Martin Fleischmann, former Professor of Chemistry at Southampton University, yesterday revealed that he and his American colleague, Stanley Pons, were being funded by a Japanese think-tank, Technova, to continue their research in France.
But their claim to have found a source of energy at least as intense as the core of a fast-breeder reactor was dismissed by one of Britain's foremost experts on sub-nuclear physics. Professor Frank Close, from the Rutherford Laboratory, near Oxford, said he had 'never seen evidence of fusion' in any of the experiments and that Professor Fleischmann's claims contradicted general laws of physics. If anything was going on, it was a chemical reaction, he said.
For more than three decades, physicists have been pursuing 'hot' fusion in huge machines costing millions of pounds. The process mimics the power source of the Sun and the hydrogen bomb by forcing atoms of deuterium - heavy hydrogen - together to form helium. Since huge quantities of deuterium are present in sea-water, fusion potentially offers an almost unlimited source of power. But the process produces intense heat - temperatures as hot as the surface of the Sun - and hard gamma radiation.
In March 1989, professors Fleischmann and Pons stunned the world by claiming that they could reproduce the effect cheaply in a test-tube. Using only the metal palladium and heavy water, they claimed to produce heat in a controlled fashion and with no radiation hazard.
Yesterday, Professor Fleischmann showed the British Association a video of the reaction proceeding in his test-tube apparatus rather than demonstrating the reaction itself. It was, he said, a 'fickle' process: 'It takes a week to initiate the process and you don't know exactly when it will initiate a spectacular energy release and then you have about 15 minutes to observe it,' he said.
He also revealed that he and Professor Pons had not succeeded in running the process for more than an hour. They turned off the apparatus for safety reasons, he said. 'If you cannot go to long-term heat generation then it's a scientific curiosity. One of the problems is to make it run for a long time.'
Professors Fleischmann and Pons left the University of Utah where they made their initial discovery, because the dollars 5m (pounds 2.52m) funding for the university's Cold Fusion Institute had expired and 'conditions for research were so unfavourable'. They are working at a secret location in France.