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The Controversy of a Potential Hafnium Bomb

Hemos posted more than 10 years ago | from the what-a-glowing-debate dept.

Science 499

deglr6328 writes "Physics Today has a report detailing the surprisingly heated controversy surrounding the usually sober science of nuclear isomers (the Washington Post has run a less scientifically rigorous version). Since the 70's it has been known that the specific "m2" isomer of Hafnium-178 has an extraordinarily long half life of 31 years (nuclear isomers usually have half-lives on orders of pico or nanoseconds) and on decaying, emits high energy gamma rays at ~2.5 Mev. The prospect of energy storage and rapid release in Hf-178 for the puropse of creating large energy stores, bombs and even exotic gamma ray lasers did not escape the interest of Reagan era Star Wars researchers and was seriously studied for a time during SDI's heyday, but was eventually abandoned after being considered unfeasible. Then, in 1999, Carl Collins at the Univ. of Texas Center for Quantum Electronics reported inducing energy release from Hf-178 by bombarding a sample with X-rays (from a dental machine no less). Immediately, comments about the article were submitted, pointing out inconsistencies with basic nuclear theory and the controversy has only grown since then, with claims and counter-claims of flawed experimental design, incompetence and irrational theories in feuds reminiscent of the cold fusion debacle of the late 80's. It's seeming more unlikely as the arguments drag on, but if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives."

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499 comments

Power, Science and Death (4, Insightful)

mfh (56) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093356)

> a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives

What if journalists and scientists agree to only discuss the *positive* uses of scientific invention? That way, some uneducated terrorists from The Great Wherever won't get new ideas using Google keyword searches like "explosives", "bombs", "nukes". You know the phrase, When in Rome; I think it could apply to science! If we just conceal the potentials for violence, we may avoid these practices somewhat. But much of the scientific community has a love affair with death, it seems. Why? The death-dealing potential of any scientific invention is proportionately equivalent to the fundraising influence of said project; yet science should be a noble pursuit, IMHO, not a monetary one. Sadly, the two (money and science) are inseparable with the high cost of equipment, facilities and so forth, compounded by the need for science by the powerful, as a method of retaining power and building power. One day, it's going to be a lot simpler.

Re:Power, Science and Death (4, Insightful)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093385)

If the terrorists have the resources and contacts available to get materials make a nuclear weapon, chances are that they aren't going to be getting ideas from the newspaper.

Re:Power, Science and Death (5, Insightful)

xyloplax (607967) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093440)

After 9/11 I thought to myself "Hmm, now we know they don't have nukes"

Re:Power, Science and Death (2, Insightful)

borgdows (599861) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093526)

they don't even NEED nukes! ;)

Re:Power, Science and Death (3, Insightful)

Caractacus Potts (74726) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093392)

Haven't you heard? Information wants to be free.

Re:Power, Science and Death (1, Flamebait)

Simonetta (207550) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093433)

What if journalists and scientists agree to only discuss the *positive* uses of scientific invention? That way, some uneducated terrorists from The Great Wherever won't get new ideas using Google keyword searches like "explosives", "bombs", "nukes".

This makes sense until you have that "eureka" epiphany moment when you realise that the quiet geeky white men in their labs who squander billions of public funds to come up new and exotic ways to kill people in the name of patriotism are the 'uneducated terrorists'. None of this shit would exist if they didn't make such a focused effort to invent it.

They may be educated to the max in science and technology, but they have always been, are now, and will continue to be illiterate retards in ethics, morality, and basic human decency.

Re:Power, Science and Death (4, Funny)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093522)

>They may be educated to the max in science and technology, but they have always been, are now, and will continue to be illiterate retards in ethics, morality, and basic human decency.

let me guess, you have a degree in humanities?

don't take it out on scientists just because you wasted the best years of your life.

Re:Power, Science and Death (1)

rspress (623984) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093618)

If the terrorist are ever going to use a nuke they are going to have to buy it.

While building an atomic bomb is not that hard, there are parts that would take quite a bit of work to perfect. Such as making sure the shockwave reached the core from the explosive charges at the same time. If you are off by a nanosecond from any of the charges....no joy.

Making an H bomb is even harder. Unless they purchase one the only nuke they will likely ever use is a dirty bomb.

Re:Power, Science and Death (3, Interesting)

Twirlip of the Mists (615030) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093671)

Don't overestimate the difficulty of building a working nuclear device. Remember: a small group of what were basically graduate students were able to build a city-buster bomb in the middle of a desert with access to only 1940's-era technology, and not really that much of it.

Go check out the satellite pictures of Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan pre-November, 2001, and notice how similar they look, from a distance, to Los Alamos circa late 1944.

What is Hafnium? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093360)

Find out here! [wikipedia.org]

Mod parent down! Links to wrong article! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093439)

Here is the correct link! [wikipedia.org]

Re:What is Hafnium? (0, Redundant)

Attaturk (695988) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093534)

Parents are trolls.

Get your Hafnium fix here [environmen...mistry.com] .

Re:What is Hafnium? (1)

Surazal (729) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093566)

Gee, I've never seen a web page get TICKED OFF at me for blocking pop-ups.

Well, ticked-offedness is a two-way street. :^)

Re:What is Hafnium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093594)

I have blocked pop-ups, and it goes fine for me. I am using Mozilla firefox [mozilla.org] .I like the Wikipedia article better because they don't have pop-ups or ads at all!

NIGGER FAGS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093363)

who the fuck cares about this stuff
NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER

A little dangerous... (5, Funny)

Alexis Brooke (662281) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093373)

It's seeming more unlikely as the arguments drag on, but if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives.

I'm assuming they'll not be using this material to make golf balls...

Re:A little dangerous... (4, Funny)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093426)

Although that would be a convenient way to "take care of" an annoying boss...

"Happy birthday, sir! These are wonderful, you must try them out as soon as possible!"

Re:A little dangerous... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093432)

Would sure be a lot funnier than those exploding-powder golfballs.
Id be laughing, from a safe distance ;)

Re:A little dangerous... (2, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093449)

Watch for them building sandtraps around important buildings--and outlawing 7-irons.

Re:A little dangerous... (1)

in7ane (678796) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093510)

Finally! The suitcase nuke [tech-associates.com] will no longer be just a, paranoid, dream.

Re:A little dangerous... (1)

koi_fish (778106) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093529)

Suddenly that level in GTA: Vice City gets a lot easier...

Y'see, that's why I didn't go to U Texas... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093377)

Developing and testing nuclear bombs on campus. Yeah. Really safe. Parents, take note.

Bah (1)

shadowkoder (707230) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093387)

Why do people think of weaponry as the first use for a new method of power? Help to increase energy supply int he US, maybe convert a nuclear power plant ot use this source (whether or not that is possible is beyond me)? Nope. We want to built a bomb with it!

Re:Bah (1)

odano (735445) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093458)

Well you have to remember that it is a lot easier to create an uncontrolled release of energy (bomb), than a controlled release (power plant, battery, etc).

So while a bomb is the natural first step (or proof of concept if you will), the power plants and other uses will definetly come afterwards.

Re:Bah (5, Funny)

Keruo (771880) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093461)

three basic rules in science when creating new things

1. can you blow it up?

2. can you have sex with it?

3. can you profit from it?

if atleast one condition is filled, it might be worth researching/funding

Re:Bah (4, Funny)

betelgeuse-4 (745816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093630)

So should I throw all my money into researching inflatable sex dolls? They fulfil all three conditions.

Re:Bah (3, Insightful)

Ruie (30480) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093558)

Do not get carried away by the fact that weapons are used to inflict violence. If anything this fact is a commentary on the current human nature which can turn even fun things (like football) into violence.

The fact is that even without armies or wars weapons would still be made.

The reason is that a weapon makes a good intermediate scientific goal - deliver and release large amount of energy to a small remote location.

People who experienced the delight of making something go "Boom" (however small) on command will understand what I am talking about. (Explosives not required - compressed air will do just fine..)

Re:Bah (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093632)

Perhaps from the original paper on the Hf experiments?

I count one air-force, one lockheed-martin and one small defense contractor in the author list.
But you're right, perhaps the US military is diversifying into the electricty market.

Re:Bah (3, Insightful)

SSJVegeto2001 (630176) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093656)

This Isomer of Hafnium has to be created; it does not exist in nature. This could never be a source of energy. Also, the amount of x-ray energy needed to trigger the reaction (if it is possible) is still over 5 times the energy you get out of the Hafnium reaction. The chain reaction necessary for use as an explosive is also unlikely; we're talking fast photons here instead of slow neutrons, photons that would be too fast to sustain a reaction. Overall it seems like Hafnium is a dud.

Re:Bah (2, Interesting)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093704)

Building a bomb, is just plain marketing. A kind of proof-of-concept nobody can't object against.

After that, you can easily get the money to liberate the energy in a controlled manner and turn it into a peaceful invention.

Also, at this stage, it maybe much more easier to just focus on the way to liberate the energy without the hassle to figure out how to control it.

But, don't forget, at end, they get married and add many children (no necessarily in that order).

Misread... (-1, Offtopic)

nuclearsnake (257605) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093390)

Science: The Controversy of a Potential Human Bomb

I was watching Voyager the other day (4, Insightful)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093394)

While I think that Voyager is quite below par for the entire Star Trek series, the skin tight spandex outfits that Kate Mulgrew wears draws me back.

But anyway, the crew had just found out about a so-called "Omega particle". The particle contained as much energy in one molecule of it as a neutron star had in its entirety.

Eventually they found a race of aliens who had been able to replicate the particle as well as contain it somewhat. Somewhat, because by the time Voyager got there the particle had escaped and blown up the laboratory.

Since this particle could be used for ultimate evil by anyone who had the predilection to use it in such a way, Starfleet HQ had deemed it illegal and set up regulations that required the immediate destruction of the particle if encountered.

The problem is that the energy from even a single molecule of the stuff could provide enough energy to sustain the life of a planet for hundreds of thousands of years.

So I look at this debate over the efficacy of the Hafnium bomb and wonder to myself why it is that humans have this innate need to develop weapons that possess this much power. Why do we see the drawbacks to new technology faster than the benefits? If the Hafnium technology could provide us with such a cheap power source that lasted generations, it makes sense to pursue a course of action that allowed us to take advantage of it.

Shame on the warmongers who would use it to kill other humans.

The paranoid might say.. (1)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093425)

cause they still haven't told you about the huge mothership that's coming... we gotta have something beeter than nukes (they *never* work in movies) ;)

Warning! ObviousGuy is a known troll! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093451)

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093466)

what a lot of people don't realize is that Hafnium is very similar to zirconium and is usually found in nature in zirconium ore.

what the article fails to mention is that Hafnium can actually be extracted from cheap cubic zirconium jewelry. this makes it extremely dangerous. Consider this - a hugely powerful explosive can be harvested by terrorists just by watching the Home Shopping Network and stocking up on cheap $29.95 necklaces.

Yes, I majored in chemistry...

I don't know, I think it would be better if this knowledge weren't public.

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (1)

potifar (87326) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093564)

Hafnium may be a component of zirconium ore, but the isomer Hf-178m does not exist naturally (even though standard Hf-178 constitutes about 28% of the Hf on earth).

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (1)

Cryect (603197) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093572)

Sure, except for the little issue that the hafnium that is with zirconium isn't the nuclear isomer they are discussing. Extraction of hafnium from zirconium is already a pain enough but then you have to use neutron irradiation to create the necessary isomer. If you can do the necessary neutron irradiation, why can't you just enrich your fuel for nuclear weapons?

I think a better line of investigation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093468)

The state of kate mulgrew's pudenda in an excited state.

I suspect the depth and warmth of this might be worth exploring, but only under tightly controlled condition.

Deep penetring particles might raise the containment field to a highly energetic state, ultimately ending in spurting of electrons that would cover not only the area in question, but might raise higher if only to shower the faces of those involved.

Is it a fair question? We might never know.

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (1)

selderrr (523988) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093613)

comment summary : skin tight spandex outfits ... Kate Mulgrew

The first one of this [google.com] result is the one you need

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (1)

oconnorcjo (242077) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093614)

So I look at this debate over the efficacy of the Hafnium bomb and wonder to myself why it is that humans have this innate need to develop weapons that possess this much power. Why do we see the drawbacks to new technology faster than the benefits?

Simple.
Military is willing to spend a fortune on speculative R&D where most companies and agencies would not. This means that the military gets the toys sooner than the rest. Military spent a fortune to harness atomic energy and later others found uses for the discoveries and inventions the military came up with.

You got to pay to play and the military is willing to pay.

Re:I was watching Voyager the other day (4, Interesting)

Twirlip of the Mists (615030) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093647)

So I look at this debate over the efficacy of the Hafnium bomb and wonder to myself why it is that humans have this innate need to develop weapons that possess this much power.

You aren't really serious, are you?

Come on, guys. Let's progress beyond freshman seminar and start thinking about things, okay?

Those human beings who are presently living are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of culling. Before modern civilization, say 100 years ago or so, life was very hard. It was incredibly easy to fall off of a cliff, or get eaten by a jaguar, or get constipated and die.

The hard facts of life were exacerbated by the presence of other creatures competing for the same resources our ancestors needed to survive: food and water, mostly, but also the gonads of our fellow human beings. If there's a monkey in that tree, he's going to be able to get to the fruit before you can. If there's a jaguar lurking behind that rock, he's going to be able to get to the monkey. And if there's a human being who's better equipped to kill jaguars, he's going to be able to score more chicks. So great-great-etc.-granddad either responded by figuring out how to kill jaguars, or by figuring out how to kill humans who knew how to kill jaguars. Either one worked.

Think about it: you are the product of 15,000 successive generations of winners. Red in tooth and claw.

So, equipped with these facts, you are somehow surprised that people have a natural penchant for creating tools that give them a competitive advantage? Tools like spears and ovens and sunblock and Viagra and wheels and central heating and cruise missiles and the germ theory of medicine and mascara and shoes and the incandescent light bulb and hafnium bombs.

Use those great big brains, people. They're not just decoration for the top of your spinal cord, you know. Think.

Understand that human beings are competitive, and that competition includes devising tools to wipe out as many of your fellow human beings as possible. This is, to coin a phrase, "human nature."

Hafnium bullets. (1)

gooberguy (453295) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093396)

Hafnium bullets would give a whole new meaning to armor piercing round. It would also make the motto of "one shot, one kill" obsolete.

Re:Hafnium bullets. (1)

comet_11 (611321) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093538)

Hell, imagine what you could do with an army of golfers!

Re:Hafnium bullets. (1)

BCoates (512464) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093697)

Yes, but if we go down that path, we'll create a golf ball so big could destroy a planet...

Hurry!! (5, Funny)

Tom7 (102298) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093405)

"... but if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives."

Well, damn, we had better get our best minds on that one !!

Spellchecking (1, Troll)

slavemowgli (585321) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093407)

s/puropse/purpose/. You guys need a spellchecker for story submissions. :)

How much energy? (3, Interesting)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093408)

Found this online: (about the ~2.5Mev):

http://www.clavius.org/envsun.html [clavius.org]
but it takes the equivalent energy of about 620,000,000,000,000 million electron volts (MeV) per second to light up a 100-watt light bulb

So the question becomes, how much of this stuff (and how big a "battery") would it take to handle all my energy needs, and does the resulting crap that comes out the other end (when it breaks down) pose an unecessary risk to my health or the health of the environment (ie, is there a way to really "seal" the battery)

Re:How much energy? (1)

k98sven (324383) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093646)

but it takes the equivalent energy of about 620,000,000,000,000 million electron volts (MeV) per second to light up a 100-watt light bulb

Firstly: Yes, but this 2.5 MeV is per ray. How many rays do you think the thing emits?

Say we have a golf ball of the stuff. A quick calculation gives you have about 4.8e20 atoms of hafinum in a 2cm radius ball.

With a 31-year half life, that means about 2.4e11 rays per second for the first 31 years.

Only about a tenth of a watt. Oh dear, not many lightbulbs there.

Which brings me to the main point:
You are assuming most of the fission energy is released as gamma radiation. This is not true.

Most of the energy turns into motion (or: the heat) of the fission fragments.

Re:How much energy? (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093670)

but it takes the equivalent energy of about 620,000,000,000,000 million electron volts (MeV) per second to light up a 100-watt light bulb

Well, if you multiply 2.5 Mev by the number of hafnium atoms in your golf ball and divide that by 620,000,000,000,000, you're gonna need a light bulb that's guaranteed to last for very roughly a millennium.

rj

Our "Dilythium" Star Trek Crystal (2, Informative)

artlu (265391) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093415)

The first thing that pops into my head is long term power - similar to the premise of Star Trek's "Dilythium Crystals." The amount of power in such a tiny size could be used for many useful applications especially in regards to space travel/exploration. If only everyone didn't think about using this immense power to kill each other, we might progress as a society. Oh well.

artlu [artlu.net]

You obviously aren't a Trekkie... (1)

cnelzie (451984) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093542)

...even the most peon of a Trekkie knows that Dilithium crystals are used to regulate the output of a Matter/Anti-Matter Reaction...

They have nothing to do with generating power by themselves...

Sheesh...

Re:You obviously aren't a Trekkie... (1)

Kiriwas (627289) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093570)

Indeed.. the dilithium crystals have the strange property of NOT going boom when encoutering anti matter, even though they themselves are normal matter. THAT too would be an amazing discovery. One I doubt we'll see any time soon.

Re:Our "Dilythium" Star Trek Crystal (1)

Cryect (603197) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093622)

Well, apparently this nuclear isomer has less energy than the usual fissable materials. Then you take into account this nuclear isomer isn't found naturally. So now you have to purify Hafnium, then blast it with neutrons to get your desired nuclear isomer. All for something that really doesn't have much use besides its safer to handle than fissable fuel. Really to use it for anything beyond a weapon doesn't sound to feasible from reading the article.

When are they going to be marketed? (2, Funny)

Camel Pilot (78781) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093429)

I could really improve my golf score with one of those baby's! Every shot is a hole in one - a really big hole....

Better Hafnium... (5, Funny)

rodney dill (631059) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093435)

than Nonium at all.

for the sake of humanity (1)

Heartz (562803) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093436)

For the sake of Humanity and all of mankind, if a HF bomb really can create such chaos and destruction, we shouldn't build it.

The ethical parameters in this issue is clear. The risks are too high, and the destruction devastating.

Re:for the sake of humanity (2, Funny)

Mordok (778105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093501)

For the sake of humanity we also must have weapons. Think about an huge asteroid, with this we could dispose the danger more efficiently than with nuke.

Re:for the sake of humanity (1)

rdsmith4 (767227) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093574)

a HF bomb

Thats "a Hf bomb." HF is hydroflouric acid, which I do not think is very explosive. </pedantry>

Re:for the sake of humanity (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093658)

Now that the knowledge is out there, someone will build it eventually. Hopefully it will be built by a country or organization not likely to use it for evil right off the bat.

One word... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093442)

COOL!

No, two.

WAY COOL!

I can already imagine blowing up a couple terrorist with this weapon from our lord and savior jesus christ.

All that Star Wars research back in the 80s... (4, Funny)

ValourX (677178) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093445)

... and the damn prequels still sucked. I guess all the science in the world can't save you from George Lucas. -Jem

Hmm.... (3, Interesting)

DiscordOfFive (778099) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093446)

This sounds like an argument, with the potential to become a huge debacle, over something that is poorly understood by modern standards. Yeah, IF a bomb of the stuff could be built, it'd be a really effective bomb. But that's like saying if we could make another sun, we'd have lots of light. Maybe it's possible, but I'd bet my chips on not. At least under present tech.

I shudder to think... (5, Funny)

SSJVegeto2001 (630176) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093457)

what could be done with a Wholenium...

Oops (1)

MickyJ (188652) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093463)

When I first saw the title I though it said 'Human Bomb'. But if the bomb is potentially golf ball sized, that's exactly how it would be used in future. Swallow a bomb, blow up a large part of a city...

Re:Oops (1)

ziggamon (736328) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093674)

Or you just hide it in a soda can and take the first flight out of the country?

Dimensions (3, Interesting)

Daath (225404) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093469)

[...] if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives
Doesn't that mean that a ten megaton hafniabomb would be the size of one million golf balls? That's pretty big...
I'm sure I must be wrong :P

Re:Dimensions (1)

calidoscope (312571) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093642)

Doesn't that mean that a ten megaton hafniabomb would be the size of one million golf balls? That's pretty big...

That would be my assumption as well. Remember a volume of 1 million golf balls would be a sphere 100 times larger than a golf ball - which is maybe a factor of 2 to 4 larger than a 10 MT nuke.

Anyway, reason for size
Splitting U-235 releases 207 MeV
Gamma from Hafnium is 2.45 MeV

Red mercury? (3, Interesting)

ozbird (127571) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093470)

These (rather dubious) claims sound awfully like those attributed to red mercury [about.com] , a mysterious (and probably mythical) powerful explosive substance. Note point 5 in the linked document, which suggests that "red mercury" may be a codeword for some kind of new nuclear material.

</tinfoil hat>

BOMBS!! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093479)

[Shaking in Rage] Why...always...bombs...first?!

Everything we develop in the nuclear field has started out as a _bomb_, and then, only 10 or 20 or however-many years later, it finally finds its way into power plants, or medicine, or other _good_ uses.

isotope vs isomer (4, Informative)

frankie (91710) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093482)

For those of us non-nuclear scientists (like me) who thought isomer meant a molecule with different bond orientations (e.g. trans vs cis), here's an explanation [nukeworker.com] : A nuclear isomer [thefreedictionary.com] is a metastable state of an atom caused by the excitation of a proton or neutron in its nucleus so that it requires a change in spin before it can release its extra energy.

Next question: how the heck do you control the spin of individual baryons in a nucleus?

Re:isotope vs isomer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093552)

For those of us non-nuclear scientists (like me) who thought isomer meant a molecule with different bond orientations

Hell, I thought an isomer was a pair of fashionable winter gloves.

Re:isotope vs isomer (1)

Stuwee (739059) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093600)

how the heck do you control the spin of individual baryons in a nucleus?

Well according to the article, you fire X-rays at them and hope for the best. There's probably a more scientific reason (due to the high wavelength of X-ray radiation, blah blah blah), but that one worked for me.

Re:isotope vs isomer (4, Informative)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093624)

Next question: how the heck do you control the spin of individual baryons in a nucleus?

You fire something at the nucleus and isolate the ones where one of the outer-shell nucleons was bumped up to the energy state you want.

If you fire X or gamma rays at the nucleus, you should only be able to excite very short-lived isomers (if it is boosted by absorbing a photon, it can decay by emitting a photon). Firing things like electrons or protons at the nucleus can excite states that don't have a single-photon decay path. These can be metastable.

We do the same thing in HeNe lasers. Helium atoms are excited to a metastable state by electric discharge, and after a while interact with neon atoms, putting them in a state suitable for lasing (target state of neon has almost exactly the same energy as the metastable helium state, so the exchange happens easily).

I hope this helps :).

Re:isotope vs isomer (3, Interesting)

subnuclear (778110) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093682)

You just have to make a lot of halfnium from some nuclei and some of the halfnium will have this higher energy spin-state spontaneously. You can seperate different spin-states using strong magnets since the amount a particle bends in a magnetic field depends on its spin. The X-rays aren't used to controlled the spin but to the kick the nucleus in to a higher-energy and less stable spin-state. The nucleus then decays into the ground state releasing a much more energetic photon than the X-ray you put in.

However, the cross-section (the probability of occurance) for this X-ray excitation is incredibly small in every isomer studied. It usually requies much more energy to be put in than can be produced. Carl Collins's data shows a much larger cross-section (10,000x larger!), but follow-up experiments by Argonne National Labs and others haven't seen a damn thing. Collins data is not very convincing to anyone, but Collins

oh hell yea (1)

P0lyh34) (602065) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093488)

We may blow ourselves straight to hell yet. Personally i'm all for destruction of the human race. Sure we take out several other species on our way out this way, but atleast we do take ourselves out, besides, were over due for the perodic mass extinctions the planet experiances.

Hafnium as airplane nuclear fuel? (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093490)

This idea is NOT a joke--a recent issue of Popular Mechanics talked about such an idea, one that could make it possible for a high-flying UAV such as the Global Hawk to fly 10-20 times the endurance it has now.

Paradox alert! (1)

rdsmith4 (767227) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093599)

This idea is NOT a joke--a recent issue of Popular Mechanics talked about such an idea...

Logical fallacy: conclusion does not follow.

Not to be contrarian, but . . . (1, Interesting)

Maradine (194191) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093493)

isnt's that a little weak?

Hiroshima had an estimated yied of 12-16kt, something that can be done these days with 24kg of plutonium (if google serves, anyway).

And a golf ball of hafnium can do one ton?

Seems a little less scary, in a nuclear sense.

M

Re:Not to be contrarian, but . . . (1)

Maradine (194191) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093531)

And a golf ball of hafnium can do one ton?

read: ten.

Ignore me.

Not Interested... (1)

icekillis (777986) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093494)

They should be looking at other ways to make use of the Hafnium, like... How can it be used to halfen the boot load of xp? If we place one of those devices in a microsoft building... will we make the employees more productive?

Not so scary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093496)

Just have standing orders to shoot on sight anyone with a backpack dental x-ray machine strapped to their back. This should take care of the nuclear homicide bombers.

Great... (1, Funny)

Jack Zombie (637548) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093512)

I can imagine the Bush Administration will now claim that Saddam Hussein had a hidden stash of golf balls... and send Tiger Woods to defuse them.

"Golf for your lifes"?

Hefnerium (2, Informative)

sql*kitten (1359) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093514)

Hefnerium molecules come in pairs and they're larger than golf balls. More like the size of grapefruits.

Nuclear isomers were investigated thoroughly... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9093533)

...in the 90's by the tanning industry. Turned out to be a total failure. The researches disappeared with all the grant money, leaving only a cloud of neutrons.

hafnium ? poltential for misdirection (2, Funny)

Stanleverlock (111131) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093549)

DEar Friends,
Has anyone considered the money and research hours spent by all those scientists just to check out this expermental breakthrough.
Then think of all the non-American research people that are going to investigate and spend research dollars if what was said is true about the energy potential of this radioactive isotope?
As our german soldier from "LAugh-In" would say
"Veerry Interesting".

Plot for next Bond movie (1)

KrisCowboy (776288) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093555)

It's seeming more unlikely as the arguments drag on, but if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives
Forgive me for this, but can't resist saying this. This forms the perfect story for next Bond movie. Evil rich industrialist trying to destroy London. James Bond, along with his sexy sidekick Woonda, saves the day.

Re:Plot for next Bond movie (1)

gclef (96311) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093593)

Woonda? c'mon. It's got to be something weirder and more junior-high-sex-joke-ish than that if she's going to be a Bond girl. How about M. Mary Bounce?

Re:Plot for next Bond movie (1)

KrisCowboy (776288) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093680)

On a second thought, it could be the plot for the next Indy movie. Indiana Jones and the return of Nazis. Hitler isn't dead. He's alive and kicking. He's forming "The Fourth Reich" and now, he has this damn bomb. Who's gonna stop him?
Oh..Nazis...I hate 'em
Indy Jones and his dad, Henry Jones. To add some spice, Nazi's can be shown eating apes, snakes and all kinds of crap. BTW, M. Mary Bounce's a good name, hope Albert Brocolli sees your post :-)

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (4, Funny)

Detritus (11846) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093556)

Cool, you could make a nuclear hand grenade. There would be a slight problem with employing it. It would also kill the person who threw the grenade.

Re:The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (2, Insightful)

SamSim (630795) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093561)

Trust me, if a nuclear hand grenade was a) possible and b) practical, it would already exist.

Re:The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (4, Interesting)

Borg453b (746808) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093586)

I remember being very nervous about throwing my first (and hopefully last) handgrenade. Regardless of hollywood fantasies, it leaves you 3 seconds til detonation, once its armed and released.

I remember thinking "If you mess this up, it'll be your last mistake"

I'm glad I'm no longer in the army, but it was kind of neat to try, and fireworks will never be the same again.

Experiments not reproducible (5, Informative)

starbuzz (590877) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093562)

American Physical Society columnist Bob Park reports in his What's New [aps.org] column that the Hf-experiments were found by several groups to be not reproducible. That puts the claim squarely in the category of Bogus Science.

Atomic Weight (3, Informative)

kcdoodle (754976) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093579)

This research is flawed.

Hafnium is like phoshorus. It spontaneously combusts on contact with air. Adding gamma or xrays isn't going to activate the nucleus of the Hafnium atom somehow.

Elements that offer nuclear energy are either at the low end or high end of the periodic table. Low-end atomic weight element hydrogen and helium (1 and 4) can be made to fuse (fusion) to create middlish weight elements and energy (look at the sun). High-end atomic weight elements like uranium and plutonium (235 and 238) can be made ti split (fission) and create middlish weight atoms.

So there is NO WAY you will get a energy-yielding atomic reaction with hafnium and gamma/xrays.

Hafnium is used in many reactor control rods and are constantly exposed to a barrage of neutrons, gamma rays, fission fragment particles, etc. If this reasearch were true, nearly every nuclear reactor on the planet would be blowing up right now.

Hafnium might be used in weapons, but it is no more dangerous than phosphorus.

I live the greatest adventure anyone could want. - Tosk the Hunted

Re:Atomic Weight (2, Insightful)

Cryect (603197) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093641)

Actually the Hafnium they are discussing is a nuclear isomer. Basically its gotten energy stored from neutrons that have hit it while being used in control rods in a nuclear reactor. The problem with the nuclear isomer is that it doesn't like to give up that energy thats been stored at any rate thats useful. The idea Collins is trying to say is that we can blast it with XRay's and look the amount of neutrons being released is increased slightly over the background radiation.

Lysenkoism (4, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093605)

The article makes it clear that the best-equipped labs aren't seeing the claimed triggered decay and theory doesn't support it either.

The government has been disinviting expert nuclear physicists from funding meetings.

It's not healthy when government runs with an unconfirmed result and overrides the give-and-take of experimental science. The old Soviet Union did this when the government endorsed maverick biologist Lysenko because his ideas were compatible with Marxism.

Notice that even if the result can be confirmed it's still many huge jumps from practical application. First you have to mass-produce the excited isomer of hafnium. Then you have to separate it from normal hafnium, a far harder problem than uranium enrichment. Then you need a far higher yield than Collins has claimed, because even at the rate his experiments claim, you'd spend far more energy triggering decays than you'd get back out.

Stranger things have happened, of course, but right now it makes more sense to be intrigued than to be excited.

We have to accept the responsibility (1)

mpn14tech (716482) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093636)

As we progress forward we will be working with ever larger amounts of energy. We either learn how to harness this energy productively and move on or we burn ourselves to crisp, get out of the way and let some other species evolve to try.

obStrangelove (3, Funny)

Theatetus (521747) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093650)

"That's a commie lie, Mr. President, our studies show livable conditions return within 2 to 3 years."

"Obviously you've never heard of Cobalt Thorium G."

Oh Please.......... (1)

Geek of Tech (678002) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093661)

Skip the small stuff. Just go grab some Naquida...

Hafnium 2 ? (0, Troll)

tennistoad (778028) | more than 10 years ago | (#9093700)

Man I can't believe they keep delaying this crap? first talked about 5 years ago then told on sep 31st,,then some stuppid hacker/bad guy, steals it and now 31 years for hafnium to come out...this just plain sucks!!!!!
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