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Oh no! Government dabbles with cold fusion

Last week the government released a new report looking at developments that have the potential over the next 20 years to support economic growth in the UK. Technology and Innovation Futures wasn’t focused on a single area as most previous reports from the governments Foresight think tank have been. It covers everything and thus could form an important part of the policy framework used by government to make decisions about where to invest scarce cash. It’s therefore alarming that it gives new credence to the fruitcake idea of getting energy from cold fusion.

“Low-energy nuclear reactions – so-called cold fusion – remains a potential ‘wild card’,” a fusion power annex to the report states.

In warming to cold fusion as a source of energy, the Foresight unit have gone against the governments own inquiry into cold fusion that included painstaking – and unsuccessful – attempts to replicate the phenomenon claimed in 1989 and the overwhelming consensus of physicists around the world.

The basis for including cold fusion in the options for fusion power is that: “the US DOE 2005 assessment panel left the debate still open, while apparently successful development work continues in the US Navy”. References lead on to Scientific American and a more recent paper in Springers Naturwissenschaften journal.

At the back of my mind, I can remember the conclusion of one of the British physicists who tried to replicate Pons and Fleischmanns work. It was that the experimental work required to detect the tiny effects claimed was extraordinarily difficult and results were easily susceptible to hidden errors. So Im not surprised that cold fusion continues to have a zombie afterlife in the literature. But I am surprised that the Foresight team have given it credence as a “wild card” source of energy. Wikipedia seems to have done a better job on this. And I wonder whether John Beddington and the chief scientists GO Science team actually have the resources they need to support the drive for evidence-based policy.