Fusion researchers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, conducting experiments in a laboratory in France, say their progress is being blocked by bureaucratic demands thousands of miles away.
Pons said the National Cold Fusion Institute - established to generate usable energy from his and Fleischmann's test-tube experiments - is slowing down their work. Plus, the researchers are being bombarded long-distance with demands for data - the reason Pons says he left Utah last fall.Institute director Fritz Will said Pons and Fleischmann no longer report through the institute but to university officials. He refused comment on their experiments.
Ronald Pugmire, associate vice president for research at the University of Utah, said Pons and Fleischmann's work is on hold. "They have not been cut off. No money has been released, pending the review of the data."
If the data warrants it, funding for Pons and Fleischman's experiments will continue, Pugmire said.
Pons also said the U., which says it has been unsuccessful at attracting outside funding for the fusion institute, turned down a multimillion-dollar funding proposal for "political reasons."
"For the past several weeks, it has been impossible to get bills paid, equipment repaired and materials ordered. All we receive are demands and requests," Pons said in a telephone interview.
He said for security reasons he couldn't disclose the location of the research institute in which he's now working. The research, he said, is funded by several countries.
"We are made to be circus performers," said the electrochemist of demands made by the institute. "We are made to jump through hoops without any guidance. We are made to walk straight lines without reason. Yet, they don't give us the simple common courtesy of answering any simple questions.
"If they like our responses, we don't hear. If they don't like them, they make new demands. It costs us time. It costs us money."
Pons, a U. research professor, gained international recognition with the March 1989 announcement that he and Fleischmann, a electrochemist from England's Southhampton University, had discovered cold fusion, a simple way to generate a clean source of energy.
The hoopla deteriorated into criticism, and Pons and Fleischmann spent months responding to attacks. They say they wereunable to conduct research without interruption at home, so they fled abroad. U. officials, technically Pons' bosses, contact him through his North Carolina attorney and through his son in Salt Lake City. But communication has been strained with the institute director, Will, who has said he won't talk science through attorneys or faxes.
"We have to do the research elsewhere to protect Utah's interests," Pons said. "We can't keep going over the same old data day after day after day, while everyone else in the world is running away with this research. We are in a race here. We are going to lose that race if . . . they keep trying to prove this research is unsuccessful rather than successful.
"Other people are getting astounding results, and we are left spinning our wheels in the mud."
Pons' frustration is specifically directed at Will and Ian Cumming, chairman of the institute board of directors, who Pons said have made "sterile demands on behalf of the National Cold Fusion Institute without further discussion."
He also accuses the two of making decisions about the scientists' futures without consulting them.
Cumming had no comment on Pons' charges. Cumming's secretary, contacted Tuesday, said her boss does not do press interviews.
The fusion institute, established in 1989 by the U. as a gathering place for international fusionists, is funded by a $5 million state appropriation. Members of the state Fusion/Energy Advisory Council serve as watchdogs over that money. Since Pons left town last fall, they have demanded more accountability, saying they want to know how taxpayers' money has been spent.
Randy Moon, state science adviers, said Pons sent the data the council demanded by a deadline set last month.
Pons confirmed he has cooperated with a series of reviews, including flying to Utah for a command appearance in front of a team of independent scientists last December. Now he is sending data to Wilford Hansen, a physicist/chemist at Utah State University and member of the state committee. But the reviews aren't furthering research or attracting outside funding to the fusion institute.
"This means to me someone is wasting a lot of time trying to prove something they can't prove. We are responding to requests that don't lead anywhere," Pons said.
Meanwhile, the state's money is due to run out in June. Unless outside funding is found, the institute is expected to close. Officials say they've been unable to attract money because of negative publicity surrounding fusion claims.
Pons doesn't buy that argument. He said Japanese investors were willing to invest generously in the U.'s fusion research.
"They could have had millions into that system, but it was turned down for political reasons," Pons said. "They've tried to discourage our efforts to bring in money from people with very good reputations and with high levels of scientific expertise who have a great belief in this project."