January 29, 2010
Issue #34


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4. U.S. Department of Energy 2004 LENR Review — The Inside Story

By Steven B. Krivit

May 2004 was an historic time for the field of low-energy nuclear reaction research.

On May 13 that year, eight people convened a conference call to discuss the plan for the second Department of Energy review of "cold fusion"; this time, the DoE called it LENR. 

The proposers on the call were David Nagel (George Washington University), Peter Hagelstein (MIT and Naval Postgraduate School), Michael McKubre (SRI International) and Randall Hekman (Hekman Industries). Representing the DoE were staff members Patricia Dehmer, Dennis Kovar, Gene Henry and James Horwitz.

As auspicious as this phone meeting was, tragic news soon broke. A day later, the field lost its most outspoken proponent, Gene Mallove, founder of Infinite Energy magazine, in a brutal and still-unsolved murder. (See article in this issue A Tragic Event in LENR History.)

The DoE review was a turning point: the first time in 14 years that the DoE formally looked into the field. Many LENR researchers were hopeful that the DoE would finally begin to take seriously and fund LENR. McKubre and Hagelstein formed a startup, Spindletop Corp., a week later, on May 22.

However, the consensus was not strong enough to support a funding commitment by the DoE.

Genesis of the DoE Review

The idea of a second review of LENR was initiated not at or by the DoE but by LENR proponents. The idea was born at a lunch meeting at the International Conference on Cold Fusion in Boston.

Much of the credit for getting in the door at the DoE goes to Randall Hekman, at that time president and CEO of Hekman Industries.

Hekman discussed the idea with Nagel, and they approached Hagelstein and McKubre, whom they believed had the most credibility and ability to make a professional presentation. 

"I remember sitting across from Peter Hagelstein at a lunch in Boston," Hekman wrote to New Energy Times. "I said to him, ‘Let's approach the DoE to ask for another review.’ 

“But Hagelstein said, 'There is no way that will work.'

“I replied that we could make it happen. ‘I know how to lobby,’ I told him, and I personally knew Spence. That's where the idea started."

Spencer Abraham, a former U.S. Senator, was the secretary of Energy at the time and, like Hekman, came from Michigan. Hekman's former job at the Michigan Family Forum brought him in direct contact with Abraham on multiple occasions.

"This connection helped create the opportunity for the LENR group to initially meet with DOE staff and make our case for another review, which ultimately led to the August 2004 gathering,” Hekman wrote.

The first preliminary meeting took place a few months later, on Nov. 5, 2003. Nagel, Hekman, McKubre and Hagelstein met with James F. Decker, principal deputy director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

News of the Department of Energy's renewed interest first appeared publicly in March 2004 in a short article written by journalist Bennett Daviss in the British journal New Scientist.

Though no press release was issued, Department of Energy representative Jacqueline Johnson confirmed in a telephone call to New Energy Times on March 17, 2004, that the department had begun laying the groundwork for a second review of "cold fusion."

The outcome of the May 13 planning meeting was the agreement between the DoE and proposers about the structure and process of the review.

The DoE, aided by suggestions from the proposers, selected 18 reviewers. They received eight papers to read, including a new review paper written by the proposers. Eleven of the reviewers attended a daylong presentation and discussion with LENR researchers on Aug. 23, 2004. The panel did not make any laboratory visits. Despite the limited approach, some of the reviewers recognized the possibility of novel phenomena. New Energy Times obtained a copy of the reviewers' comments.

The proposers (also noted as principals in some documents) were asked to write a single review paper that would "provide a summary of the status of the field which articulates what are considered to be the most recent significant experimental observations and publications, and identifies those areas where additional work would appear to be warranted based upon what has been learned from progress in this area." 

Some LENR researchers criticized the proposers' review paper [1] because it did not provide a comprehensive review of the field but prominently featured the research of the review’s proponents.

For example, two significant topics were omitted from the review: low-energy nuclear transmutation with heavy elements and nickel-hydrogen research. The LENR proponents who requested the review provided one set of explanations for the omission; the DoE provided a contradictory explanation. We discuss this discrepancy below.

The review paper primarily featured the excess-heat work performed in experiments by the McKubre group at SRI, and in this category, these experiments are top-notch and were appropriate choices to include.

However, one of three main points in the review paper's conclusion was that an agreement exists between the measured values of excess heat per helium-4 and the ~24MeV prediction of the hypothesized D-D "cold fusion" reaction.

The article “The Emergence of an Incoherent Explanation for D-D ‘Cold Fusion’" in this issue of New Energy Times explores in depth the problems with the 24 MeV D-D "cold fusion" claims.

The Face-to-Face DoE Review

The all-day meeting with the DoE, LENR proponents and the 11 reviewers took place at a hotel in Rockville, Maryland. (Copy of the meeting agenda)

"I approached the meeting with great excitement and anticipation," Hekman wrote. "Our task force (McKubre, Hagelstein, Nagel, Hubler and myself) had worked very hard to produce the report. The night before our in-person presentation, we met as a team to make final preparations for the event. I think we all felt a sense of expectancy.

"As we assembled that next morning in suburban Maryland, the individual panel members seemed very cordial and eager to delve into the question at hand.  I was impressed with the diversity of the panel and their impressive pedigrees.  I felt very grateful to DoE for taking the time and money to organize this review.

"During the morning, various members of our team and others who had been invited to assist us gave their perspectives. My read on the review panel, based on questions they asked as well as their body language, was they were generally supportive and impressed with the testimony. It’s difficult to argue with data when it is carefully presented.

"When we broke for lunch, I remember feeling particularly good about the progress I sensed we were making with this group. I felt so good that we gathered in a courtyard to have our picture taken.

The men who proposed the "cold fusion" review to the U.S. Department of Energy: (left to right) Randall J. Hekman (Hekman Industries, LLC, Grand Rapids, Mich.), Michael C. H. McKubre (SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif.), Peter L. Hagelstein (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.), David J. Nagel (The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.) and Graham Hubler, (Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C.)

"But then, at the start of the afternoon session, things took a decided turn for the worse. Our team began to suggest theories to explain the research data. Hagelstein stands out in my mind as being one who offered his theory. As he talked, I clearly remember the eyes of many panelists begin to roll, the looks on faces expressing incredulity. Their questions and comments began to take on a derisive tone. Little by little, we lost the crowd at this point, in my opinion. 

"Being optimistic by nature, I still held out hope that we would get a positive read from the panel. But such was not to be. I believe our failure to convey a cohesive theory of LENR caused us to lose the argument and, hence, waste much time and resources."

Hekman's account may reflect a problem with the way many people view modern physics. Compelling experimental data, even without an accepted theory, should overcome honest scientific skepticism. But in the case of LENR, buying into the hypothesis of the D-D "cold fusion" reaction seemed to be too much for skeptical scientists to accept.

Discrepancy in Explanation of DoE Review

A month before the DoE released its final report on the review, McKubre gave a presentation to the LENR field in Marseilles, France, on the review process. A detailed slide show and a recording of that Nov. 1, 2004, presentation are available at New Energy Times.

McKubre devoted a fair amount of time to what he and his colleagues asked of the DoE and what they got instead. Both the DoE and McKubre agree that a summary of the "status of the field" was the objective.

However, that didn't happen. Instead, what was supposed to be a summary of the field focused mainly on McKubre's research and areas within his own experience. In his presentation, McKubre implied that DoE is exclusively responsible for the scope the review paper that McKubre and his colleagues wrote.

"We wanted a comprehensive review of the field, of the whole field, of everything that had been done since the original ERAB report," McKubre told the 11th International Conference on Cold Fusion audience.

"So we were faced with a bit of a dilemma here,” he said. “What we had asked for and what had been agreed to was very different from what was on the table. We had to trust ourselves and trust, in part, the progress of this whole field. The results of this deliberation [would] affect in some way everybody in this room.

"The brief format did not allow us to review the field. In 15 pages, how can you review the field of cold fusion?"

In fact, writing a review of the field in 15 pages is possible. This writer recently did exactly that in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring last year. [2]

On May 7, 2008, New Energy Times sent an inquiry to the DoE and asked what instructions, particularly with regard to scope, it gave the proposers.

Patricia Dehmer wrote back to New Energy Times and explained how she and Kovar conducted the review.

"DOE did not prescribe what topical areas were to be included (or excluded) from the review document,” Dehmer wrote. “My notes of an initial conference call with the principal investigators show that the following was the DOE position regarding the Review Document.

“'Principals will provide a summary of the status of the field which articulates what are considered to be the most recent significant experimental observations and publications, and identifies those areas where additional work would appear to be warranted based upon what has been learned from progress in this area.'" 


1. Hagelstein, P.; McKubre, M.; Nagel, D.; Chubb, T.; Hekman, R. "New Physical Effects In Metal Deuterides." Submitted to the 2004 U.S. Department of Energy LENR Review.

2. Krivit, S.; Marwan, J. "A New Look at Low-Energy Nuclear Reaction Research." Journal of Environmental Monitoring. Accepted for publication: August 26, 2009. Vol. 11. p. 1731-1746. DOI:10.1039/B915458M.


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