Copyright 2005 New Energy Times
This story first aired on German National Radio on December 16, 2004. The German article and on-demand audio are here: http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/forschak/331039/.
By Haiko Lietz
The U.S. Department of Energy has re-shuffled the cold fusion cards. In a recently published review, half of the experts conclude that “evidence for excess power is compelling”. In other words: cold fusion could actually be real. The department now recommends studies to determine if there actually is anomalous energy production in cold fusion cells, that is, whether or not there are low energy nuclear reactions. Four scientists who claim exactly that had approached the Department of Energy in autumn last year. Professor David Nagel from The George Washington University is one of them:
“We felt that there is a significant scientific problem in low energy nuclear reactions or ‘cold fusion’ and that it deserves study, which it wasn’t getting. One of the points we made to them is a commonly used point, namely that it was getting foreign attention, and that the United States was essentially asleep as far as significant research efforts go. They were too few and under funded. We wanted to make sure that the Department of Energy knew that the field did not go away and that there was a lot of information available, it was still an area of active inquiry and that a lot of that inquiry was being done abroad.”
Dr. James Decker, principal deputy director of the Office of Science, explains why the department’s door stood open to the researchers:
“There had been quite a bit of research that had been carried out around the world. It hadn’t been looked at for a long time. They said that there were interesting new results. They actually did show me some data. And on the spot I kind of agreed. I also knew a couple of the scientists who came in. These are good scientists, and have, I think, pretty good reputations. And so I felt that it was certainly worth listening to them.”
A group of reviewers was then provided seven research reports selected by the four proponents. Another group listened to presentations by cold fusion researchers from the United States, one from Russia, and one from Italy.
At the core of the phenomenon, two results are repeatedly reported: First, excess power that can’t be explained by chemistry. And second, the appearance of nuclear products such as helium and tritium that weren’t there before and that are there after an experiment.
Although half of the reviewers find the evidence for excess power compelling, most agree that the evidence for nuclear reactions is not conclusive. Nagel, who co-initiated the review, would have been pleased, if the reviewers had also acknowledged the nuclear reactions.
“I don’t understand that most of the reviewers were not compelled by the nuclear measurements. There are comments about things not being above background. One can pull out data and look at it to see that this really isn’t the case.”
Nagel, however, agrees with the reviewers that cold fusion experiments are not yet fully understood and thus not repeatable at will. He welcomes that the report recommends that “funding agencies should entertain individual, well-designed proposals for experiments.”
“That’s very important because basically, that is the reviewers saying to the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the other agencies that fund research to keep an open mind and look at these things. And that’s key. Many of us are going to submit proposals.”
Decker tries to put the – to some, surprising – change of policy out of the spotlight.
“If we get good proposals that are well thought out, have strong scientific merit as determined by peer review, and the work fits with our mission priorities, we certainly will consider it. But we have never said that we would not consider a proposal in this area. And that’s still the case today.”
Almost 16 years after the announcement of cold fusion and worldwide attempts to settle the controversy, the Department of Energy recognizes a research and funding demand in this area. If cold fusion is an energy source, it remains to be demonstrated, says Decker. Nagel goes further:
“It certainly has the possibility to be an energy source. The energy density – the watts per cubic centimetre – that has been seen in some experiments greatly exceeds the watts per cubic centimetre that are available from fission nuclear reactors. The amounts of material are very small, but until we have understanding, we will not have optimisation, and until we have optimisation, we won’t really know what it’s good for.”