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PANELIST IN HOT WATER FOR SEEKING STATE AID

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Officials are questioning whether a Utah State University physicist should be allowed to remain on a state committee deciding whether to fund University of Utah fusion research.

The physicist, Wilford Hansen, admitted Thursday he has applied for part of the money the committee is delegated to spend. Hansen and his USU colleagues want to conduct their own research on the potentially revolutionary experiments U. officials say is solid-state fusion.State lawmakers granted $5 million in tax money to help fusion research at the U. and charged the committee with deciding when to release it. Hansen earlier this week asked Hugo Rossi, interim director of the U.'s fusion research, to include $750,000 for USU research in their request to the committee.

"I don't really consider it a conflict of interest," Hansen said. "We (the committee) are not directing administrators of their (the U.'s) organization in any sense. We are simply there to say in a generic way how the money is to be spent."

But Mitch Melich, an attorney who also is a member of the committee, said the legislation mandated that the money go to the U., where electrochemists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made the discovery.

"If he (Hansen) is asking for those funds, he should resign from the committee because he has a conflict of interest," Melich said. "If he is competent enough to work with Pons and Fleischmann, they would have the option of deciding to bring him on board."

Another committee member was more cautious. State science adviser Randy Moon said the request was a conflict of interest but Hansen should not resign.

"Any scientist we get on the committee could have a conflict," he said. "I don't think there are any grounds for asking Dr. Hansen to resign. If this is just a simple error on his part, he needs to correct it at the next meeting."

Gov. Norm Bangerter appointed the committee members. He was in Europe on Thursday and unavailable for comment. However, his chief of staff, Bud Scruggs, said Hansen may be asked to resign.

"By remaining on the panel, he (Hansen) will put himself in an awkward situation. One of the first things I'll do is have him sit down with the governor. I think he (Hansen) has the burden of proof to convince the governor he hasn't compromised himself," Scruggs said.

Committee members said they were unaware Hansen had requested the money. At a meeting Tuesday the committee was prepared to give its official blessing to the fusion experiments but retreated after Hansen vigorously objected. The committee is scheduled to meet again July 21.

During the committee's first meeting several weeks ago, Hansen asked about potential conflicts and how they should be treated. Joe Tesch, Utah's chief deputy attorney general, said he remembers telling Hansen that conflicts should be disclosed and that members should refrain from voting on items with which they had conflicts.

Hansen said he had no intention of hiding the grant proposal.

"If it's a problem, take the proposal off," he said. "I certainly am interested in fusion energy research and would like to be part of the operation once it is confirmed that it indeed involves fusion energy."

A state law passed last April allows the committee to give money only to the U. and the attorney general's office. However, the university may decide to share part of the money with other institutions.

Rossi said while Hansen's request is the first he's received, the U. is anxious to subcontract with other Utah universities who want to help develop the science.

Rossi doesn't believe Hansen's position on the committee conflicts with his request for money and has written a letter to council chairman Ray Hixon, asking that no specific action be taken against Hansen.

Rossi is convinced that Hansen believes the phenomenon is real and deserves further study. "But like the rest of us, he's under intense pressure from his colleagues nationally, and his position on the council makes him very exposed. I think he suddenly realized that when the (television) cameras were turned on."