3 teams have renewed efforts to produce nuclear energy without radiation

Cold fusion — or its successor technologies such as Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) — remains a dead-end and a false hope for many scientists across the world. India, however, is taking tentative steps towards restarting research into it, some 25 years after it was shut down at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) following global criticism heaped on the idea.

At least three research groups have taken up the theme. An effort in IIT-Kanpur is focusing on transmutation of elements at lower temperatures. Another at IIT-Bombay, funded by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), has constructed an apparatus that has produced energy spikes, but researchers are trying to verify that these were not an outcome of quirks in the apparatus that were not accounted for.

BARC in Fray?

Yet another group at the Center for Energy Research of the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samasthana (S-Vyasa) in Bangalore says the Department of Science and Technology has approved funding for their research through its High Risk High Reward programme. Sources indicate that BARC is revisiting the cold fusion paradigm but its scientists are cagey about discussing the details.

Cold fusion seeks to produce nuclear energy without harmful radiation, complex equipment and the application of very high temperatures and pressures. But it has no conclusive theory explaining it and flies in the face of a well-established physics law that goes against easy fusion of nuclei. There is no guarantee that every time a cold fusion or LENR experiment is done, energy will be produced, say critics. Cold fusion advocates, however, say much progress has been made in achieving repeatability. “Research is underway in the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, Italy, France and Ukraine too. Given the challenge posed by the science behind LENR and its potential payoffs, the Indian government should fund academic institutions that are willing to enter the fray,” says M. Srinivasan, a veteran of the Pokhran I test and former leader of BARC’s Neutron Physics Division. In 1990 Dr. Srinivasan helped to validate the original Fleischmann-Pons cold fusion experiment. Now retired, he has continued to advocate the idea and pushed for it among researchers.

India should take up this research for the sake of national interest, says Prahlada Ramarao, former Chief Controller and Distinguished Scientist at the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and present Director of the Centre for Energy Project at S-Vyasa. “If we don’t take it up and others succeed, we will have to pay for their intellectual property. If all of us fail, that’s fair enough,” he adds.

S-Vyasa researchers have been working on triggering fusion in hydrogen on the surface of nickel, which has hydrogen-soaking properties. The ingredients are heated to temperatures above 1,200° C.

“The first 30-40 experiments were about perfecting the equipment and the process. We observed power spikes in our 80th and 90th experiments in August and October 2016,” says Shree Varaprasad, a researcher there. “We feel that since the reaction seems to be a surface phenomenon, cleaning all the micro-crevices on nickel’s surface to a high degree may be the key to repeatability,” he adds.

“In our electrolysis experiments, we have found irrefutable evidence of new elements and isotopes forming that can happen only through nuclear reactions. But heat measurements are tough to verify and peers will deny their veracity,” says Professor K. P. Rajeev of IIT-Kanpur.