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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Goals of Nuclear Research

The earliest of the recorded motives for nuclear research was the quest to understand the universe. This was followed by a desire to produce gold.  It was supposedly accomplished by turning mercury into gold using platinum as a catalyst. Diocletian ordered the ancient Egyptian writings destroyed to prevent this.  The sale of gold must be reported, but there are exceptions like jewelry.  This motivation was followed by the desire to see in the dark.  An example would be coating the hands of an analogue watch or clock with radium.  The radium gas found in basements with unsealed walls and inadequate ventilation is much more dangerous.  

In the 1920’s, there was the desire to fly by producing helium for use in dirigibles.  The chief methods tried were electrolytic, high voltage discharge and finally using thorium to irradiate paraffin.  However, insufficient helium was produced.  Gaseous hydrogen methods using nickel, palladium or asbestos were used.  C. D. Darwin worked out the mathematics of electromagnetic fields involved.  This research along with Einstein’s Theory immediately prompted research into generating heat and electricity. Finally, the research degenerated into weapon production, U-233 bombs, U-235 bombs, plutonium bombs, hydrogen bombs and finally neutron bombs.  

Teller observed muon catalyzed fusion in a bubble chamber.  Many other types of nuclear reactions were observed at less than the expected energy levels.  However, research into safe forms of nuclear power is discouraged by vested interests. Work on the next generation of fast reactors—clean, resource-efficient, waste-reducing reactors—was halted by Congress in September 1994 and the missions of the National Labs were redirected by the Department of Energy.  

The nation’s supply of U-233 was consolidated at Oak Ridge. Some is being turned into Zero Power Reactor plates. These and U-233 oxide materials are presently being dispersed to various facilities.  Thorium reactor advocates claim that this is a waste of the U-233 which could have been used as a safer nuclear fuel. About 17% of the dangerous waste from a Thorium reactor would still take about 300 years to decay naturally. The depleted uranium, U-234, is being used for artillery shells that disperse it into the atmosphere when fired. Enriched uranium, U-235, is used in nuclear reactors with safety and nuclear proliferation issues arising from the dangerous isotopes produced.  One quarter million tons of nuclear waste has been produced.  Just like the petroleum industry, waste is dispersed or hidden rather than being cleaned up.  Calcium supplementation and white bread were promoted to minimize the intake of radioactive isotopes. In extreme cases where short lived isotopes are present, iodine supplementation is needed.

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