Dr. John Martin (Brett Cullen), a negotiator for the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, is called in when a disgruntled grad student takes hostages at a university. The student, Seth Todtman (Peter Stebbings), claims to have invented a cold fusion bomb and is threatening to detonate it, killing millions, unless the government brings him five people on a list and kills them for him. Martin's colleagues dismiss Todtman as a crank, until a sample device he provides goes off with megaton force, wiping out a DOE team and the top-secret facility where they work.
Faced with a difficult choice, Martin meets with Todtman face-to-face and tries to understand the logic behind his rage at the people he wants killed: cruel foster parents, corrupt professors, a heartless librarian, and a greedy social worker. Martin successfully distracts Todtman while the military disarms the cold fusion device using a laser. After the device is disabled, a sniper shoots Todtman in the chest. The students attempt to leave the university, but Martin reminds everyone the doors are still guarded by bombs. As he lies on the ground dying, Todtman tells Martin how to disarm the door bombs so everyone may leave.
Martin questions how Todtman reached his breakthrough in the development of cold fusion technology. With his dying breath, Todtman replies, "So simple once they ask the right question, but they're expecting the wrong answer". The scene shifts to a room of students writing an exam at another university. A professor approaches a student, Tom, and asks him why he has been scribbling notes instead of answering the exam questions. Disgruntled, Tom grabs his notes and marches angrily towards the door. As he is leaving, Tom states that he has some work to do, but that he'll come back to the university soon. The professor, puzzled, looks down at Tom's exam; the question on the exam states: "Demonstrate why cold fusion is impossible".