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Thirty years ago, I was the first reporter to write about the sensational claim by two respected chemistry professors, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, that they had achieved nuclear fusion in a simple electrochemical cell on their lab bench. If they had been right, the discovery of “cold fusion” would have been a route to unlimited clean energy, using inexpensive kit to tame the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and stars.

Sadly, the sensation withered under intense scrutiny. Most attempts to replicate the experiment, forcing heavy hydrogen atoms to fuse inside an electrode of palladium metal, failed. A few produced encouraging signs of energy generation or radiation that might have come from a nuclear reaction, but these were unpredictable and hard to control.

Most scientists wrote off cold fusion as a delusion. But it never went away completely. Small groups continued to work on the phenomenon — often rebadged as low-energy nuclear reactions — seeking evidence that it could lead to a clean and inexhaustible power source.

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Category: Science