The kinetic and solvent isotope effects during the maleic acid heterogeneous catalytic hydrogenation and deuteration in light and heavy water have been studied. Also the effect of the gamma and neutron irradiation on the Ni-ZnO catalysts (with various ratios of components) on the reaction kinetics and mechanism has been measured, as well as the effect of pH on the adsorption behaviour of maleic acid and the temperature dependence of the reaction rate. Existence of different adsorption centers for hydrogen and maleic acid could be deduced from these experiments. A reaction mechanism based on the two-dimensional diffusion of components in the surface is proposed. The catalyst is formed from Ni and ZnO-microspheres. Hydrogen is bound to nickel and maleic acid is adsorbed on the ZnO-microspheres. The reaction takes place on the boundary layers of these microspheres.