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Cold Fusion Returns

Entry 393, on 2006-09-13 at 13:36:57 (Rating 1, Science)

For the last few weeks I have made the occasional blog entry about New Scientist's "13 Things That Don't Make Sense". The last one I want to comment on, which appears in the news now and again, is cold fusion. Many skeptics and scientists reject it without too much thought, but it just won't go away.

First, what is cold fusion? Well let's start by saying what normal fusion is. There are two types of nuclear reactions: nuclear fission where big atoms like Uranium break apart and release energy, and nuclear fusion where simple atoms like hydrogen combine and create energy in the process. Fusion generates a lot more energy than fission, and is the process which powers the Sun and other stars.

To give you an idea of the energy output of fusion, imagine the Sun was made entirely of coal (and there was a huge source of oxygen somewhere so it could burn). To produce the energy it does the whole Sun would burn up all its fuel in just 6000 years. Using fusion the Sun has already "burned" for 6 billion years and still hasn't used 1% of its fuel! The Sun uses 250 million tonnes of fuel every second, but its so big it still has plenty in reserve!

So fusion can produce plenty of energy. If we could harness this all our energy problems would be gone forever. The problem is that fusion only occurs at a temperature of 10 million degrees, and its hard to contain and control such hot plasma fuel. That's why we really want "cold fusion". Cold fusion isn't really cold, but the fusion reaction happens at 10 million degrees on incredibly tiny bits of fuel and the heat can be controlled.

Current cold fusion (and more conventional "hot" fusion) cannot create more energy than it consumes (getting the fuel to 10 million degrees isn't easy) but one day fusion will be perfected and the world will never be the same.


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