The central claim of cold fusion adherents is that a nuclear reaction (fusion of deuterium) can be initiated and maintained in an electrochemical apparatus not much different from the setup used to demonstrate the breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen in a high school chemistry lab. If this claim could be successfully verified, it promised nothing less than a total solution to the world's energy supply problems. The claim first appeared in the press in March of 1989, and provoked considerable public and scientific interest. It was put forward by respectable scientists (Fleishmann and Pons of the University of Utah) and was supported by reports from other respectable scientists that they had been able to replicate those findings. These initial claims, however, were soon met by counterclaims from equally respectable labs and investigators, to the effect that the initial findings could not be replicated.
In the midst of the controversy, the Department of Energy (DOE) tasked its Energy Research Advisory Board (ERAB) to conduct a study of the situation and advise it on how to proceed in supporting (or not supporting) research in this area. ERAB assembled a cold fusion panel chaired by Prof. John Huizenga of the University of Rochester, which began work in June of 1989 and delivered its report in November of that same year. The report was entitled Cold Fusion Research. Based on laboratory visits, literature reviews and theoretical studies, the panel recommended that no special funding programs be initiated for research on cold fusion.
Even before the ERAB panel issued its report, the consensus of mainstream researchers was that the claims of cold fusion's adherents were invalid. The report formalized and solidified that consensus, which remains essentially unchanged ten years later.
Consensus, however, is not unanimity. There is a small cadre of researchers who have not accepted the mainstream consensus, and who continue to conduct research on the topic of cold fusion. One source of support for these dissidents is the magazine Infinite Energy; it has been in publication for a number of years, and continues to press the case for cold fusion. Cold fusion proponents also make their case on the Internet, and any search engine will yield dozens of "hits" on the topic. The ERAB report is cited with some frequency in these documents, but until now the actual text of the report was not readily available. Even within DOE, only an archival microfiche copy seems to be available; a photocopy of that fiche was scanned into electronic text to build the NCAS on-line edition of the report.
The reader will note fairly quickly that Cold Fusion research is not a "quick read." It was written by specialists and targeted primarily at other specialists. The technical vocabulary is terse, even cryptic at times, as might be expected in a work of specialist-to-specialist communication.
But the report is not opaque. It is brief enough (only about 70 pages) that a second or third reading is both practical and rewarding in coming to an understanding of (i) the nature of the evidence the panel considered and (ii) how the panel evaluated that evidence in coming to its conclusions. This understanding will be of considerable assistance in examining present-day claims put forward by the adherents of cold fusion.
The NCAS project team was coordinated by Jim Giglio. Jonathan Boswell scanned the photocopy into electronic form. HTML coding was done by Mary Pastel, ZoeAnn Lapinski, Bob Keefer, and Stephen Goodson. John Varela proofread the final on-line text.
Paul Jaffe, President
National Capital Area Skeptics