Italian scientists, who ceased nuclear fission research in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, now hope a nuclear fusion project at the University of Utah will usher in an age of safe, pollution-free energy.

Francisco DeMarco, a physicist at the National Association of Alternative Energy in Frascati, southeast of Rome, told the Deseret News Tuesday that they're vigorously trying to duplicate the experiment of U. chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton in England.It is being given "maximum priority" said Antonio Ruberti, Italian minister of scientific research.

Thirteen days ago, Pons and Fleischmann stunned scientists with the announcement that they had achieved a sustained nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature.

DeMarco said the announcement was of particular interest to the Italian government, which stopped funding fission energy projects following the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet Union.

The accident - history's worst nuclear tragedy - occurred April 26, 1986.

Although DeMarco referred to the U. experiment as "strange," he said his lab is now attempting to duplicate it. "But it could take a few months to get the results."

Like other physicists, DeMarco expressed skepticism about the Utah experiment but confirmed that "Pons is a good chemist." He said other European countries are also trying to confirm the U. project.

Robert W. Nesbitt, dean of the faculty of science at the University of Southampton in England, said Monday that he's been told of 11 laboratories that have attempted to duplicate the cold nuclear-fusion experiment.

"According to Dr. Fleischmann, five had produced positive results; six had negative results."

Two Hungarian physicists from the experimental physics department of Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen reportedly have replicated the table-top experiment first done in Utah to produce controlled nuclear fusion using basic chemistry.

The French have also expressed an interest in the fusion work.

Tuesday's edition of The New York Times reported that it had received a technical paper describing the experiment from Nuclear Fusion Associates, a Maryland-based group, and other drafts of the Pons-Fleischmann paper were available to scientists.

A spokesman in the office of Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said the French embassy had asked for a copy of the report. The congressman's staff expected to receive a copy sometime Tuesday and was to fax it to the French embassy.

Pons has made available several copies of the scientific paper, which describes the historic fusion process.

"So I am sure it now is in the hands of everyone who really wants it now," a U. official said. But Pons and Fleischmann believe it will take weeks to two months to officially confirm it.

Meanwhile, editors of Nature Magazine Tuesday were still undecided if they will publish the scientific papers of Pons and Brigham Young University physicist Steven Earl Jones, who also claims success in cold fusion.

David Lindley, assistant physics editor for the British journal in Washington, D.C., said a decision likely won't be made until the end of the week.