Cold Fusion: From Reasons to Doubt
to Reasons to Believe
by Dr. Edmund Storms
Los Alamos National Laborartory
Six years have passed since the modern
era of cold fusion was started by Professors Stanley Pons and Martin
Fleischmann, both then at the University of Utah. During this time,
criticisms made by skeptics have been taken seriously, errors have
been reduced or eliminated, and a wide variety of studies have been
done using very modern equipment in many countries. The early problem
of reproducing the effect has been largely eliminated, the nuclear
ash has been found, and theoretical explanations abound. The problem
now is more psychological than scientific. In spite of all this
new and improved information, general skepticism about the effect
continues within the scientific community, and general rejection
by the U.S. and many other governments remains unchanged.
I will not try to change this skepticism. To
do so would take too much time and give many readers a bad case
of boredom. Instead I will show those of you who have an active
curiosity where the field now stands. If I succeed in arousing your
interest, many sources of good information are now available to
deepen your knowledge.
What is "cold fusion"?
The term now describes a general ability to produce
a variety of nuclear reactions in addition to fusion. These reactions
occur within solid matter near room temperature using a variety
of methods . A better name might now be "Chemically Assisted
Nuclear Reactions (CARN)." Use of super-high temperatures,
powerful accelerators, or nuclear reactors are no longer the only
methods needed to modify the nucleus or to extract energy. The original--now
classic--electrolytic method used by Pons and Fleischmann is said
to produce the "Pons-Fleischmann Effect." At least nine
other methods have been found to be successful.
I should point out as an interesting aside, that part
of this effect was claimed over 1700 years ago by what we call the
alchemists. This group flourished in many countries for over 1300
years by impressing kings with their ability to create wealth, so
we are told. The ideas proposed by this group were rejected when
the modern scientific method was adopted and became successful.
One wonders what else has been rejected from the past that should
Why should we care if this unexplainable and sometimes
difficult to initiate phenomenon is real? We should care because
this discovery has the potential to change the basic economic, social,
and scientific fabric of our time. This wake-up claim is possible
because energy can be created using an abundant natural resource
without producing pollution, carbon dioxide, or radioactivity, and
without the need for huge plants that require large capital investment.
Granted, these claims seem too good to be true. Nevertheless, the
potential importance should give you an incentive to hear the arguments.
Why is the effect impossible?
Nuclear interaction is restricted by the presence
of a barrier created by the positive charge residing in the proton,
a major constituent of all nuclei. This is the so-called Coulomb
barrier. In order to move two nuclei close enough to interact, considerable
energy must be invested. Many calculations using conventional theory
have shown that, although a little fusion might take place under
low-energy conditions, the amount required to produce the claimed
heat or even the claimed tritium is impossible. Even if these calculations
were wrong and the heat or tritium were caused by fusion, certain
final products would be expected. These products include neutrons
and tritium in large and equal amounts, the emission of gamma- rays
from neutron interaction with the environment, and x-rays from excited
electrons. All of these features are observed, but the quantities
are too small and in the wrong proportion. In addition, tritium
resulting from a fusion reaction normally has sufficient energy
after formation to fuse with any deuteron it encounters. This reaction
produces 14 MeV neutrons, yet no neutrons with this energy are observed.
These arguments have been the basis for rejecting the claims and,
on some occasions, they have blinded people to other possibilities.
What is the evidence for this unusual
Tritium, neutrons, gamma rays, and excess energy
have been seen under conditions that should not produce these reaction
Rejection of tritium as a nuclear product assumes
that the palladium, cell material, or environment were contaminated
before or during the experiment. Thus, the presence of tritium is
acknowledged, but it is proposed to come into the cell by conventional
means. This idea is no longer valid. Studies have now been done
using sealed cells constructed from materials demonstrated to be
tritium-free. A variety of methods have produced this isotope, and
a variety of methods have been used to demonstrate that tritium
is not initially present.
Neutron emission has been rejected because it is produced
in bursts much like electrical noise or neutrons created by cosmic
rays, and is close to background levels. New detectors and techniques
have demonstrated repeatedly that neutron emission is real and,
on several occasions, have measured an energy near 2.45 MeV . This
is the energy expected from a fusion reaction. Additional neutrons
at higher energy suggest an additional, complex reaction. Clearly,
more than conventional fusion can occur. However, neutrons are never
emitted at rates necessary to originate from heat or tritium-producing
Gamma-ray detection has demonstrated the presence
of radioactive byproducts resulting from several nuclear reactions
other than fusion. These strange nuclear reactions have been seen
occasionally after electrolysis as well as after using gas discharge
techniques. It is very hard to explain away easily detected and
short-lived radioactive decay in a metal that, previous to the treatment,
was not radioactive.
Heat production implies a nuclear reaction at
least 1,000 times faster than the best tritium production rate so
far observed. Yet anomalous heat produces very little radiation
and does not appear to require the production of tritium. Rejection
of excess energy was, therefore, based on the absence of expected
nuclear "ash" and radiation. Many early heat measurements
were done using so-called open cells, i.e. ones that allowed the
evolving D2 and O2 to leave the cell. Such cells can easily produce
significant error. In addition, records were frequently not kept
before excess energy production started. These deficiencies allowed
skeptics to create possible explanations for the claimed excess
involving unexpected recombination of the gases or unrecorded energy
storage and release processes. Gradually heat measuring techniques
were improved. Closed, sealed cells that allow nothing to enter
or leave the cell are now studied. Some cells have produced a power
equivalent greater than 3 kW /cm3 of palladium and total energy
greater than 200 MJ. This energy is greater than that released from
a cell filled with exploding TNT. Of course this enormous energy
and power were produced over several weeks of observation using
small electrodes, thus avoiding the inevitable mess from an explosive
release. Furthermore, no indication of unusual chemical reaction
products has ever been found. In other words, the chemical "ash,"
required of a chemical explanation, is missing. If this energy is
not produced by a nuclear reaction and is not generated by a chemical
reaction, what is left? This alone should generate much interest.
Recently, some very difficult studies have borne fruit and the nuclear
ash has been identified.
What is the nuclear ash?
The high temperature fusion reaction of deuterium
nuclei is known to produce normal helium on rare occasions. When
this reaction occurs in a high temperature gas (technically, a plasma),
a gamma-ray must be emitted to carry away some momentum of the colliding
deuterons as well as some released nuclear energy. The absence of
such gamma-rays provided skeptics reason to reject this reaction.
However, if we assume the entire crystal lattice can take away the
energy, gamma emission should not be required. To test this idea,
the presence of helium has been sought. Unfortunately, this measurement
is very difficult because the amount of helium produced is similar
to the amount found in air as an impurity. Skeptics can claim the
observed helium resulted from air getting into the system. Over
the years observations have been reported that shows the presence
of helium only when heat was produced, and these observations have
become increasingly accurate. Two reports stand outs, one by workers
at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake in California and the
other at the University La Sapienza and the Laboratory of Physics
in Rome. These studies have shown a close, although not perfect
relationship between the amount of heat produced and the amount
of helium detected. The latter work even shows all expected time
delay between heat production and helium release. In addition, charged
particle detectors located near palladium saturated with deuterium
have, on occasion, detected the emission of high-energy alpha particles
(4He). Various methods have shown these particles are not the result
of impurities in the palladium and are only produced when deuterium
is present. Thus, the original, high-energy reaction product has
been seen as well as the accumulated helium after it has lost its
Errors in both heat and helium measurements
do not yet permit a conclusion that helium is the only source of
heat. Nevertheless, helium is clearly present and a major source
of anomalous energy.
What other strange behaviors have been
The initial studies by Pons and Fleischmann revealed
only the tip of an iceberg. At least seven methods and seven different
chemical environments have been found to produce the effect when
combined in various ways. Some combinations of environment and method
produce nuclear reactions other than fusion. For example, when nickel
is electrolyzed in a solution containing potassium carbonate (K2CO3)
dissolved in normal water, excess energy is produced. This observation
has been reproduced by at least nine different laboratories. Evidence
from several of these laboratories shows that the potassium is being
converted to calcium by taking a proton (hydrogen) into the nucleus.
A similar reaction is found to convert rubidium to strontium. Potassium
has a Coulomb barrier 19 times greater than that of deuterium and
rubidium's is 37 times greater. This experience implies that the
mechanism causing penetration of the Coulomb barrier can be very
A gas discharge technique developed in Russia has
given evidence that palladium will fission (will split into smaller
nuclei) when bombarded with deuterons of the correct low energy.
This reaction, combined with the now expected fusion reaction produces
significant excess energy, gamma radiation emitted by several newly-formed
radioactive isotopes, and changes in the isotopic ratio of newly
produced nonradioactive elements. Efforts to replicate this work
at several major laboratories are ongoing and have been partially
Certain complex oxides (SrCeO3 for example) loaded
with deuterium become electrical conductors at high temperatures
because the D+ ions can move within the material. When a small current
is applied, significant excess energy is produced.
A technique using high-intensity ultrasonic frequencies
has been used by E-Quest Sciences in California to load deuterium
into palladium from heavy water. Large levels of excess heat production
are claimed and this heat is accompanied by easily detected helium
production. This method is important and is being examined by several
This is only a brief list of a few relatively well
documented claims. The list of examples showing totally unexpected
nuclear reactions and/or energy generation is growing. Even the
imaginations of cold fusion supporters are being overwhelmed by
some of the claims.
What about an explanation?
Two aspects must be explained to achieve a useful
explanation. These aspects involve the special and rare conditions
that must be achieved in order to initiate a nuclear reaction, and
the nature of that nuclear reaction.
First of all, the necessary conditions are not
easy to achieve and probably involve only small, isolated parts
of the bulk material. In addition, the various nuclear reactions
are initiated by different conditions within the same material and
by different materials. Therefore, a universal characteristic is
difficult to identify.
Once the special conditions are created, the
Coulomb barrier might be reduced by various processes now being
explored. Over 100 theories have addressed this problem with some
success. Most have tried to extend conventional theory, while a
few have chosen to explore new territory.
Once a nuclear reaction occurs, the absence of significant
gamma- and x-radiation suggests that the energy is coupled to the
entire crystal lattice rather than to an individual reaction product.
Although this energy coupling is outside of conventional explanations,
over a dozen new theories have been proposed.
These new insights into nuclear and solid-state behavior,
stimulated by the Pons-Fleischmann Effect, are expected to have
a profound effect on our view of electron-nucleus interaction. Methods
to form novel materials will be suggested regardless of how the
models are applied to cold fusion.
What general interest has this evidence
Eight international cold fusion conferences have
been held and several professional societies have included sessions
about cold fusion at their meetings. The literature on the subject
has grown to over 1,300 publications, some peer-reviewed. Clearly
a lot more is known than many skeptics realize. A journal of the
American Nuclear Society, Fusion Technology, has had a cold fusion
section since September 1989, a newsletter called Fusion Facts has
been published since 1989, a magazine called "Cold Fusion"
was started in 1994 and then became a newsletter, a Cold Fusion
Times newsletter has emerged, 21st Century Science and Technology
has long had regular articles on cold fusion, and a new magazine,
Infinite Energy --Cold Fusion and New Energy Technology has just
been founded. Occasionally, the general print and television media
have acknowledged continuing interest in cold fusion, sometimes
with objectivity and sometimes not.
A few governments and a growing number of companies
are funding work in the field. Support in Japan is estimated to
be at least $30 million per year and is known to involve universities,
private, and government laboratories. A Japanese company is presently
funding the work of Pons and Fleischmann near Nice, France. Acceptance
extends to high government levels. Clearly, Japan is intent on understanding
and eventually using this new phenomenon.
Support is growing in Italy, India, China, and, until
recently, in Russia. Low level, isolated work is underway in several
other countries, generally in industrial laboratories.
The U.S. government has shown little interest
in supporting work even though several government laboratories have
obtained evidence for the effect. The U.S. patent office will not
issue patents that use the term "cold fusion" even though
over 250 applications have been received. A few companies are supporting
work, the most notable being the Electric Power Research Institute
(EPRI) and more recently ENECO. Several companies have been formed
to manufacture useful items for the field and to develop unique
ideas or techniques. Small, isolated efforts are underway in a few
industrial, government, and university laboratories, as well as
in a few private homes. The total effort in the U. S. probably does
not exceed $3M/year and may be dropping, though this is difficult
to assess. Because theory is lacking, training of workers involved
in research or commercialization has to be done using shared personal
experience. This kind of knowledge is not easily available to a
group or country that has not created a basis for obtaining such
experience. Furthermore, no more than 100 scientists in the the
U.S. have sufficient understanding of the field to make a meaningful
contribution. Therefore, experience obtained in Japan and elsewhere
will be slow to benefit development efforts in the U.S. or in other
countries taking a similar approach.
What are the consequences?
The phenomena of cold fusion have been demonstrated
over and over again. The remaining question is, can the effect be
amplified to industrial levels? If such amplification is possible--
no show-stoppers have yet been seen-- this energy source will eventually
replace most present energy sources, starting in Japan, followed
by the Third World. Little imagination is needed to predict what
this change would mean to countries that ignore this energy source.
Is it wise to take such risk just because a few influential scientists
have seen fit to reject a growing body of positive results? Would
it not be better to risk a little money in case those skeptics are
Another implication involves the approach taken by
some skeptics. While there have been good reasons to doubt the reality
of some claims, the vicious and hostile attacks directed toward
many in the field have no place in normal science. No useful contribution
is made by deriding efforts to understand a phenomenon by calling
it "pathological science" or the like, and characterizing
the investigators as incompetent. Which viewpoint do you consider
the worse sin: perhaps wasting some time and money understanding
a phenomenon that later turns out to be trivial, or preventing the
study of a phenomenon that later turns out to be important? A climate
emphasizing caution and fear-of-failure does not bode well for our
future efforts to discover and develop new gifts of nature.