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In their efforts to duplicate the University of Utah's solid-state fusion experiments, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico say they have discovered tritium - a gaseous, radioactive telltale byproduct of nuclear fusion.

Edmund K. Storms, staff member at Los Alamos, said he and Carol Talcott have found tritium in "significant amounts" (4,000 counts per milliliter) in two cells.While as many as a dozen labs around the world have reported finding tritium in their fusion experiments, Los Alamos is the first government lab to announce the finding.

"Tritium can only be produced through a fusion reaction," said Storms who began his experiments shortly after B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced three months ago that they had discovered nuclear fusion at unprecedented low temperatures.

"We are trying now to understand really what environment must exist in the electrodes to allow this to happen," Storms said.

The latest news from the U.S. government lab, relayed to the Deseret News by Storms in a telephone interview Thursday, was met with jubilation by another fusion researcher.

"This result is of fantastic importance because tritium absolutely proves fusion. If you get tritium, there is fusion occurring," said John O. Bockris, a distinguished professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University.

Three labs at Texas A&M have duplicated major aspects of the Pons-Fleischmann experiments, including small amounts of excess heat. In one lab, researchers have seen the neutrons and large amounts of tritium.

"This (Los Alamos) result, which confirms ours precisely, is of immense, world-influencing importance," Bockris said. "It's the greatest news we have had since the 23rd of March."

It was on that day that Pons, a U. chemistry professor, and Fleischmann, of England's University of Southampton, sent shock waves through the scientific world with the announcement that they fused atoms at room temperature in a simple table-top apparatus, generating large amounts of excess energy. Pons recently reported that the output has exceeded the input 50 times for short durations of up to 2 1/2 days.

The U. fusion team has also reported seeing statistically significant amounts of tritium.

But since their announcement, the scientists have been on a public roller-coaster ride, with their claims being both heartedly confirmed and harshly criticized by scientists worldwide.

Bockris is convinced that the Los Alamos' confirmation will soothe the controversy.

"It means that from now onwards the doubts and difficulties that have been expressed can be put aside and we should be able to go on to a full funding situation of cold fusion," he said. "Of course, there are a number of people who think differently - but they shouldn't think differently after these experiments."

A spokesman for Los Alamos National Lab disagrees.

"The marvelous thing about science is the checks and balances that now will enter the picture. This work must not only be reproduced and confirmed, but also peer reviewed and published," said spokesman Jeff Schwartz. "And quite frankly, we are unable to say if the research will indeed withstand the scrutiny of the historic, traditional process. But as an institution, our credibility demands that the process go forth. We all agree on that."

Schwartz said Los Alamos does not consider Storms' finding to be news - yet. "We can't until there is a confirmation and published report," he said. "If the research holds up under the entire process, then we have news."

Schwartz said his concern is that when it comes to tritium, "the potential question of contamination is a very real possibility and something that has to be addressed very strongly."

Storms readily admits that while he is "optimistic," about his findings, he hasn't solved the mysteries behind cold nuclear fusion.

"We are presently trying to reproduce that phenomenon, but so far have been unsuccessful," he said. "It (the tritium) gives us some optimism, but until we are able to reproduce it we are really not much further ahead."

The researcher, who has worked independently of Pons and Fleischmann, emphasized that "the challenge is not to verify or confirm, but to find out what conditions are needed to make this reproducible and predictable."

Los Alamos is currently collaborating with Texas A&M and Brigham Young University.

Los Alamos physicist Howard Menlove recently reported seeing bursts of neutrons in a high-pressure experiment conducted with BYU physicist Steven E. Jones. Schwartz said the lab hopes to publish a paper on Menlove's low-level neutron events.

Plans to work with Stanford University are also proceeding, and there has been some interaction between the government lab and Washington State University.

However, Los Alamos announced June 12 that it was ending negotiations for scientific collaboration with the U. of U.

But Schwartz said Thursday that "the door is still open."

"Obviously a lot of time has passed since a draft agreement to collaborate has been drawn up. Not only that, but a lot of research around the world has been conducted and reported," he said. "In the future, if there is going to be a Los Alamos-Utah collaboration, it's clear we would have to sit down again and see what is mutually beneficial."


(Additional information)

DOE panel is taking it slow

The U.S. Department of Energy's panel on cold fusion is taking a cautious approach after inspecting fusion research projects throughout the United States.

Eighteen members of the 22-member panel met in Washington, D.C., Thursday to report on their trips to fusion labs at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Texas A&M, and the California Institute of Technology. They are scheduled to review cold fusion research at Stanford University on July 6.

While panel members said they have reached no conclusions, they reported that no scientist has proven yet that cold fusion works.

The panel will meet again July 11-12 to draft an interim report. It is scheduled to provide an interim report on cold-fusion activities to Energy Secretary James Watkins by the end of July and a final report by November. From that report DOE will identify which research activities is worthy of government time - and money.

A committee spokesman said before the final report is made, it's likely that members will return to the sites and/or have considerable interaction with the fusion scientists.