian. I was also there on the ICF experiments side till the final days.
Spielberg should note that there never was ignition, let alone breakeven. Ignition implies a burn. Fusion neutrons were achieved in the early days., probably from isolated pockets of reactions.
Most of the experiments from the 80’s supported the experimental program at LLNL and concentrated on laser-plasma interactions. We had excellent plasma diagnostics-most notably holographic interferometry. CHROMA was also very flexible. Not surprising that LANL absconded and upgraded CHROMA. The problem with doing significant experiments came down to energy.
Three Indians…two gone and one to go
(1)first Siegel at KMS died before a senate subcommittee Senator Pastori and years later KMs destroyed by the labs…you all forget about K. Brueckner Prof at UCSD..the DT glass sphere
(2)Moshe Lubin….the laser guy…and then his venture into Hampshire Instrument…they say he hung himself.
(3) the only one left is Lodato…the composite fuel pellets in a platonic solid configuration of pellets…to achieve the controlled supercritical state for controlled laser induced fusion and yes he calculated it back in the 1972 time frame…and still classified…the ultimate compression lense
Brueckner was certainly a genius. I met him once at a conference, and have read some of his papers. Phil Campbell, who worked for him at KMS, was a good friend.
I knew Keith for years…he was a University Professor who was a consultant for the AEC and LLL…he then got involved has a consultant at KMS…and became a principal at KMS…The folks at LLL were mad at Keith because he may have transferred results from LLL and may have misused his consultancy agreement….On the other hand seigel was a business man who had a stable of horses – a true entrepeneuer a graduate of RPI…the rift started because of Breuckner’s duel involvement…Prof B ticked off Teller and Giller…Nicholl was a kid then….and so the merry go round started….a real real screwup even till today….I was 32 than now I am going to be 74….
I have great respect for Seigel…he sold all his companies…believed in laser fusion…a true visionary with guts…who loved the ponies..and he was a gifted engineer. Breuckner on the other hand alwayed played the safe side…he had his university job to fall back on..so this was play for him…I can tell you many many stories about Edward Teller…and has for Giller he was a phd in chemical engineer, a WWII ace….and I involved with the CIA and project bluebook…you know the UFOs.I believe if Breuckner was more diplomatic…and the lab boys didn’t have such egos…and cutting Seigel some slack… we would have a viable commercial power laser fusion reactor…I just smile now and have a tear in my eye…for all the waste and fighting that occurred…hope the younger folks are smarter with no egos.
I have a question….what happened to Henry Gomberg???…Is he alive???
Henry passed away back in the mid 90’s, a few years after KMS went belly up. He was still in Ann Arbor at the time, and had been working on various nuclear startups, etc., after he left KMS. Supposedly he was pretty sore about Brueckner leaving so abruptly to pursue his academic career.
It’s too bad they haven’t been able to get ignition on the NIF. A lot of good old knights have been riding towards that El Dorado for a long time, and now some of them aren’t in the best of health. I fear they may never see the day.
Let me tell you how screwed up it was… In the 1970s Myself and my wife (God rest her soul.) Spied on the NSA for the FBI concerning this matter…nobody heard of the NSA then…my wife spied for six months and did not take a dime…a great American…years later Congress hired me as a special government employee at the rank equivalent to a two star general…to help investigate the USA fusion program….did my work and then came back to Kingston NY….stopped publishing in the 1980…voluntarily…because of the implications of my work…the “sword of Damacles”…till this day laser fusion can and will be a reality….stop the shit egos and work together…and laser fusion reactor will and can be a reality within 15 years…just an opinion from an old physicist. Check out Gen Ed. Giller…and than there was Lt. Gen Hardin a nice southern boy and Inspector General for ERDA….in Washington they have a saying…you change the name but the game is the same….AEC, ERDA, and now DOE. My advice to all is work together, focus, and forget about egos…ps write a good novel….smiling vince
hello helian my last comment but first…. clear up my wife’s death http://eileenlodato.blog.com and then
Vincent A. LoDato Ph.D.
When I get up today – I say, “God what do You want me to do?”
And I will do it with a smile and then I laugh. I will not think but just be conscious of You.
Today I will dream big – Use kind words!
Say I love You – Be silly and giggle – Say please and thank you – Share with everyone.
Keep my promises – Help others and be grateful.
I am not going to whine but have a glass of wine.
Take a moment to breathe and realize my conscious life.
Try new things – Keep calm – Carry on and be quick to smile!
And remember – Today is the first day of the rest of my Life.
Thank You – God!
My Life’s Plan
“If you want to make God laugh then tell Him your plans.”
Charity – Iquitos Peru (Belin)
Adopt two children/ Marriage (Must be VSW – ?)
Import Export Wine – China Plus
Export Mineral Water
Service Company TEM electron microscope
The LoDato Device (Build License Patents/Technology)
Proximity Stepper (Give Away)
Supercritical State/Electricity (Give 3 patents to the USA Government)
Fresh Water/Nuclear Subs
Faster than the speed of light Maxwell’s Equations
Visit 100 Wonders of the World
Go to Heaven – The Beginning
helian you have no idea of the corruption back in the fusion KMS days…After the AEC their was ERDA…the Inspector General was Lt. Gen Hardin….check the internet you will see no mention of him….you should ….At the time their were internal investigations in which Hardin covered for the boys….he lied, lied and lied…that all I can say…It was horrible for Kip….he was psychologically tortured…you have no idea….so now it is 2014…and nothing accomplished….it is not the fault of the young sitting in power….but what they inherited from Teller, Giller, Hardin…and when Nicholls became of age he did his share of destroying the program – Laser Fusion…Nichols was involved with the Lubin….Lubin hung himself ….another story…and very very ugly!!!! (Lubin – Univ Rochester)
helian this vince lodato…you seem to know a lot about the laser fusion program …I would like to talk to you…and provide information within the confines of my consultancy agreement with the US Government…and nothing about the compression lense…. I am 73 now…and I want to see America get ahead….because of the first ten ammendments of the US constitution…I can fill in allot of blanks and help the program managers —see laser fusion a commercial reality…Ps I want nothing…but see that Siegel’s and Lubin’s work was not in vain….my number is 845 309 6991…and email is firstname.lastname@example.org
lubin died in 1993…..nuckolls fired in 1994
I am working on a history of KMS Fusion. I would be very grateful to any one with firsthand knowledge of the company if they would contact me:
In my book, On Deception Watch, the story begins with an interview with Arthur J Cranshaw, modeled after Prof Siegel. It virtually word for word documents my meeting with Siegel. I asked him why his company achieved so much when national laboratories of at least four countries were unable to match or exceed the KMS performance. His response was that his interest was in making money from the technology and so his company was driven to solve problems. The various national labs I referred to were not invested in solving problems. For job security and other reasons they were only invested in studying problems. In the business world this explains a lot.
As you may have gathered from the comments, I worked at KMS for about ten years. I wasn’t there at the very beginning, but knew and was familiar with the accounts of many of the people who were. I will be glad to do my best to answer any questions you might have.
>> asked him why his company achieved so much when national laboratories of at least four countries were unable to match or exceed the KMS performance.
What performance? There never was ignition, nor was there definitely shown to be uniform compression. The laser was too small, with nonuniform illumination, the wavelength too long, and direct drive probably won’t work in any case.
Siegel was not aware of the many problems (Stimulated Raman scattering (along with a host of other laser-plasma interaction issues) creating hot electrons and Rayleigh Taylor Instability, to name two.)
At best in the original and later experiments, some fusion reactions occurred, probably in localized pockets-creating about 10^5 neutrons-but no burn.
Do you disagree with the general consensus that KMS Fusion was the most accomplished lab in the world at the time? Your comment seems surprisingly dismissive. Why?
The early days were a first-fusion neutrons, but fomented a much too optimistic outlook. In that sense, Siegel was way off and had no conception of the difficulties that lay ahead. The early experiments were an accomplishment,and set the stage and motivated future work. But even LLNL couldn’t( and didn’t expect to) get a nuclear burn with 200kJ NOVA-no surprise that KMS couldn’t with 1kJ Chroma laser.
Was KMS the most accomplished?yes at the start.
But by the early 80’s the experiments on CHROMA were in support of basic laser-plasma interaction studies for the labs because everyone pretty much knew that a 1-2MJ laser at 1/3 micron would be required to get ignition. (We’ll see how the NIF does).
I’ll add David that you should reread Helian’s perspective it seems the correct one.
I probably overlapped with him (1984-1990) and I see it pretty much the same way.
Unfortunately we will never know what Siegel knew or would have known as the technology advanced since he died in 1975. When he died the life and vision seemed to go out of the company. In my novel the “Siegel” character does not die and his company forms a partnership with the federal government, precisely to get access to a more powerful laser. Siegel was well aware of the need for this when I met him. But I think his comments to me about federal labs being more invested in studying than solving were quite on target (excuse the pun.} How many lasers are the federal labs trying to synchronize now on target, more than a dozen? I forget, but it certainly seems to be a strategy guaranteed to solve nothing and study everything.
You say “what performance?” and then acknowledge KMS Fusion was the most accomplished “at the start.” Well, with Siegel’s death there wasn’t really anything left but the start since it was his money and his vision that drove the company and that disappeared when he died. Pretty much the only thing keeping the company going after his death were contracts of an esoteric nature and production of target pellets, which again was more advanced than any other lab was capable of producing.
We may never know the truth about his death and his body was admittedly not designed for healthy living as he was morbidly obese. However, people have been killed for a lot less than what was at stake at the time he died.
BTW at the time I visited with Siegel there were at least two and possibly three Nobel Prize scientists working for him, so I don’t think being current with the technology at the time was a problem. His death was the problem.
Anyway, I think my book, On Deception Watch, is a good read and recommend it to you and all your friends. ;-}
Can anyone provide more details of the actual lab layout, pictures etc, for Historical reference. I feel the KMS Fusion story should be preserved for the historical record. Like Ted Maiman, Mr Sigel seams to have beaten the in crowed and paid dearly.
If you search “G Charatis” in Google Scholar, you’ll see a list of many of the early papers about experiments at KMS. George was among the authors of much of the early stuff. Many of the papers are probably still behind a pay wall, but you’ll probably be able to read them if you have a good-sized college or university library nearby.
I have been trying to accumulate pictures from KMSf days. Refer to my post “KMS Fusion – an Addendum”.
The images shown there, and others are available at Box.com, in high resolution(10s of MB) and smaller sizes, too.
If anyone of KMS-o-philes here have images they would like to contribute, please contact me know. (email@example.com).
Pictures of the building, Chroma laser, instrumentation, from the 2 decades that KMSf existed are welcome. Expecially, it would be good to get pictures of the people who made it all possible. Your comments and reminiscences are welcome, too.
My book, On Deception Watch, is loosely leveraged off a meeting I had with Prof. Siegel. The NIF claims and press releases always fail to mention the achievements of KMSf and how the government’s “death by a thousand cuts” harassment of the company eventually led to its demise. In 1974 KMSf for the first time anywhere produced nuclear fusion using lasers. The almost psychotic jealousy of government funded labs and agencies created the destructive ad toxic environment that not only led to the demise of the research and development progress at KMSf but to the actual death of Siegel by a stroke while testifying to Congress about said harassment. We have lost forty years of progress by these jealousies. This is the most under-reported government travesty in the history of energy research.
By 1975, following the death of Prof. Siegel, KMSf was effectively dead as well. The government pretty much kept it alive with small contracts in areas of target production where LLNL needed help. They stole whatever they could of KMSf technology. Commenting on KMSf in the context of the 1980’s and beyond makes no sense as it no longer existed as a serious lab whose mission was ICF research and development. Government funded labs and agencies saw to that.
AND NOW even NIF is losing funding following their announcement of progress. Gee, anyone smell a rat called the oil patch and its influence?
PS I am currently working on a sequel to On Deception Watch.
If you want to solve the fusion problem…I am going to share it with you….find the compression lense….generate a platonic solid at the corner or each vertex place composite pellet eg a cube with 8 composite pellets at each vertex…with a larger pelletin the center. Irradiate the 8 outer pellets and form a compression lense on the center pellet and thereby create a compression lense with enhanced fusion….do a simulation….and you will solve the fusion problem….it works now find it….from vince lodato a 75 year old phd theoretical physicist…It is a platonic solid array ….it works I found it now happy hunting…I am sure you will find it…from siegel, lubin and lodato