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No. 80: Mar-Apr 1992

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First cold-fusion bomb?

Possibly we are overreacting to the following event:

"Cold fusion researchers are puzzled and worried by an explosion last week that killed one of their colleagues, a British electrochemist. A cold fusion 'cell' at SRI International in Menlo Park, California, blew up while Andrew Riley was bending over it, killing him instantly."

Now small explosions in cold-fusion cells are not unknown. At the tops of some cells palladium-wire electrodes are exposed to oxygen and deuterium (heavy hydrogen) gases. If the palladium wires are not protected by films of water, the palladium can catalyze the explosive combination of the oxygen and hydrogen. This sometimes happens if a dry spot develops on a wire. Such detonations, though, cause little damage. The SRI explosion was much more powerful. The detonating cell (only 2 inches in diameter and 8 inches long), not only killed Riley but peppered three other researchers in the lab with debris.

(Charles, Dan; "Fatal Explosion Closes Cold Fusion Laboratory," New Scientist, p. 12, January 11, 1992.)

Comment. One cannot refrain from asking if the explosion involved only chemical energy.

From Science Frontiers #80, MAR-APR 1992. 1992-2000 William R. Corliss