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Re: Cold Fusion Discussion

Richard Tarara <rtarara@SAINTMARYS.EDU> writes:

I fear Bill has been watching too many Hollywood 'conspiracy' movies (like
every other movie released). He seems obsessed with Cold Fusion and sees a
suppression of 'truth' here. B*******t, I say. Others have given an
adequate outline of the scientific community's reaction to this work which
has been altogether proper. To me, the overriding reason that CF is NOT
getting a raw deal is the fact that it would have ENORMOUS economic
potential should it work. To suggest suppression, is to fall for the 'CHAIN
REACTION' script--deliberate suppression to protect certain economic
interests--in the case of the movie it was so that one company could make
all the profit rather than releasing the scientific info to the world.
Fundamentally, suppression of CF science would help no one other than the
current Utility companies, and then only for the short-term.

I fear this view is a bit naive regarding financial motivations -- it
omits a MAJOR economic player here, MUCH bigger (with respect to
fusion) than the utility companies --- viz., the hot fusion (whether
laser or plasma flavored) research mill.

Before I explain all that, let me hasten to make a disclaimer: I
believe CF is more likely than not incorrect, although I have heard
some plausibility arguments to the effect that, when palladium is
saturated with hydrogen, the mean distance between hydrogen nuclei is
small enough that there is significant overlap between the wave
functions of the two nuclei, so there should be a finite (if small)
probability of fusion happening. But there are many other indicators
against the validity of CF.

Please note that the hot fusion establishment has been receiving on the
order of half a BILLion dollars annually since Project Sherwood began in
the late 1940's as a classified program -- that's been MORE THAN 50

During 1976 to 1979, the Department of Energy, with technical support
from NASA , conducted a detailed feasibility study on another power
source for the future, Solar Power Satellites (patent issued in 1968 to
Dr. Peter Glaser of Arthur D. Little, Inc.). Very large satellites
(up to 10 square KILOmeters in area) would be deployed in geosynchronous
equatorial orbit, capturing solar energy, converting it into
electricity (either photovoltaically or by heat engines) which would
power phased array microwave transmitters to beam power to the ground,
where rectifying antenna arrays would convert it back into electric
power for distribution over the electric grid. Each satellite would
deliver 5 to 10 Gigawatts of power 24/7, the power output of Grand
Coulee when fully developed (GC is still operating at only 30% or so of
eventual capacity).

After 3 years, the feasibility studies (total cost about $17 MILLion)
showed NO SHOW STOPPERS -- transmission of electric power by microwave
was DEMONSTRATED at over 95% efficiency, electric power in-to-electric
power out. Environmental issues, military implications (vulnerability
and threat analyses), necessary technology development, economics,
etc., etc., all showed feasibility by the early decades of the 21st
century. Yet, in President Carter's last budget, the entire project
($5 MILLion a year was requested) was killed.

Why? By whom?

The project had been placed inside the SAME office in Department of
Energy which runs the hot fusion program. Carter asked each agency to
cut 10% for the 1980 budget. The fusion program's funding was, as I
mentioned, about $500 million, and to this date, I haven't heard
anything more optimistic than 50 YEARS before commercial operability --
we still have major SCIENTIFIC unknowns, let alone dealing with
ENGINEERING and ECONOMIC and ENVIRONMETAL uncertainties. Strange,
isn't it, that a tiny 1% item in the Fusion Offices program, an item
with a great deal of promise, was axed completely as a contribution to
cutting $50 million from fusion.

As far as the US is concerned, this line of study is pretty much dead
twenty years later, and hot fusion is no closer to actual
implementation ....

In a related case, Gerard K. O'Neill, particle physicist of some
reknown at Princeton, tried from 1971 to 1976 to get an article
discussing the possible feasibility of building large scale human
colonies in orbit (using raw materials from the Moon and the asteroid
belt) published -- the frankly speculative, but technically well
supported, article was repeatedly rejected for publication on the
grounds that "nobody else is thinking along these lines [and therefore
it must be wrong]." The article finally saw light of day in the
September 1976 issue of "Physics Today" -- yes, our own, beloved
physics community was most reluctant to even THINK about a novel

The following is not intended in any way as a blanket condemnation of
our profession -- but DON'T underestimate the amount of venality
(regarding funding and intellectual turf) within our membership.

Peter Vajk, Ph.D.
St. Joseph Notre Dame High School
Alameda, CA 94501

"The universe is not only queerer than we imagine; it is stranger than
we CAN imagine." -- J.B.S. Haldane