Espionage and fusion
September 18, 2010 1:00 PM Subscribe
... is his motivation. In part, because I know him.
I'm a journalist who has written extensively on laser fusion -- Leo's expertise -- and he was one of my sources. He had a great deal of knowledge about elements of laser fusion that are still under a cloud of secrecy, and he was able to talk about them obliquely, without crossing the line into spilling classified information. (Or so I thought!)
On the other hand, he was a source I had to use with great caution. I took him to dinner a few times, and he struck me as a terribly sad man -- a man who, in my opinion, was crippled by his belief that he had been robbed of his scientific birthright.
In the late 1980s, Leo (along with some other physicists) became convinced that a secret set of nuclear experiments called Halite/Centurion proved that the Department of Energy's planned laser-fusion facility (which recently came on line) was doomed to fail.
He proposed an alternate scheme, using a 100 megajoule hydrogen-fluoride laser (instead of the DoE's preferred lower-powered krypton-fluorine and neodymium-glass lasers) to create controlled bursts of fusion energy in the laboratory... and eventually ending the world's dependence on petroleum.
DoE rebuffed him. This was the event that, in my opinion, broke him. The rest of his life, it seems to me, was one long attempt to get his project back on track. He filed a lawsuit, he lobbied Congress, he spoke to journalists in an attempt to denigrate DOE's laser-fusion plans and promote his own. And, according to the accusations, his monomania drove him to the point of espionage.
I feel deeply sorry for the man, even though I suspect that he's guilty. Leo's single-minded determination--to the point of irrationality--is exactly why I find the quest for fusion energy so fascinating.
This post was deleted for the following reason: Honestly, it's neat that you have a personal angle on this and I'd love to see it as a blog post or something but this sort of personal narrative really isn't a good fit for the front page of Metafilter. -- cortex
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