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Lawrence M. Lidsky

Retired MIT professor Lawrence M. Lidsky PhD ’62 died Friday after battling cancer for 17 years.

Lidsky, who taught nuclear engineering, gained notoriety when he went public with his doubts about the effectiveness of nuclear fusion for energy generation despite devoting his career to its development.

He was assistant director of the MIT Plasma Fusion Center in 1983 when he published an article in Technology Review entitled “The Trouble With Fusion.” He wrote the piece, Lidsky said at the time, because “I couldn’t get an internal discussion going. Some didn’t care and some didn’t want to know.” A short time after the article appeared, Lidsky resigned his position, and Congress reduced funding for the fusion program by five percent the next year.

Lidsky pushed safe reactors

Professor Jeffrey P. Freidberg, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering, said, “Larry Lidsky was one of the smartest people I ever met.” Freidberg said that Lidsky was frequently “way ahead of his time” with analysis of the possibilities for nuclear power.

“Professor Lidsky was one of the earliest engineers to point out some of the very, very difficult engineering challenges facing the program and how these challenges would affect the ultimate desirability of fusion energy,” Freidberg said. “His messages were not always warmly received initially, but they have nevertheless stood the test of time.”

Lidsky advocated the development of meltdown-proof modular high temperature gas cooled reactors using fission. Such plants have gained attention recently, and several are being developed in Japan and elsewhere. “Many of the technical ideas are directly attributable to Larry’s early analysis,” Freidberg said.

After receiving his doctorate in 1962, he joined the faculty as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1968 and full professor in 1976. He was appointed associate director of the Plasma Fusion Center in 1978.

Lidsky is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter, his mother, two brothers, a sister, and seven grandchildren. Donations may be made in Lidsky’s memory to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, 34 Deloss St., Framingham, MA 01702 (800-883-9772).