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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/22/09

Will Cold Fusion Solve Our Energy Problems?

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One of the three items in the "60 Minutes" TV broadcast (April 19, 2009) was devoted to so-called "cold fusion." This phenomenon, informally announced by Fleischmann and Pons (during a press conference in March 1989), became the subject of an ongoing controversy. The content of the broadcast can be seen here. The entire video can be seen here.

The emphasis was on so-called "excess heat," rather than on signatures of nuclear effects (emission of particles and transmutations). The term "excess heat" is defined as a difference between the heat produced in a setup and the amount of electric energy delivered to it. Is excess heat real or is it an illusion? Can it be produced on a large industrial scale? Unfortunately, scientists do not agree on how to answer these questions.

Both optimistic and pessimistic evaluations were presented. The journalist, Scott Pelley, said: "So 60 Minutes asked the American Physical Society, the top physics organization in America, to recommend an independent scientist. They gave us Rob Duncan, vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy." After visiting one laboratory, and examining their reports, Duncan said "I found that the work was carefully done, and that the excess heat, as I see it now, is quite real."

I think that the most logical next step for Duncan would be to replicate the experiment in his own laboratory, and to publish the result. The possibility that "cold fusion" can help us, as described by Mike McKubre (at the beginning of the program), is a good reason for supporting such experiments. The costs would be minimal, in comparison with costs of research already supported by the government.

A brief interview with rapidly-aging Martin Fleischmann was also very interesting. He said that he has two regrets: calling the nuclear effect "fusion," and agreeing to the idea of a press conference in 1989. The premature conference was organized by the University of Utah. He would have preferred to perform more experiments, and to announce the results via a formally published paper. The term "cold fusion," he said, was imposed "by a competitor."

Cold Fusion, now called CMNS (Condensed Matter Nuclear Science), was also discussed at a recent conference of American Chemical Society. The emphasis, as described here, was on emission of nuclear projectiles, such as neutrons and alpha particles. Reproducible experiments, demonstrating the reality of a nuclear effect resulting from a chemical effect, would be a great challenge to theoretical physicists. The prevailing view is that nuclear processes (associated with nucleons inside atomic nuclei) are not influenced by chemical processes (associated with atomic electrons). Fortunately, researchers on both sides of the controversy agree on an acceptable methodology of validation.

Will consensus be reached in the next ten years? That remains to be seen.

 

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Ludwik Kowalski is a retired physics teacher (Professor emeritus, Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA). He is the author of two recently-published FREE books:

1) "Hell on Earth: Brutality and violence under the Stalinist regime" (more...)
 

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