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Wikiversity/Cold fusion/Theory/Rejection

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Rejection[edit]

The rejection of cold fusion was largely based on a theory that assumed that if there was cold fusion, it would be "d-d fusion," a reaction which was understood and which had displayed consistent behavior, up until the possibility that Pons and Fleischmann had discovered new conditions for it.

However, this known behavior included the behavior of w:muon-catalyzed fusion, which is observed in (usually solid) mixtures of hydrogen isotopes, at about - 270 degrees C. It was expected that if cold fusion somehow happened, perhaps by electron catalysis or other method of overcoming the Coulomb barrier that normally inhibits fusion, it would still show the classic fusion branching ratio, since muon-catalyzed fusion does.

In particular, half of the reactions would produce tritium plus a proton, and half would produce helium-3 plus a neutron. Only roughly one reaction in a million would produce helium-4, which would be accompanied by a gamma ray.

Fleischmann did report helium-4, but there was no gamma ray. Neither were there significant neutrons or helium-3, and all of these would be easy to detect. Tritium was detected, by numerous groups, but was present, when present, at levels far below those expected if the heat-producing reaction was ordinary d-d fusion.

Fusion of two deuterons to helium without the emission of a gamma ray, besides being highly unlikely, would require the transmission of energy to the entire lattice, a process known to occur in the w:Mossbauer effect, but dumping the extremely high energy involved, in the necessary time, seemed impossible.

Thus, when Huizenga noticed and comment upon the Miles report of helium correlated with excess heat, he recognized the significance, but then said that he expected, like many cold fusion reports, this would not be confirmed. However, Miles was already a confirmation of Bush and Lagowski, which was, in turn, a confirmation of Fleischmann's original report. Huizenga noted, then, that helium was impossible because there was no gamma radiation.

We can see, woven through the skeptical literature, and especially Huizenga, several assumptions. One is that there is only one reaction, thus differing results must be evidence of experimental error. Second is the assumption that if there is fusion -- or any nuclear reaction at all -- it must be deuterium-deuterium fusion, two deuterons fusing to form one new, heavier nucleus. Since the behavior of this reaction was well-known, at least its behavior outside a metal lattice, it was considered impossible.

But instead of considering this as evidence that the new discovery might be of an "unknown nuclear reaction," as Fleischmann had actually claimed in his publication, it was considered a reason to reject the experimental findings, and this reason continued in spite of many replications.