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Nuclear technology is one of the greatest discoveries of the past century. It has brought many opportunities for peaceful application along with the devastating power in the hands of the military. Nuclear power became a salvation for most countries in terms of producing energy in the large-scale meaning. Nuclear power plants have become the source of the almost unlimited electricity in a long-term perspective. However, nuclear power happened to be a rather dangerous thing even for peaceful purposes – the Ukrainian power plant disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and recent events in Japan have shown that nuclear power plants could be very dangerous for the environment and people around if maintained inappropriately or if some natural disaster happens.
Nevertheless, nuclear power plants produce about 16% of the world’s electricity (Figure 1). Nuclear technology is applied in a variety of areas such as medicine, various industries, commercial use, etc. Large ships like aircraft carriers, submarines, etc. exploit nuclear technology as the main power source. Nuclear technology is used in the most devastating weapon of the humankind – nuclear bombs. Healthcare industry utilizes radiation for the good of people – various radiation treatments are able to deal with cancer. However, advanced nuclear power plants are the most common places where nuclear technology is being applied in full.
Cold fusion is one of the controversial sources of energy that should have become a revolutionary replacement for hot (nuclear) fusion. However, once demonstrated by Pons and Fleischmann, it was impossible to recreate it again. It created certain tension in the scientific world that was astonished by the potential of such kind of discovery. The paper tries to reveal the controversies of the issue and present their variety, including the role of parties involved into the cold-fusion fuss.
Cold fusion is the form of energy obtained from the interaction of hydrogen and such metals as nickel and/or palladium (Cold Fusion Now, 2012). It is addressed by the field of condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS). The process of energy generation emerges when hydrogen connects directly with nickel/palladium and excessive heat is produced. In addition, various transmutation products are produced as well. In general, the main controversy of cold fusion is that it can be a process in the regular environment, meaning normal or near-normal temperatures of the environment (Cold Fusion Now, 2012; Gibbs, 2011). In addition, cold fusion does not use radioactive materials. Therefore, the energy generated during the cold fusion is clean; cold fusion does not produce radioactive waste and radiation. However, the controversy continues, as such process of generating clean energy under the normal temperature with excessive heat generation and transmutation products was not supported by numerous experiments that would prove its actual existence (Cold Fusion Now, 2012).
The complexity of nuclear power plants is staggering, making the electricity production costs in existing plants equal to or greater than those in fossil-fueled plants. At present, the capital investment of a new nuclear power plant is two-to several-fold higher than a pulverized-coal-fired or natural-gas-fired combined cycle plant, including the capital investment in emission control equipment that fossil-fueled power plants require. In addition, fossil fuel is relatively cheap at present, ranging from $2 to $5 per MBtu, so that fuel cost is not a deterrent to its use. In some countries, notably France and Japan, which lack fossil fuel resources, energy security arguments appear to predominate over safety concerns or economic factors, so that nuclear power plants continue to supply an increasing fraction of the electricity demand. In the future, the situation may change. The global fossil energy resources are finite. The current consumption rate shows that if consumption increases with population and economic growth-fluid fuels (oil and gas) will be depleted within a century.
While coal resources may last longer, the environmental effects of coal use, notably the greenhouse effect, militate against wider use of coal. Renewable energy may play an increasing role in marginal energy use, but it is doubtful that renewable energy will replace large-scale centralized fossil fueled or nuclear power plants supplying the base load for urban-industrial areas. Nuclear energy resources are far more abundant than fossil fuel resources. It is estimated that high-grade uranium ores could provide the present mix of reactors for about 50 years, but utilization of lower-grade ores (with concomitant increase of refined uranium fuel price) would last for many centuries. Utilization of thorium ores and fast breeder reactors could extend nuclear energy resources to millennia. Thus, it is possible that worldwide nuclear power plants will again win public favor and become economically competitive with other energy sources.
The described advantages and pluses of cold fusion have one serious disadvantage – the initial existence of cold fusion as proven and widely reproduced process is under serious doubt. The described advantages and pluses of cold fusion have one serious disadvantage – the initial existence of cold fusion as proven and widely reproduced process is under serious doubt. March of 1989 was significant among the scientific community, as two scientists of the University of Utah, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, announced they had achieved success in the reaction of cold fusion. This announcement and their experiments gave food for thought to the scientists. Nuclear, or hot fusion being the current technology used for electricity generation possesses such drawbacks as demanding requirements and incredible complexity of use. Cold fusion could become the technology that would allow overcoming these drawbacks.
The occurrence of the reaction of cold fusion causes much controversy as well as the ability to make this reaction consistent. The first announcement of the cold fusion reaction by Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 caused all scientists in the world to try to achieve the same result, but all these experiments led the scientific community to the consensus that it was not possible to recreate cold fusion. As a matter of fact, some part of the scientific establishment with conventional views still considers cold fusion a science performed badly or even a hoax. If scientists want to work successfully and achieve results, they need funding for their research. The most commonly accepted measurement of success academically or professionally lies in the term “be published or perish”. Those committees that make a decision regarding allocating research funding and grants to scientists are populated by their colleagues with respected and established reputation. Such committees are reluctant to give funding to those scientists who work in such areas that have no scientifically accepted record of accomplishment (Alternative Energy, 2011).
There is validity in the fact that “claims of scientific discovery require independent verification to establish a basis for understanding the underlying scientific phenomena and to explore the prospects for technology development” (Alternative Energy, 2011). There is also truth in the statement that it is more likely for new theories and discoveries to not get immediate acceptance and understanding. Numerous examples from scientific history can show that those theories that are currently considered true and scientific were once dismissed as being unscientific and preposterous (Alternative Energy, 2011). The plate tectonics theory can serve as a good example thereof. This theory gives a description to the process of heat flow in the Earth creating all geologic features on the surface, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. The geologic theory that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century was the ground for the argument used by geologists to oppose the supporters of the new theory blaming them for not having profound understanding of the fundamental notions of geology. This theory was initially considered naïve and dismissed, but half a century later, the plate tectonics theory was accepted by the scientific community as proven.
Mainstream scientists mostly fail to duplicate the experiments initially made by Fleischmann and Pons, but the number of reports stating the success in generating excess heat out of electrical or other energy keeps growing (Alternative Energy, 2011). There have been more than fifty cases of production of excess heat and they have been reviewed by peers. Dr. Edmund Storms, Los Alamos scientist in retirement, was a participant of the First International Conference on Future Energy who presented the newest information regarding cold fusion (Alternative Energy, 2011).
The claims of the generation of excess heat should be taken into consideration wisely and with a grain of salt. There is no full understanding of theories supporting these results. Some researchers indicate that those processes that generate or produce such excess heat do not look like cold fusion in most cases. This might be the cause of some misunderstanding regarding the real nature of such experiments.
Excess heat production seems very promising in terms of producing energy in the whole world. There are claims coming from the involved scientists that the heat output of energy is three times more in comparison to output of energy gained through experiments with electrical current (Alternative Energy, 2011). Such gain of power could resolve all energy problems of the world for many years and centuries. Japan as the country with scarce and limited energy resources realizes this potential quite well. Toyota has made a $9,000,000 investment into a research facility located in Monaco, where Fleischmann and Pons would continue their experiments to develop a stable cold fusion process that would be a reliable source of power (Alternative Energy, 2011).
Data Needed to Settle the Controversies
The controversies can be settled in two fundamental ways: to prove or disprove the possibility of cold fusion by reproducing it or failing to do so. More to say, the results must be proven multiple times and recognized by officials from the governmental and scientific circles. The work of Italian scientist Sergio Focardi and Andrea Rossi can be such proving and supporting experiment. The scientists managed to create a device that can turn 400 watts of heat power into 12,400 watts using cold fusion (Martin, 2011). However, many optimistic reviews of this experiment are still based on the belief of most supporters than on the scientific facts and independent experiments (Childs, 2012).
The importance of cold fusion as a cheap energy source is tremendous. It underscores the significance of trustworthy and provable findings in this domain. Therefore, cold fusion needs to be proved on very different levels – from scientific to governmental – in order to be used for strategic purposes. Considering the controversial nature of cold fusion and its results, it is still not recognized as a new valuable technology. More to say, Ostman (2011) states, “Despite the backlash, however, believers remain: More than 20 years later – despite mountains of evidence and against the opinions of the broader scientific community – a small number of scientists continue to pursue cold fusion.”
The nuclear era started after the discovery of the nuclear fission in the 20th century. Now, nuclear power plants provide humanity with megawatts of electricity, do not pollute air and the environment, and are the most perspective and accessible sources of the energy. However, nuclear power is rather controversial largely because of the devastating accidents of the past, radioactive nature of the nuclear fuel, and the overall psychological concern of the public.
Therefore, it is very important to develop such nuclear technologies that would consider all these issues and make the resulting technology safe in all meanings. The new types of reactors should be developed (fusion, for example) to make the process of nuclear reactors’ creation less complex and expensive. It is also very important to make technology more environmentally friendly and have people believe in it. Cheap and simple reactors capable of producing sufficient energy are the dreams of many futurists, and they can become the reality with the appropriate technological development of science.