Slate Article Slams Fusion, Hot and Cold

Slate Magazine has today published a particularly harsh article written by Charles Seife entitled “Fusion Energy’s Dreamers, Hucksters, and Loons” which criticizes all kinds of fusion energy projects.

He spends most of the article focusing on the international ITER fusion project, also mentions the U.S. National Ignition Facility, and a new project starting up in South Korea. He criticizes them for their massive budgets and decades-in-the-future projected completion dates. He also, however, lumps cold fusion into the same category, and doesn’t hold back in expressing his thoughts about some researchers in the field.

For one thing, the history of fusion energy is filled with crazies, hucksters, and starry-eyed naifs chasing after dreams of solving the world’s energy problems. One of the most famous of all, Martin Fleischmann, died earlier this year. Along with a colleague, Stanley Pons, Fleischmann thought that he had converted hydrogen into helium in a beaker in his laboratory, never mind that if he had been correct he would have released so much energy that he and his labmates would have been fricasseed by the radiation coming out of the device. Fleischmann wasn’t the first—Ronald Richter, a German expat who managed to entangle himself in the palace intrigues of Juan Peron, beat Fleischmann by nearly four decades—and the latest schemer, Andrea Rossi, won’t be the last.

His main critique seems to be that after decades of research in the fusion field, there has been nothing to show for all the time and money invested into them. I think most people who have been following the cold fusion story will recognize the many differences between hot and cold fusion, not least the minuscule amounts of funding that cold has received in comparison to hot. There is also, of course, the theoretical differences between the two approaches. Cold fusion may be a term that ends up confusing people who assume it is just a small scale version of the hydrogen bomb; from what researchers are reporting, there seems to be very different physics involved.