The Institution of Electrical Engineers Convention on Thermonuclear Processes held in conjunction with the British Nuclear Energy Conference 29th-30th April, 1959.

  • 20 preprint papers (and one duplicate) on thermonuclear fusion from the first conference on the subject held in Britain, including work by leading researchers associated with the ZETA and Sceptre experiments. The papers, along with a mimeographed introductory letter, are housed in a custom card folder printed with the conference details. It is unclear who the recipient was, but a note from a librarian on a fusion reference has been included with the material, and the name D. W. Hart appears on its verso in ink. The papers present here were all later published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers volume 106, part A. While the published version is not uncommon, we have been unable to locate any records of preprint sets such as this one.

    The impetus for this conference was the 1958 Atoms for Peace convention in Geneva, at which prominence was given to research on fusion for civilian energy generation. As reported in the Institution’s journal, “Initially it was thought reasonable to present many of the papers which had been read at Geneva, but later, when the date was fixed as April 1959, it was seen to be reasonable to present more recent results and indeed to review progress since the Geneva Conference. It was also decided to include in lecture form some data regarding recent advances in the United States and Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the theme has remained the same, namely to give to members of the Institution and others who may be interested an account of the development of thermonuclear processes and the possibilities of power production by this technique” (Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers vol. 5, issue 52, April 1959).

    The conference speakers covered a wide range of topics, most notably the UK’s two main fusion experiments, ZETA and Sceptre IIIA. ZETA (Zero Energy Thermonuclear Energy Assembly) began operation in 1957 and was the most powerful and scientifically significant fusion experiment anywhere in the world at the time. Early results leaked to the press in 1958 led to front-page headlines implying that the UK was close to achieving free, unlimited power, and ZETA was described as Britain’s Sputnik. The eventual retractions cast a pall over all later thermonuclear research. Sceptre was constructed to test ZETA’s results. Though it initially confirmed them, its results too were eventually found to be spurious. The papers on these experiments include “Sceptre IIIA” by fusion pioneer A. A. Ware (who, together with Stan Cousins, set up the first experiments at Imperial College London in 1947); “The Design and Performance of ZETA” by a group that included leading fusion researchers Peter Thonemann, and R. S. “Bas” Pease; “The ZETA Transformer and Auxiliary Circuit Equipment” by E. R. Hartill’ and “The Modification of ZETA in 1958” by Mitchell, et al. Though some of the ZETA and Spectre data had been presented at Geneva, “a lot of new details and performance data [was] included, particularly in regard to Sceptre IIIA and in connection with the instrumentation and measurement problems involved” and the session on ZETA included “more detailed explanation than could be provided at Geneva” as well as more recent work in the paper on the 1958 modifications (Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers vol. 5, issue 52, April 1959). Other topics included the future of constricted plasma, compressing plasma with azimuthal currents, plasma circuit dynamics, and energy storage and conversion.

    The Institute later reported that the conference “proved a most successful and informative meeting with wide international participation, for more than 420 delegates attended the five sessions, and of these nearly 60 were overseas registrations... The one thing which emerged from the papers to be presented, and from those given at Geneva, was that nobody had yet been proved to have really achieved controlled thermonuclear reaction, despite claims to the contrary. Nevertheless a great deal had been, and was being learned - especially about the things which could go wrong” (Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers vol. 5, issue 55, June 1959).

  • London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1959. 21 preprints of papers delivered at the conference, 1 duplicate and 1 in typescript (presumably a late paper that wasn’t received in time to be printed). Together with a mimeographed letter to the attendee, and a note on blue paper from a librarian explaining that a microcard of “Energy transfer to cold electrons in DCX” is available. Housed together in a tan folder printed with the convention details. Illustrations and charts within the text. The folder a little rubbed and tanned, but the contents fresh and clean. Excellent condition.