At International Conference, Debate Continues Over Cold Fusion Claims
TOKYO (AP) _ Believers and skeptics remained at odds over the existence of low- temperature nuclear fusion as an international conference on cold fusion wound up on Monday.
Still, the Japanese government and a major American electrical utility group say they will spend millions for research into what they say is an exciting new phenomenon - but probably not fusion.
At the five-day conference in Nagoya, western Japan, and a follow-up session in Tokyo on Monday, the 300 scientists discussed claims by dozens of researchers that they had generated excess heat in experiments in which special electrodes were used to run electricity through water containing ″heavy″ hydrogen.
While some are claiming the heat is caused by nuclear fusion - a notion flatly dismissed by most mainstream scientists - others say the heat must be coming from some other process.
Japan’s trade ministry, which is planning to spend up to $25 million on such research over the next four years, has settled on calling it ″new hydrogen energy.″
Michael McKubre, whose research at SRI in Palo Alto, Calif., is funded by the Electric Power Research Institute, is equally cautious about naming the cause of the heat he is observing. EPRI has spent $4 million on McKubre’s work and plans another $8 million.
Nuclear fusion, the force that powers the sun, the stars, and nuclear bombs, is normally thought to occur only at extremely high temperatures. Since fusion uses hydrogen, which is very abundant, scientists long have sought to harness it as a source of energy.
No one, however, has found a way to make fusion commercially viable because it requires more energy than it yields. That’s why the scientific world was shocked in March 1989 when two Utah chemists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishmann, claimed to have achieved low-temperature fusion that yielded excess energy.
Most scientists gave up on that when the chemists’ results could not be repeated, and they were criticized for going to the popular press before checking their data with other scientists.
Nonetheless, dozens of scientists around the world have continued to seek evidence of room-temperature nuclear fusion and, in recent months, several have been reporting excess heat, a possible sign of fusion. But critics say other nuclear ″products″ like radiation or charged particles should also be present.
At the Nagoya conference, a criticism similar to the one leveled against Pons and Fleishmann was made against Eiichi Yamaguchi, a scientist at the basic research lab tied to telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.
Before submitting his results to scientists for review, Yamaguchi announced to the media last Thursday that he had found ″direct evidence″ of cold nuclear fusion several times since August.
But several scientists who looked at his data in Nagoya expressed grave doubts about his findings, saying a lack of gamma rays or other forms of radiation meant it was unlikely fusion had occurred.
There was also concern that the particular kind of reaction he was claiming was very unlikely to occur.
″It’s hocus-pocus,″ said John Huizenga, a physicist at the University of Rochester.