The Sun on Earth: How the Netherlands Dealt with the Promise of Nuclear Fusion, 1951-1979
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On 17 November 1959, the Minister of Education, Arts and Sciences, Jo Cals, knocked the sixty-eighth pile into the ground. The Dutch institute for plasma physics, FOM-Rijnhuizen, was festively opened. This opening marks the definitive establishment of the promise of nuclear fusion in the Netherlands. In previous years scientists had promised to be able to generate inexhaustible clean energy from controlled fusion in the near future, the energy of the sun on earth, and this promise had led to a real fusion hype in the media. In the following decades, Dutch fusion research, which was part of an internationally declassified research area during the Cold War, experienced several setbacks and successes, although it never came to a commercially deployable fusion reactor. However, the Dutch government continued to invest considerable amounts of money in the research. Even at times when a fusion reactor seemed far from likely. This thesis examines how Dutch scientists, investors, media and popular culture related to the promise of nuclear fusion between 1951 and 1979 and how this attitude may or may not have changed as a result of breakthroughs in international fusion research, rising tensions in the Cold War and social debates about energy supply. This research shows that the possibility of European cooperation to keep up scientifically with developments in the United States and the Soviet Union was the main motivation for investing in Dutch fusion research, that arguments for alternative sustainable energy sources had been known longer than has been thought, and that the promise of nuclear fusion played an important role in the failure of the Dutch nuclear energy project.