LENR is a phenomenon in which energy-producing nuclear reactions occur at earth-surface temperatures rather than at high temperatures (such as the interior of the sun) that are characteristic of hot fusion. LENR may, or may not, be real. If it proves to be real, LENR has the potential to meet at least part of the energy requirements of humankind at low cost and with minimal adverse peripheral effects. Because of its potential as an alternative energy source, LENR development is arguably in the public interest.
LENR was announced by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in 1989, with indication of its potential public welfare benefit, but it was quickly judged not to be a real phenomenon by the mainstream scientific community. In the 29 years since, however, continued LENR research under marginalized conditions has produced evidence that the phenomenon may yet prove to be real. If it is found to be real and is accepted into mainstream science, LENR may contribute to the public welfare. Current negative public policies toward LENR may therefore not be in the public interest.
Both a long history and well-established precedent exist in Western nations for public support of research and development in phenomena that have not yet been fully established as “real”. One example is the development of fission-based atomic energy during World War II, when the recognized potential of nuclear chain reactions was realized as the atomic bomb.
Public support for unproven phenomena is deemed justifiable when there is significant potential for public benefit to be realized – when there is a sufficiently clear public interest in the successful development of the phenomenon. At the same time, a well-established tradition of skepticism exists toward radically new ideas or discoveries until they have been well investigated and found to be independently verifiable. Healthy skepticism has served the public interest well in preventing waste of public resources on pseudoscientific pursuits and in reducing personal loss to individuals by unscrupulous practitioners. In cases of extraordinary claims like the announcement of LENR, a balance must be struck between acceptance and support on the one hand and caution and skepticism on the other.