Foreword from The Rebirth of Cold Fusion
By Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Copyright 2004 S.B. Krivit

In March 1989, two respected chemists, Drs. Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, hit the headlines in a way that few scientists do in an entire career. 

They claimed to have achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in certain metals saturated with deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen. Under these conditions, they reported, they were generating more energy than they had put into the system. 

This claim caused a global sensation, and many laboratories tried to repeat the experiment. Almost all reported failure, and Pons and Fleischmann became known as charlatans. That was the last that anyone heard of them - for several years.

From the mid-1990s, however, an underground movement of scientists decided that these claims should be investigated more seriously. They developed experiments of their own, often in defiance of their employers. There have been several international conferences on so-called "cold fusion" which have been derided by sceptics as congregations of deluded disciples worshipping a false religion. 

Some of the scepticism appeared valid: If Drs. Pons and Fleischmann had indeed produced nuclear fusion, they should have been dead! For where are the neutrons and gamma rays, the lethal emissions such a reaction should produce? Where are the nuclear "ashes" of tritium and helium? Well, later experiments confirmed the presence of tritium, which can result only from a nuclear reaction, though in quantities far too small to account for the energy liberated. However, numerous experiments also demonstrated findings of helium-4 in amounts which do account for the energy liberated. This is a monumental achievement in the understanding of cold fusion. 

Clearly, the mysteries are dissolving, and understanding is coming into view. Recently, plausible theories have been proposed which explain the absence of radiation, through energy transfer to the microscopic surfaces of the palladium in the form of heat. A fully predictive theoretical basis for cold fusion remains a mystery, as was the energy produced by radioactivity and uranium fission, when they were first discovered. 

The neglect of cold fusion is one of the biggest scandals in the history of science. As I wrote in Profiles of the Future (1962), "With monotonous regularity, apparently competent men have laid down the law about what is technically possible or impossible - and have been proved utterly wrong, sometimes while the ink was scarcely dry from their pens. On careful analysis, it appears that these debacles fall into two classes, which I will call Failures of Nerve and Failures of Imagination."

In 1989, the cold fusion controversy fitted into the second category, Failures of Imagination, which comes into play when all the available facts are appreciated and marshaled correctly but when the really vital facts are still undiscovered and the possibility of their existence is not even admitted. 

Today, the cold fusion controversy falls into the first category, Failures of Nerve; many vital facts have been discovered, yet sceptics lack the courage to acknowledge them or their immense implications.

The Rebirth of Cold Fusion, by Steven B. Krivit and Nadine Winocur, takes a fresh look at this still unresolved debate. An unbiased reader finishing this book will sense that something strange and wonderful is happening at the "fringes" of science. Although hard-core physicists remain fond of intoning “pathological science” like a mantra, I cannot quite believe that hundreds of highly credentialed scientists working at laboratories around the world can all be deluding themselves for years.

As for the sceptics, I can do no better than to quote my own First Law, which I first expressed more than 40 years ago: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist says something is possible, (s)he is almost certainly right. But when (s)he says something is impossible, (s)he is very probably wrong."

Perhaps the most disappointing outcome would be if cold fusion turns out to be merely a laboratory curiosity, of some theoretical interest but of no practical importance. But this seems unlikely; anything so novel would indicate a major breakthrough. The energy produced by the first uranium fission experiments was trivial, but everyone with any imagination knew what it would lead to.

Of course, the most exciting possibility would be if these anomalous energy results can be scaled up. That could terminate the era of fossil fuels, end worries about pollution and climate change, and alter the geopolitical structure of our world completely out of recognition.

In 1973, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries started to multiply oil prices, I rashly predicted, "The age of cheap power is over - the age of free power is still 50 years ahead."

This book strengthens my hope that this may not be too far from the truth.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Fellow, King's College, London
 Colombo, Sri Lanka
14 June 2004