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Scientists Clash On Whether Fusion Has Been Produced

April 12, 1989

ERICE, Sicily (AP) _ A British professor on Wednesday presented more details of an experiment he said produced nuclear fusion, but many scientists at an international conference said they were skeptical.

The scientists said that even if fusion had been achieved, there were no guarantees it would provide a revolutionary new energy source.

″I’m warning people - don’t sell your oil well yet,″ said physicist Steven Jones of Brigham Young University in Utah.

About 100 scientists from around the world gathered Wednesday at the Ettore Majorana Center for Scientific Culture in Sicily to listen to British professor Martin Fleischmann and to Jones, who says he also achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature using ordinary laboratory equipment.

Fleishchmann, of the University of Southampton, said when an electrical current was used to herd hydrogen atoms into metal electrodes in a glass beaker, the atoms apparently fused, generating four watts of energy for every watt used.

In London, Nature magazine announced Wednesday it will publish at least one of two research papers by scientists who claim to have independently generated nuclear fusion. Publication date was set for April 27, according to Laura Garwin, an editor.

For decades, scientists have spent millions of dollars searching for a practical way to achieve nuclear fusion because of its potential as an inexpensive, relatively clean and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.

If scientists could harness fusion power, an ounce of ″heavy″ hydrogen could generate the energy equivalent of 70,000 gallons of gasoline, Jones said.

In the three weeks since Fleischmann and fellow researcher B. Stanley Pons of the University of Utah made their fusion announcement, hundreds of scientists have rushed to duplicate the experiments. Several U.S. universities reported partial results.

″I’m somewhat disappointed and worried that in the past two weeks no one has solidly confirmed it,″ said Matthijs Broer, a physicist at American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J.

Jones and the team of Fleischmann and Pons detailed their experiments Wednesday as scientists from the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union and China peppered them with highly technical questions.

Several scientists qestioned Fleischmann’s and Pons’ claim that their fusion process produced four times as much energy as it used.

″I don’t think the heat they see is due to fusion,″ said Jones, who announced last month he had independently created cold nuclear fusion but produced only a miniscule energy release.

Physicists said the Fleischmann-Pons experiment might have been simply a chemical reaction and therefore not significant as an energy source.

Fleischmann, however, said that only nuclear activity could account for the amount of energy released.

Scientists also questioned whether Fleischmann and Pons checked all the variables in their experiment. Fleischmann refused to answer several questions.

Fleischmann acknowledged that more experiments were needed but said he was not concerned that his work had not been matched. ″I don’t see how people can expect to duplicate the results in a short time,″ he said.

Nonetheless, physicists said they were taking the experiments seriously because of their potentially far-reaching impact and because of the scientists’ solid reputations.

Fusion is the process by which tremendous amounts of energy are released when the cores of two hydrogen atoms fuse.

In contrast, nuclear power plants get energy from fission, or the splitting of atoms.

Standard fusion experiments have used extremely high temperatures and machines the size of two-story homes to force the hydrogen atoms to fuse.

Steven Koonin, a theoretical nuclear physicist from California, said if the discoveries were true, they could bring bad as well as good developments.

″If you can do nuclear physics in your kitchen, you have a severe proliferation problem,″ he said.

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