U.S. Department of Energy Commits to Re-examine "Cold Fusion"—15 Years of Evidence for Excess Heat and Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions
In an astonishing reversal of its resolutely negative policy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has confirmed that it will soon begin to conduct a review of the past fifteen years of experimental evidence for highly anomalous excess heat and low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) in hydrogen systems. These two classes of phenomena attend the mysterious category of experimental results (and associated theorizing) that in 1989 came to be known as “cold fusion.” This long-overdue re-examination of the beleaguered field of LENR, if conducted objectively and ethically (a very big if, of course), could result in a major upheaval in the scientific world for two fundamental reasons. First: The evidence for the class of LENR phenomena is now overwhelming in hundreds of bullet-proof technical papers, and it would be intellectual dishonesty of the highest order to dismiss all this evidence—as it has been for fifteen years—as misguided “pathological science.” Second: There is overwhelming proof of the grotesque malfeasance of the Scientific Establishment in mocking, marginalizing, and censoring from its major archival journals legitimate scientific research from the LENR field. It is a case study of a government/academia-backed assault on a scientific discovery of overarching importance, which also has profound technological, social, environmental, and geopolitical implications. It is not the first time such a disgrace has happened, and, sad to say, it may well not be the last. But it is, to be sure, one of the biggest temporary miscarriages of science in history.
So, it is not only the validation of the phenomena that is at stake, it is fundamentally the credibility of the entire body of official science—its paradigms and its policies. Let there be no mistake: The reason for the intense opposition to this now unstoppable review—obstructionism that is already marshalling—is the audit trail of culpability for the disaster perpetrated by the DOE in its rush to a negative judgment in 1989. Finally, everyone should begin to understand that a Copernican-like upheaval may well be in the offing—the inevitable forced admission by the Scientific Establishment that element transmutation “in the cold” (at low-energy), i.e. modern alchemy, is for real and always has been. Low-energy transmutation phenomena have been confirmed in the laboratory, but there is evidence already that these potentially occur throughout nature. If this latter finding is ultimately proved, there could be massive collateral damage to a large number of self-satisfied scientific paradigms, ranging from biology to cosmology. The intensity of the opposition to this new revolution-in-progress will be no less than it was in the early seventeenth century.
The Timing of the Reversal
News of the DOE policy reversal came just as the fifteenth anniversary of the announcement of “cold fusion” at the University of Utah (March 23, 1989) approached. But the seeds of the sea-state change came about from events surrounding the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF10) late last August, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Exciting news had been circulating for about a month in the low-energy nuclear reactions field prior to March 23, 2004. Rumors were flying that someone in the DOE had agreed to allow a review of the entire “cold fusion” (LENR) question. The U.S. Department of Energy was, indeed, about to give public notice of a startling reversal of its past refusal to evaluate, with a fresh look, the large body of experimental evidence that now supports highly anomalous non-chemical magnitude excess heat phenomena in some hydrogen systems, plus associated nuclear anomalies. The details of how the review will ultimately be conducted, and when exactly it is to begin, have not yet been released formally, but most reports suggest that the appraisal will be completed by January 2005. On the other hand, Dr. Michael McKubre was quoted in a UPI article on April 2, 2004: “. . .it seems to be acted on in the Department of Energy at lightening speed. My guess is it could be done by the end of the academic summer” [i.e. by September 2004].
News of this major DOE reversal comes at a time of growing concern about present and future energy resources, as well as debate over funding for controlled thermonuclear fusion research, that is, “hot” fusion; for example, in what country should the infamous multi-billion dollar ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) be placed? It also comes when much discussion of the “hydrogen economy” and fuel cells fills the media. LENR research suggests, by contrast, that orders-of-magnitude more powerful energy reserves are associated with hydrogen reactions than conventionally understood chemical energy models would allow—thus making investments in hydrogen fuel cell technology far more shaky than its well-intentioned proponents may have imagined. The prospect of thousands to millions of times more energy release from hydrogen than conventional chemical theory would sanction ought to please open-minded environmentalists and others concerned about the future of the energy-environment problem and potential impacts on global climate. But if the past is any guide, such people will not necessarily be very supportive. Radically new forms of energy that could usher in a technological revolution of unprecedented magnitude are not necessarily welcome in certain quasi-Luddite circles.
Just as after the original announcements by chemists Drs. Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons at the University of Utah on March 23, 1989 and by physicist Steven E. Jones at Brigham Young University subsequently, the disclosure of the new policy by the DOE is certain to prompt intense controversy and expectation. The great difference this time, however, is that a much larger body of excellent published experimental work now exists from researchers around the globe. The DOE should, by right, be compelled to examine all of this in its review. This review should have happened over a decade ago, but better late than never. The body of supporting evidence for large magnitude excess heat and nuclear products in “cold fusion” is now so solid at this time that it would be essentially intellectually impossible for an objective DOE panel to come to other than a very positive conclusion about the evidence. The potential for technological applications would be a logical inference from such a result. Of course, it is quite possible that bureaucratic, unethical machinations will again come into play that will preclude such a reasonable outcome. We will be watching this very closely.
Another difference between now and 1989: There are now operational experimental electrolytic and other excess energy cells in various laboratories in the U.S. and abroad; these are producing repeatable, verifiable excess energy that cannot possibly be explained by ordinary chemical reactions. In some cases, for example, one watt of electrical input power goes into a closed cell and an output power of 3 to 4 watts of heat occurs for a prolonged time (e.g., the work of Dr. Mitchell R. Swartz in Massachusetts, who demonstrated active excess heat-producing electrochemical cells at MIT during ICCF10 last August). And, much more powerful cells have also been operated. There is evidence of helium-4 and helium-3 production, tritium production, low-level neutron emissions, charged particles, light emission spectral anomalies (e.g., the work at BlackLight Power Corporation in New Jersey; albeit that company rejects direct association with LENR), the formation of unusual chemical compounds, and even the transmutation of heavy elements in what seems to be a mix of fusion- and fission-like reactions. Laser radiation, ultrasonic activation, and magnetic fields, among a variety of other stimuli, have been found to enhance LENR reactions. It appears that an entirely new realm of physics and chemistry is suggested by the expanding body of experimental evidence. There are almost certainly implications for biology and medicine too. Many of the scientific papers from the LENR field and other historical materials can now be freely downloaded from the websites: www.lenr-canr.org and from www.infinite-energy.com.
Confirming the Review
The confirmation of the DOE review came first in a draft article by Physics Today science journalist Toni Feder, which was targeted for that journal’s April 2004 issue. This draft was circulated to several LENR scientists, critics, and others, who gave input to Ms. Feder. New Energy Foundation provided input too and welcomed the completely unexpected receipt of the draft article from her on March 3. The short, historic e-mail note from this science journalist, who happens to hold a physics Ph.D., reads:
Dear Sources for this story:
Below is a draft of my story on cold fusion researchers’ attempts to have a new review carried out. Whether or not I have quoted you, I would appreciate your checking the draft for accuracy. Please also tell me if you feel I have left out anything crucial.
I need to have your comments by Friday, 5 March.
Thank you very much for your help.
Toni Feder, Physics Today, Austin, Texas
Though not satisfied with her article in every particular, this editor did praise Ms. Feder’s account and gave her some critical feedback, as I am sure others did too. But the main reason for my elation was that the story confirmed what had until then been only a rumor. In the piece, deputy director of the DOE’s Office of Science, James Decker, was quoted affirmatively: “I have committed to doing a review of cold fusion. . .(late last year) some scientists came and talked to me and asked if we would do some kind of review of the research that has been done. . .There may be some interesting science here. . .Whether or not it has applications to the energy business is clearly unknown at this point, but you need to sort out the science before you think about applications.” The scientists who had met with James Decker (on November 6, 2003) were MIT Prof. Peter Hagelstein, Dr. Michael McKubre of SRI International, and Dr. David Nagel of Georgetown University (who formerly managed cold fusion research at the Naval Research Laboratory). The article duly appeared in Physics Today’s April 2004 issue, which came out in the first week of April; it is now posted on the Physics Today website; in fact, it appeared on April 1, but it was thankfully no April Fools Day prank! It is now at:
Physics Today is published by the American Physical Society, an organization which by-and-large has never been open to the study of LENR phenomena, though to its credit it has allowed small sessions on the subject to be organized at its national meetings. In fact, the late LENR theorist, Nobel laureate Julian Schwinger, resigned from the APS in the early 1990s because the APS journals refused to publish his theories about the possible mechanisms of cold fusion.
The first popular journal to publish the news of the impending DOE review was, however, the UK-based New Scientist. In its March 20, 2004 issue, freelance New Hampshire-based journalist Ben Daviss reported in a short article in the “Upfront: News in Perspective” section (p. 6) that James Decker, deputy director of the DOE’s Office of Science, “has pledged to review evidence from the past fifteen years of research in the controversial field.” Daviss also wrote, “The study could be completed by January 2005 and might open up the possibility of funding for cold fusion research projects.”
There is additional high-level scientific support for the DOE review: Former DOE Office of Science Director, Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus (an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science) is quoted in the Physics Today article: “I think scientists should be open-minded. Historically, many things get overturned with time.” Prof. Dresselhaus was on the original ERAB (Energy Research Advisory Board) Cold Fusion Panel in 1989, which rendered a highly negative and very premature report on November 1, 1989. Though over the years she has not been one of the highly antagonistic critics of LENR with which that panel was packed, she did not assist approaches to the DOE for LENR reconsideration during her brief position at the DOE in the Clinton Administration. This is a welcome turn-around for MIT Prof. Dresselhaus, for which we commend her.
The initiative that helped launch the impending review was a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham from MIT Prof. Peter Hagelstein, a cold fusion theorist since 1989. Prof. Hagelstein chaired ICCF10, the Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion, which was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in part at MIT, August 24-29, 2003. Solid demonstrations of excess power in electrolytic cells were exhibited on the MIT campus by two scientific groups (both of which, we should note, subsequently received research grants from New Energy Foundation). It was shortly after ICCF10 that Prof. Hagelstein wrote to Spencer Abraham. New Energy Foundation’s Infinite Energy magazine decided to publish Hagelstein’s letter in its November/December 2003 issue (#52, p. 46).
Prof. Hagelstein told the U.S. Secretary of Energy that Wall Street Journal reporter Sharon Begley, who had attended ICCF10 for a few days, concluded in her “Science Journal” column of September 5, 2003, “that perhaps most problematic about the conference was not what was presented and discussed at the conference, but the lack of interest on the part of the scientific community.” The Begley column was titled: “Cold Fusion Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Withering from Scientific Neglect.” The door to the DOE was evidently further opened by Randall Hekman, who is an MIT graduate, a former judge, and an energy entrepreneur (Hekman Industries). Hekman knows Spencer Abraham and Republican Congressman Vern Ehlers from Michigan, who is a physicist. Ehlers is quoted in the Physics Today article as saying that it is time for a new review, “because there is enough work going on and some of the scientists in the area are from respected institutions.”
One potential minefield for an honest review of the LENR evidence, apart from the bias and well known hostility of the pathological skeptics, is the raising of the perennial straw man of an alleged “requirement” for a comprehensive microphysical explanation of LENR phenomena before the experimental data can be accepted. That is an anti-scientific tactic that the pathological skeptics have employed for years. There have been many proposed theories to explain the evidence—both the excess heat and the nuclear products—but no single theory appears yet to encompass all the evidence. That is not an unusual condition on the frontiers of physics and science in general, which the critics pretend to forget. So, our strongest advice for a fundamental ground rule for a fair DOE review is that it should focus primarily on determining this key finding: the validity of the evidence for non-chemical magnitude excess heat and nuclear anomalies—as well as any other physical anomalies associated with the systems, such as anomalies in light emission. Involved judgments about how the verified phenomena operate should be reserved for the future.
In May 1991, this author wrote in Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furor (John Wiley & Sons—now available through Infinite Energy): “After reviewing mounting evidence from cold fusion experiments, I am persuaded that it provides a compelling indication that a new kind of nuclear process is at work. I would say that the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling that cold fusion is a real, new nuclear process capable of significant excess power generation. . .There is yet no proved nuclear explanation for the excess heat. That excess heat exists is amply proved.”
This conclusion of 1991, in the first book in the world to present a positive evaluation of the discovery, was based on already very, very solid evidence. Now the DOE review panel has much more evidence to back up that same conclusion. It remains valid in 2004 as it was in 1991. First time readers of Infinite Energy should be aware that another excellent book, which reviews the entire cold fusion saga up to the current era, is by MIT-trained engineer Charles Beaudette, Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed (2002 edition, available at www.infinite-energy.com).
It is the view of this author (perhaps not shared by many in the LENR field) that the DOE review, at least as part of its task, should examine other significant new energy-related research that has been published, beyond what is ordinarily confined within the LENR field (www.lenr-canr.org). This research is almost certain to shed significant light on what has been found within LENR proper; relevant links to this work and discussions about it are readily accessible on www.infinite-energy.com.
As an additional assist to the prospective DOE review, a Memorandum to the White House from this author (requested by President Clinton’s staff in February 2000, following the urging of our supporter Sir Arthur C. Clarke) has been posted at www.infinite-energy.com. Review panelists and concerned citizens should examine this document. It provides a concise historical and technical overview of the scientific problem of energy from water titled, “The Strange Birth of the Water Fuel Age.” Unfortunately, neither the Clinton Administration nor the present Bush Administration acted on the suggestions of this Memorandum, until the present impending review, which was separately prompted by Professor Hagelstein’s letter. We sincerely praise U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham for facilitating this landmark decision to launch a review.
Concerned citizens (and especially MIT graduates) should also examine the 55-page report about the events at MIT in the early days of the cold fusion controversy—a free downloadable pdf-file at www.infinite-energy.com.
Though we very much appreciate that the DOE will be carrying out a review of the LENR evidence, the field of New Energy does not need the DOE’s imprint and approval (bear in mind, we may still not get it!) to realize that we are dealing with a critical frontier of scientific and technological research that has been validated long ago. Funding for New Energy research is needed now, not in nine or ten months. The DOE review is in some sense at best a corrective to a severe “political problem” that has occurred within the house of official science and in mainstream scientific publication. Therefore, we urge readers of this message to consider charitable contributions to the New Energy Foundation (a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation). These contributions already have made possible scientific research grants to New Energy investigators—especially within LENR, as well as ongoing scientific publication efforts: an international magazine, books, video tapes, DVDs, etc. For example, New Energy Foundation helped fund the ICCF10 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts last August, which helped lead to the DOE review breakthrough. ICCF11, which will be in Marseilles, France from October 31 to November 5, 2004 (www.iccf11.org), is also in need of further financial support from New Energy Foundation (we have provided some funding already).
Press Coverage of the DOE Reversal
The news of the DOE reversal has been swift and much appreciated. Kenneth Chang of The New York Times wrote a fine piece on March 25, 2004, a full column extending the height of page A16, bannered “U.S. Will Give Cold Fusion Second Look, After 15 Years.” MIT Prof. Peter Hagelstein was nicely quoted: “What’s on the table is a fairly straightforward question, is there science here or not?. . .Most fundamental to this is to get the taint associated with the field hopefully removed.” Plasma fusion physicist Dr. Stewart C. Prager at the University of Wisconsin had this to say to Chang: “I’m surprised. . .I thought most of the cold fusion effort had phased out. I’m just not aware of any physics results that motivated this.” Hah! I had given a heads-up to The New York Times on this story the week before, and was also quoted: “I am absolutely delighted that the D.O.E. is finally going to do the right thing. . .There can be no other conclusion than a major new window has opened on physics.”
Other articles quickly appeared in the UPI wire service (Charles Choi, April 2, 2004), the Salt Lake Tribune, and Utah’s Deseret News. Dr. Edmund Storms was quoted by UPI: “Finally, after years of actively stopping such research on the subject, a few brave souls in the organization (in DOE) are starting a process that should have been undertaken years ago. . .At the very least, a safe and inexpensive source of energy will be created that will change society in ways that are hard to imagine. At the very least, the damage caused by pollution and the brakes on development caused by a dwindling oil supply will be problems of the past.”
Soon, it will be impossible for any credible journalistic source—especially one with specialized coverage of science—to ignore the story of the DOE reversal. Just as we had predicted these many long years, such a DOE reversal would give reluctant journalists “permission”—and a news peg—to renew their coverage of cold fusion. The floodgates have opened.
The Last Hurrah for the Pathological Skeptics?
While some have recommended that the much abused LENR field should now try to act charitably toward the pathological skeptics, who have so infuriated us for almost fifteen years, it is tough to feel sympathy for them, even as they seem to be facing an extremely embarrassing defeat. But we need to remind everyone that their nefarious purposes drive them to continue to be engaged in misinformation and attempts to derail honest investigation by DOE or anyone else. Here then is a modest gathering of the skeptics’ howlings over the past few weeks:
—Princeton University physicist William Happer (a hot fusioneer and former DOE ERAB Cold Fusion report panelist in 1989): “I think a review is a waste of time. . .But if you put together a credible committee, you can try to put the issue to bed for some time. It will come back. The believers never stop believing.” (Physics Today, April 2004)
—University of Texas at Austin chemist Allen Bard: “If they are saying ‘We are now able to reproduce our results,’ that’s not good enough. But if they are saying, ‘We are getting ten times as much heat out now, and we understand things,’ that would be interesting. I don’t see anything wrong with giving these people a new hearing.” (Physics Today, April 2004)
—University of Maryland physicist Robert Park, the de facto spokesman of the APS: “I look over the stuff that has come out, and it looks like the same old thing. . .Some people say they see extra energy, some say they don’t. I’m not optimistic they’re going to come up with more discoveries.” (UPI, April 2, 2004) This was followed by a rather meek and uncharacteristic (for Park) statement: “The way the system is supposed to work is that everybody is supposed to make their point, that science is not closed.” But in his “What’s New” column on the APS.org website on April 2, 2004, he was his old self:
1. COLD FUSION: TRUE BELIEVERS SEE DOE REVIEW AS “VINDICATION.”
There hasn’t been much to celebrate in the fifteen years since the University of Utah held a press conference in Salt Lake City to announce the discovery of “cold fusion.” Although a brave little band of true believers continued to trumpet cold fusion, the band leader was publishing Infinite Energy Magazine. That made it pretty hard to take this stuff seriously. Although there was no press release or announcement, DOE has apparently agreed to take a second look. That’s not really too surprising; not since the Reagan administration has unbridled technological optimism so dominated Washington decision making: missile defense, hydrogen cars, hafnium bombs, manned missions to Mars. How are these other ventures doing? Let’s take a look at one. . .
—Caltech physics professor Steven Koonin (another original ERAB panel member from 1989): “Nobody is smart enough to say it is absolutely impossible, but extraordinary claims demand a very high standard of proof. . .” (Physics Today, April 2004)
—Dr. John Huizenga, now in retirement in North Carolina, but the head of the 1989 ERAB Cold Fusion panel: “. . .it’s been laid to rest, and I don’t see why they’re looking at it again. . .We looked into the subject very thoroughly. I don’t think much will come of it (the pending review). . .(it’s) rather worthless to continue plowing that ground. . .there have been no positive results that have come along since then which were worthy of establishing another committee. . .(excess heat of the Fleischmann-Pons level) would produce an equivalent amount of fusion products (such as neutrons) and those fusion products should be very easy to see. And we do not see them. The Pons and Fleischmann announcement was ‘outlandish’—quite different from that of Jones. . .Jones and company are ‘working near the background’. . .It’s very difficult to say one way or another. . .” (Deseret News, Salt Lake City, March 31, 2004)
Because this is a very fast-moving story, we will make every effort to post new developments about the DOE review on our website. Stay tuned for an exciting adventure. Paradigm shift happens.