Project Sherwood

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Project Sherwood was the codename for a United States program in controlled nuclear fusion. It was funded under the Atoms for Peace initiative during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The name Sherwood was suggested by Paul McDaniel, Deputy Director of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), since funding for a facility known as the Hood Building was “robbed to pay Friar Tuck”, a reference to the British physicist and fusion researcher James L. Tuck.[1]

The program was a secret, but nonmilitary spin off of work begun in Project Matterhorn where the goal of fusion reactors had been to generate neutrons for converting uranium to plutonium and to provide a source of tritium for thermonuclear weapons. But the prospect of turning cheap and inexhaustible hydrogen into inexpensive power captured the imagination of Lewis Strauss, the AEC chairman from 1953 to 1958, who believed fusion reactors could generate electricity “too cheap to meter”.[2] Under Strauss the program was reorganized and its funding and staffing increased dramatically. At its peak, Project Sherwood had a budget of $23 million per year and retained more than 500 scientists.[3]

Research centered on three plasma confinement designs; the stellarator headed by Lyman Spitzer at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the toroidal pinch or Perhapsatron led by James Tuck at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the magnetic mirror devices at the Livermore National Laboratory led by Richard F. Post.

By June, 1954 a preliminary study had been completed for a full scale "Model D" stellarator that would be over 500 feet long and produce 5,000 MW of electricity at a capital cost of $209 per kilowatt.[4]

However, each concept would encounter unanticipated problems in the form of plasma instabilities that prevented the requisite temperatures and pressures from being achieved and it eventually became clear sustained hydrogen fusion would not be quickly developed. Strauss left AEC in 1958 and his successor did not share Strauss' enthusiasm for fusion research. Consequently, Project Sherwood was relegated from a crash program to one that concentrated on basic research.


  1. ^ Bromberg, Joan Lisa (1982) Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 44, ISBN 0-262-02180-3
  2. ^ Pfau, Richard (1984) No Sacrifice Too Great: The Life of Lewis L. Strauss University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, p. 187, ISBN 978-0-8139-1038-3
  3. ^ Pfau, p. 209
  4. ^ Bromberg, p. 47

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