Brian Fraser's Adventures
in Energy Destruction
Copyright © 2002 by Brian Fraser. All rights reserved.
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Currently, the United States is constructing a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. It will cost $57 billion (not including cost overruns) and serves only to STORE radioactive waste instead of neutralizing it. The waste must be transported by rail from 103 reactors, most of which are on the east coast. Transporting such extremely dangerous material from locations all over the country has raised serious safety concerns, especially since the events of September 11, 2001. And the storage site will have to be defended against intrusions and accidents for thousands of years. (see Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office at http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/ . Various other links: Radioactive Roads And Rails: Hauling Nuclear Waste Through Our Neighborhoods, http://uspirg.org/uspirg.asp?id2=7242&id3=USPIRG& ; http://www.citizenalert.org/ ; http://www.mapscience.org/ ; http://www.osti.gov/bridge/ http://www.radwaste.org/ )
On-site neutralization of radioactive waste at the power plant would make a lot more sense if the option were in fact available. Currently it is not. Scientists generally believe that radioactive decay rates are remarkably constant and that they cannot be changed by a simple, inexpensive process. The discovery of "cold fusion" in 1989, however, changed all that. It became clear that radioactive decay rates could be affected by ordinary electrolysis. This led some scientists to propose that a process be developed for disposal of radioactive waste. Dr. G.H. Miley, for example, wrote U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (1999), Proposal No. 99-0222, "Scientific Feasibility Study of Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENRS) for Nuclear Waste Amelioration". The proposal was actually accepted, but some of those "institutionalized, atherosclerotic precision mound builders" that I talk about, later killed the project. Apparently, this was just too big a mound for them to leap over. (See: http://www.infinite-energy.com/iemagazine/issue28/criticskill.html , http://web.pdx.edu/~pdx00210/News/CFRLEngNews/CFRLEN05.htm , Complaints about U.S. Office of Patents and Trademarks regarding Cold Fusion: http://www.padrak.com/ine/POLETT899.html , Transcript of ABC's "Good Morning America" June 11, 1997 http://www.planetarymysteries.com/energy/abc_tran.html . See also Remediation of radioactive elements
What we now need is more public awareness and support for the idea that neutralizing radioactive waste at the power plant may be feasible. In Issues I have suggested that even a highschool chemistry student could build an apparatus to demonstrate the basic principles. If our kids are doing it, then the universities and national labs will see their way clear to get this show on the road. Uncle Sam can tell them:
You don't need official permission from any governmental agency to demonstrate the basic principles of neutralizing radioactive waste that are described in the essay below. You just need enough courage to annoy a few authority mongers like those that were around a couple thousand years ago.
"And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things?
And who gave You this authority to do these things?" --Mark 11:28, NKJ
My Equipment and Methods
First, I needed a Geiger counter, one that I could hook up to a computer The RM-60 Radiation Monitor from Aware Electronics (http://www.aw-el.com/) met my needs very well. It has a Geiger-Mueller tube that has an alpha sensitivity of 2.5 MeV, 80% at 3.6 MeV, a beta sensitivity that is 35% at 50 KeV, 95% at 300 KeV, and a gamma & X-ray sensitivity of 10 KeV. The unit can be hooked up to a PC and the software handles the radiation counting. The files can also be converted to a Comma Separated Variables (.CSV) list and imported into an Excel spreadsheet for more extensive data analysis. The user manual was also very informative and a pleasure to read.
Second, I needed some radioactive waste to play with. It turns out the stuff is pretty hard to get J. But actually I wouldn't want it anyway. It is just too dangerous to have around. I needed something a lot safer. It turns out thorium will work quite well. So will uranium. Therefore I bought some thorium and uranium nitrates from a chemical laboratory supply house (no NRC license is needed for these items in small quantities). Thorium 232 (90Th232) has a half-life of 14 billion years. That is short enough to make a sensitive Geiger counter crackle vigorously, but long enough to be very safe for careful experiments, the main danger being inhalation of the dust. Uranium 238 (92U238) has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and uranium 235 (92U235) has a half-life of 0.7 billion years. The latter isotope represents less than 1% of natural uranium, but as you can see from the half-life, it is about six times more radioactive than the 238 isotope. Both isotopes are significantly more radioactive than thorium and would be useful in advanced experiments. All isotopes decay into "daughter products" which in turn are radioactive. The decay results in the "thorium decay series" and the "uranium decay series". Radioactive series eventually terminate in a stable, non-radioactive nuclide like an isotope of lead or bismuth.
These are the basic materials and tools required for these experiments. The yellow crystals in the plastic bag are uranium nitrate hexahydrate, but most experiments can be done with the safer thorium nitrate tetrahydrate. The RM-60 counter connects with a computer through the serial cable.
Third, I needed some fixtures to facilitate radiation counting. The fixtures would ensure uniformity and repeatability, which in this kind of research are extremely important. The bulk of the work in fact consists of hours and hours (or several days) of radiation counting. Running the reaction cell is only a minor part of the effort. Counts must be done both on electrodes as well as the liquid contents of the cell.
The scheme that seemed to work best for measuring the liquid portion was constructed from microscope slides that had an SAE 3/8 inch metal washer epoxied to them. The hole in the washer is slightly smaller in diameter than the aperture of the Geiger tube. I take the liquid I am going to process and make a set of "before" slides by putting 4 drops of the liquid into the hole in the washer and then fast evaporating it in an oven (about 200F). I repeat this until the hole has a total of 12 drops per slide (the hole will only hold 4 drops at a time). I usually do three slides as a set. Then I count each in the counting fixture in sequence, (slide #1, then #2, #3). Then I re-count each one until a total of three passes have been done on each slide. This gives me an idea of slide-to-slide sampling uniformity (about 6%) and measurement repeatability on any particular slide (about 2%)
After the reaction cell is turned off, I make a similar set of "after" slides with the same technique. Electrolysis uses up a little bit of the water and some may have to be added to bring the cell back to the original dilution (less the 36 drops for the "before" samples) so that a valid comparison can be made. Also, the liquid may have a radioactive precipitate in it and so the liquid must be well stirred before taking samples.
The idea, of course, is to compare the before and after samples to see how the radioactivity has been affected by the electrolytic process. Both the intensity (counts above background level) and the shape of the decay curve are critical things to measure. You'll see some examples later.
After I am done "counting the slides" I cover the washer with a piece of cellophane tape, place the slide in a little plastic soap box (the kind used for travel) with the other slides, and store the box in a safe place. This is a precaution against contaminating my surroundings with radioactive dust.
The slide counting fixture helps to position the geiger tube directly over the hole in the washer which contains the radioactive material. Slides are labeled with run number, whether they are before or after the run, and the slide number. Computer file names also include a measurement pass number (such as R6B-S2P1.RAD). No other slides or radioactive materials should be near the counter during a counting process. Unneeded slides are normally stored in a little plastic soap box and kept in a safe place away from the counter.
This is what the computer monitor looks like during counting (an electrode in this case). At the far right side of the screen, the blue bar shows that 235 counts have been received in one Time Base Unit (one minute in this case). The display scrolls leftward as counting continues (usually for days). Electrolyzed radioactive materials often show periodic variations in the bar graph display, as well as in the data plots.
Fourth, I needed an electrolytic reaction cell and a power source to run it. I designed the cell shown in the photo while I was walking around in a hardware store. It is basically an ordinary Ball wide-mouth canning jar mounted between two blocks of wood that have been coated with marine epoxy. Liberal amounts of silicon seal are used for cushioning or sealing. The electrodes are 1/8 inch diameter stainless steel rods, which each go through 3/16 inch stainless steel tubes. This allows the electrodes to be removed for counting, cleaning, safe storage, or using a different type of metal for the electrode such as tungsten. The cell is typically run with 1 gram of thorium nitrate tetrahydrate dissolved in 150 ml of distilled water. It may be electrolyzed with alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). The threaded rods and nuts are part of a "positive control" scheme intended to keep this ungainly contraption in one piece when it is being moved around; this reduces the likelihood of inadvertently splashing hot, radioactive liquids or dropping the glass jar. The clamp nuts are removed before the cell is energized. Little sand bags (not shown) are placed on top to keep the lid sealed to the jar (the center area of the lid has been cut out with an electrolytic etch technique that uses salt water and a car battery charger).
This is my general-purpose electrolytic reaction cell. It has a provision for a reflux condenser that allows higher power levels to be investigated without boiling off the electrolyte. It is placed inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket before power connections are made.
This is a ground tungsten TIG welding electrode that has been partially sheathed in glass and silicon rubber sealant. It is made by injecting the glass tube half-full with sealant, closing off the full end with a finger, and pressing the electrode through it from the other end, causing the sealant to extrude around the electrode. The green marking on the right end means that this electrode is pure tungsten. A red marking would mean 2% thoria alloy, yellow means 1% thoria, blue means 3%, brown means zirconia. Lanthanated and ceriated rods are also available. Tungsten does not corrode as easily as stainless steel. It is also useful in experiments requiring cathodes of high atomic weight.
Before a run, the cell is placed inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket and anchored with another sandbag at the base. The bucket is intended to confine glass shards if the cell explodes during operation (electrolysis will generate potentially explosive combinations of hydrogen and oxygen). The clear packaging tape around the jar will also help to reduce the mess. A hole in the lid allows the cell to be connected to an air-cooled reflux condenser, which is just a four foot piece of CPVC pipe. It is open to the atmosphere at the top end and merely condenses any steam generated by the cell during operation at higher power settings. The vinyl tubing, which connects the pipe to the cell, has some stainless steel scouring pad loosely strung through it to demist any vapors from the liquid boiling below it. There is also a small view port which is covered with plexiglass.
And yes, I run it in the bath tub (on top of a couple of car floor mats). I like having a wall and a door between me and something that could explode. The bathroom does not have pedestrians or inquisitive cats walking through it either. And the power comes from an outlet protected by a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) which should keep me from getting electrocuted if, in a moment of thoughtless inattention or complacency, I do something stupid.
The cell is powered by an old Superior Electric Powerstat. This is an autotransformer that can supply 0 to 140 volts AC at 15 amps (very overpowered for what I am doing). A small electric outlet box is wired so that a "load limiter" can be connected in series with the reaction cell. In this case the limiter is just a photo light bar with a couple of high wattage bulbs. In case of a bad electrical short, the lamps on the light bar will light up. This keeps the equipment from being damaged, the wall circuit breaker from popping open (and killing the computers on the same circuit), and me from becoming a nervous wreck. Another box contains a full-wave bridge rectifier in case I want to run the cell on DC. The cell power requirement at high voltage is estimated offhand to be 30-50 watts.
As you may deduce from all the above photos, the basic equipment shown is very primitive and built from spur-of-the-moment designs and junk box parts. It is nevertheless sufficient for proving that radioactive half-lives can be shortened from billions of years to a matter of hours by a quick and simple process.
For my nuclear physics amusement, I bought a 3 ounce container of Morton Salt Substitute from the grocery store and put it in front of the RM-60 counter. This salt substitute contains mostly potassium chloride instead of the usual sodium chloride. Potassium has a couple of stable isotopes that form the bulk of natural potassium: potassium 39 ( 93.26%) and potassium 41 (6.73 %). But there is also an unstable isotope, potassium 40, with a half-life of 1.25 billion years (more radioactive than uranium 238). Fortunately, it has an abundance level that is 0.0117 percent (one-hundredth of one percent) that of natural potassium. Nevertheless, its activity can be seen with a sensitive radiation counter. When I put the Morton Salt Substitute in front of the RM-60 counter, it registered about 30 microRoentgen/hr. Is this radioactivity enough to worry about?
To keep things in perspective, you need to know that the average background radiation in our everyday environment is about 5 to 25 microRoentgens/hr. It comes mostly from dirt, rocks, bricks, radon gas, and cosmic rays. Inside a jet at 30,000 feet the background might reach 300 microRoentgens/hr. Overall, the average American gets a cumulative radiation exposure equivalent to 10-20 chest X-rays per year. I measured the salt substitute inside a concrete building, where the background is about 19 microRoentgens/hr. The salt shaker therefore contributes only about 11 microRoentgens/hr above background. This is really not enough to worry about, not even if you have hundreds of these things in your coat, hundreds of them in your bed, thousands of them in your house. (and if you are that fond of salt substitute, you probably have other problems you need to worry about!)
The point, of course, is that we are continually bathed in a sea of very weak radiation. It unavoidably adds a "background" that must be taken into account when performing sensitive radiation measurements. I regularly take background readings on the fixtures that I use in my experiments, and then analyze the data in an Excel spreadsheet and plot it:
The count level, 19 microRoentgens/hr, from the fixture is essentially the same as that for the room in general. This shows that neither the RM-60 nor the counting fixture has been contaminated with stray radioactive dust. Note also that the curve is flat (albeit noisy); the background is essentially constant with the passage of time. We will later see that this observation is critically important for interpreting radiation measurements on materials that have been in the reaction cell.
My Early Experiments
First, I did a couple of shakedown runs to locate equipment problems and calibrate my level of nervousness. I used common baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) as the electrolyte.
The Powerstat gave me the most trouble. When I set the dial to zero and plugged it in, the circuit breaker at the main panel would pop open. I was left in the dark, and of course the computers crashed too (they were unavoidably on the same circuit). It popped the breaker in every outlet I tried, except for the particular one outlet that I used when I tested it originally! I got around the problem by adding a twenty foot extension cord and turning off a few lights. Later, during a run at higher power settings, the Powerstat would start sparking, hissing, and generating ozone. I had to take the thing apart, clean it up, and realign the rotor with the windings. After that it worked fine.
The load limiter, a simple light bar used for photography, had a little surprise too. It has a 500 watt bulb and a 300 watt bulb. During a run, the 300 watt bulb would start glowing first. I thought, "This is crazy. They are acting like they are connected in series." I had forgotten that years ago I had replaced the original on/off switch with an on/off/on DPDT switch, and I wired it for a series-start, parallel-run to extend the filament life. It was now in series and so I simply switched it to parallel.
I also cranked up the voltage as high as it would go to see if the cell could be run in the incandescent electrode regime. I was barely able to get the center electrode to incandesce. It would emit little sparkles of yellow light (due to the sodium) and make a hash sound on the AM radio that I laid across the extension cord. (My ad hoc noise filter, consisting of a ceramic capacitor and a couple of toroids was not very effective.) I was trying to avoid the incandescent mode for the first several runs, and so when I heard the hash unexpectedly, I turned down the power, but the noise did not stop. I traced the noise to a fluorescent light that had decided to go bad that day. Later, there was more noise, but this time it was apparently a motor in a vacuum cleaner. The power line was actually very noisy. I could not rely solely on the radio to detect incandescent mode (looking directly at a jar that has hydrogen, oxygen, and a sparking electrode is not my idea of a safe experience!)
Suffice it to say that practice runs can save you a lot of grief, especially if you are going to be using radioactive materials.
Finally, I did a run where I decided to collect data. The cell ran on thorium nitrate, alternating current, and stainless steel electrodes. After about a half hour, I took the cell apart. I noticed that the curved electrode had a thin layer of glittering, copper colored substance on it. Tiny metallic-looking whiskers were also visible. I decided to place the electrode in front of the counter and see what happened while the liquid portion cooled down.
The counter showed that the dry electrode had significant radioactivity. With this realization, I began to feel kind of depressed. The cell was supposed to get rid of the radioactivity and it clearly had not accomplished that. I laid down for a few minutes to collect my thoughts. I woke up about two hours later. By then the counts per minute had decreased noticeably from about 40 to 30. I knew something significant had happened. Thorium has a half-life of 14 billion years, but now I was watching something decay in just a couple of hours! When I plotted the data, a discernable decay curve showed up:
The graph shows that the emission rate on the dry electrode starts out around 40 counts/minute (equivalent to 40 microRoentgens/hr on the RM-60) then seems to increase briefly, then decays in the pattern of an exponential curve (basically as expected), except that there seems to be some bursty, sawtooth effects as the emission rate approaches the background level (20 counts/min). Although the radioactivity was not gone, it was clearly going, and it was not going to take billions of years either (the passage of 5 half-lives reduces the radiation by 1/25 or to 1/32 of the original; 10 half-lives would be less than one-thousandth).
Later I ran a cell that contained the brown sludge from the previous run. This was, in effect, my own "radioactive waste" and I just wanted to get rid of the stuff somehow. This time I used direct current along with stainless steel electrodes. The center electrode was the cathode. On runs with AC the center electrode acquired a shiny, electropolished look (industrial electropolishing is done with alternating current). But this time the center electrode came out black. I decided to put it in front of the counter and see what happened. Here is the plotted data:
This one was even more of a surprise. The counting on the dry electrode began 8 minutes after the electrolysis was shut off. The emission rate starts out at about 150 counts/min and then steeply increases instead of decreases. It goes up to about 270 and then very slowly tapers off, again in somewhat of a sawtooth fashion. The counting was terminated after about 130 hours. After I plotted the data, I wished that I could have seen the first 8 minutes!
This leads to a working hypothesis that the electrolytic process converts thorium 232 to numerous daughter products. These are radioactive and are neutralized (in parallel) just like the thorium is, as long as the cell is operating. But when the cell is shut off, nothing neutralizes the existing daughter products. A complete radioactive "decay series" then emerges. The short-lived products cause the radiation to increase initially but after they "cook off", the longer-lived ones cause the decay curve to flatten out, although still trending downward.
The results seem to be very similar to those in an experiment by Goddard, Dash, and Frantz done with uranium. They used 10 mg samples and a 3 minute counting window with matched Geiger-Muller tubes:
"Previously, it has been reported that nuclear transmutation reactions are accelerated when radioactive elements are subjected to low-level electric fields during electrolysis of aqueous electrolytes. . . . Our research investigated the codeposition of U3O8 and H on Ni cathodes, using an acidic electrolyte and a Pt anode. Then, the radiation emitted by the electroplated U3O8 was compared with radiation emitted by unelectrolyzed U3O8 from the same batch. . . . The electroplated U3O8 initially produced ~2900 counts in 3 min (April 17, 2000). This rose sporadically in steps to 3700 counts in 3 min on May 11, 2000, and it remained relatively constant at this level until the . . . measurements ended on June 8, 2000. The unelectrolyzed U3O8 from the same batch emitted radiation at a much lower rate, ~1250 counts in 3 min, and this remained almost constant over the entire period of measurement." (G. Goddard, J. Dash and S. Frantz, "Characterization of Uranium Codeposited with Hydrogen on Nickel Cathodes", Transactions of the American Nuclear Society, 83, 376-378 (2000) ).
Later they did gamma ray measurements and these showed that, overall, the electrolyzed sample was 1.7 times more gamma emissive than the unelectrolyzed sample.
Of course I still wanted to know what was happening with the copper-colored sludge. The precount slides on unprocessed thorium nitrate tetrahydrate typically show the following pattern:
Note that the counts are around 50 and that the trend of the plot is flat. This is exactly what you would expect. Something that has a half-life of 14 billion years is not going to show a noticeable change in decay rate in several hours. There is no obvious sawtooth pattern either; I had worried that the cycling of the air conditioner could somehow show up on the graphs.
Post counts on the dried copper-colored sludge slide looked like the following:
Here the radioactivity starts out between 50-60 counts/minute (higher than the original 50) but after 1000 minutes has decayed to between 50-40, and at 2500 minutes has decreased to about 40. (During the blank range I was counting a different slide.) A week later the average had dropped to 38. There is still quite a bit of radioactivity present, and it is not decaying as fast as desired. Clearly though, it was affected by the electrolytic process, and in a manner similar to the electrode.
After the run with AC and stainless steel electrodes, the liquid looked something like iced tea with copper paint stirred into it. The liquid had tiny, iridescent particles that looked like metal flecks of copper (the same stuff that I saw on the electrodes). They were fascinating to watch as they were slowly swept around in the thermal currents of the slowly cooling liquid. Copper is a transmutation product that has been seen in these kinds of cells. But I had my doubts that this was copper. There was an awful lot of it. If it got there by transmutation, its presence would represent the release of a lot of energy, but none was apparent. Did it all go off as neutrinos (which do not interact with the environment and produce heat)? Very unlikely. And I could see the particles. That meant they must be at least 40 microns in diameter (the limit of unaided vision), and if they were that big and made of metal, they should be settling out of the liquid a lot faster.
After several hours, the particles had settled out and I removed the "supernatant liquor" with a modified turkey baster. I scooped out a sample of the sludge and dried it on a microscope slide. It looked just like a blob of fine, glittery copper particles:
But it was non-conductive. It could not be copper. (I really don't know what it is. My best guess would be a mixture of thorium and ferric hydroxides, the latter coming from corroded stainless steel electrodes).
"Wherever the tree falls, there it lies." ¾Ecclesiastes 11:3
Tempted to try it yourself?
Students might ask "Can I do this experiment as part of a highschool science project?" And teachers might view it as a possible project in an honors program. So I am sure such questions will come up. Here are some things to consider.
Remember that one of my purposes here is to show that radioactive decay rates can be affected by a simple electrolytic process, and that this suggests a way of neutralizing radioactive waste that should be promptly and vigorously investigated. I am really not so much interested in students doing these experiments as I am in having parents realize "If my kid can do it, why can't the Department of Energy do it? Why should I have tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste being shipped through my state? Why should we spend $57 billion on STORAGE of radioactive waste if there might be a way to neutralize it right at the power plant?" (Advertisement2.pps ; press ESC to exit) As I have explained above, the obstacles to this research are more social and political than technical. The popular press has convinced people, through irresponsible journalism, that this is "junk science". Consequently, universities won't touch it for fear of public criticism and loss of prestige and funding. The government isn't going to listen until they hear that mom and dad are convinced that this kind of research is worthwhile. (see also military interested)
Nevertheless, if you decide to try this experiment as a science project, you will of course need adult sponsorship* and professional supervision from your teacher. Your teacher will probably have several suggestions. One will undoubtly be to use only hardware that is specific to the purpose of the experiment. The equipment in the illustrations is intended for multiple purposes and can be simplified if you copy the essential principles, not the equipment. For instance, you can use a nine volt battery for the power supply. This is strongly recommended and will greatly improve safety and reduce equipment complexity. You should also use much less thorium nitrate. If you want to use AC, use a doorbell transformer or one of those little plug-in transformers (the AC type) and give careful attention to electrical safety (including shields, fusing, grounding, GFI protection, and power ratings). You'll need well-shielded and physically stable counting fixtures, and some rudimentary skills with data analysis software like Microsoft Excel. Your teacher might arrange to have operating cells and counters in a locked display cabinet, and might want to handle all radioactive material himself, instead of letting a student do it. Remember that teachers always want to know "What are you going to learn from doing this?" Be prepared with a list of answers (review relevant material in Issues ). And finally, PUBLISH YOUR FINDINGS on the Internet (please send me a link) and explain why they are important. (*in many states it is probably unlawful for people less than 18 to work on radioactive materials. Check your state laws and proceed appropriately)
Also, expect a little hysteria when proposing experiments of this type. Parents and teachers are not generally aware that our environment contains radioactive materials like thoriated mantles in the gas lamps that might light your street, thoriated tungsten rods that are used in welding, monazite sand sometimes used in pottery, the tiny amounts of americium in smoke detectors (don't mess with it!), the potassium 40 circulating in your own body, and the equivalent of the 10-20 chest X-rays Americans get every year from ambient radiation. When a clerk at the photo shop saw the photo with the cans of thorium and uranium nitrate (above), I ended up having a little unscheduled talk with the police after I drove home from church. The labels visible in the photos had words like "nitrate", "radioactive", "may cause cancer", "Oxidizer. May cause fires", and so forth. They did not understand the rest of the photos either, and just wanted to know what I was doing. The next day (Monday), there was a lot of publicity about the arrest of a suspect in a radiological bomb ("dirty bomb") plot. I was actually glad that the police had already talked to me.
When people have questions and concerns, try to deal with them as God deals with Christians: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach . . ." (James 1:5). And some words of advice from a guy in government, namely, King Solomon: "He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure" and "If a ruler's temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses." (Ecclesiastes 8:5 and 10:4). "By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone." (Proverbs 25:15) Keep a cool, patient head, and maybe those around you will too.
And remember . . . It's an adventure! Be careful, but enjoy the wonder!
Low Voltage Electrolysis
A different method was used to collect data for Run 6. The counter was started as a background counter and then the dry electrode was placed in the electrode counting fixture directly after the run and while the counter was already operating. The delay to get data was only 2 minutes instead of the usual 8. As expected, the electrode radioactivity increases with time. Later, the RM-60 was moved from the electrode fixture to the slide fixture. Counts on the dried liquid sample imply that quite a bit of the thorium did not plate out and is still in the liquid. The RM-60 was then transfered back to the electrode counting fixture. This scheme helps to reduce any effects of geiger tube warm up or software initialization.
Things to keep in mind
Please keep the following in mind when designing experiments or reviewing those presented above:
1. Before meaningful measurements can be made on electrodes or on a liquid, the electrolysis must be stopped. This is because electrolysis will move the radioactive ions around and change their geometrical relationship with the counter. The radioactive ions may plate out on the cathode, or they may precipitate out of the solution and settle to the bottom of the container. Or bubbles may sweep them to the top and they may stick to the sides like a bathtub ring. If you have the counter looking at an operating reaction cell, you may see a decrease (or increase) in the measured radioactivity, but this may be due to radioactive ions moving to a different location, not because there has been any basic change in radioactivity levels. In fact, this can happen even if the cell is not energized; uranium can self-plate onto an electrode just like copper will self-plate onto an iron nail in a solution of copper sulfate.
2. The geometrical relationship between the counter and the dry electrode (or dry sample) must be fixed and stable. If the counter is looking at a portion of an electrode and then gets bumped, or moved by a wife who wants to "tidy things up a bit", then the results are going to be skewed, and may lead to an unsupportable conclusion. This is why counting fixtures are so important.
3. Total amounts of radiation are NOT measured in these experiments. Instead, the radioactivity of an essentially unknown (but fixed) amount of electrolyzed material is compared with the radioactivity of an unknown amount of un-electrolyzed material. Only the behavior with time (the shape of the decay curve) has any meaning in this setup, not the absolute level of counts. In the experiments shown above, the decay curves of electrolyzed material that satisfied the above two requirements showed either a fast decrease in radioactivity, or a gradual increase in radioactivity. Virgin, un-electrolyzed material just showed a flat line with essentially constant radioactivity levels. (Amounts are chosen only to give a signal that is significantly above the background level.)
4. Radiation measurements that are done on a liquid with the counter viewing the liquid through the wall of a plastic container will register only beta and gamma counts, with no alpha counts (alpha particles are easily stopped by the water and the plastic). In contrast, measurements on bare, dry material will also register alpha counts besides the beta and gamma counts. (If you run measurements on a liquid, it is a good idea to remove the electrodes, so that there is no possibility of radioactive metal deplating from the electrodes and re-entering the liquid phase.)
Thorium and uranium are used in these experiments for safety reasons, not because people care about neutralizing the radioactivity of these very long-lived isotopes. Similarly, very short-lived isotopes are not of much concern either; the radioactivity from these materials is intense, but burns off to safe levels in just a few days, weeks, or months. The real concern is with the isotopes that have intermediate half-lives of dozens of years to tens of thousands of years. From the human standpoint, these are both intensely radioactive, and intensely persistent. Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years; strontium 90, 29 years; radium 226, about 1620 years; plutonium 239 and 240, about 24,000 and 6,537 years respectively. The passage of 20 half-life periods will decrease the radioactivity levels by more than a million. But you can readily see that tens of thousands of tons of this stuff is going to remain dangerously radioactive for a long, long time. That is why any simple economical process that affects radioactive half-lives is of great significance. No one will care if you can change the half-life of thorium from 14 billion years to a few days, but if you could change the half-life of strontium 90 from 29 years down to a month or a week, that would have enormous scientific and economic implications. Currently, we do not know if isotopes with intermediate half-lives are more sensitive to electrolytic neutralization than long-lived isotopes. And unfortunately, experiments on these intermediate materials are far too dangerous for the amateur experimenter.
An Afterthought: Extending radioactive half-lives might also be useful
The focus of the above article has been on reducing the half-lives of radioactive materials, especially nuclear waste, in order to render it safe for disposal. However, an opposite kind of technology might also be possible: a technology to extend the half-lives of radioisotopes.
There are three reasons this should be investigated:
1. Extending the shelf life of valuable medical radioisotopes might be possible. Technetium 99m is widely used in nuclear medicine for "functional" diagnostic medical imaging. It has a half-life of 6 hours. This is long enough for functional studies, but short enough so that the residual radioactivity is not a nuisance (people in an airliner don't like sitting next to a slightly radioactive former patient). Because of the short half-life, the Tc-99m has to be produced just before use, usually offsite in a molybdenum 99 generator. The Tc-99m, of course, decays during transport to the hospital. Costs would go down and convenience improved if such isotopes could be prepared, purified, and preserved in a special environment that makes such radioisotopes stable.
2. Studies of elements at the upper end of the Periodic Table might be possible. Elements at the upper (heavy) end of the Table from about polonium, element #84, to the unnamed element #118, show generally increasing instability. They either eject mass in the form of alpha particles, or simply split in two (fission). The ability to create and preserve such elements indefinitely would greatly facilitate studies of these heavy elements.
3. Demonstrating that half-lives can be altered artificially has deep geochronological and cosmological implications. Suppose the Earth at one time had all the elements of the Periodic Table and that they were all stable (non-radioactive). Then suppose some process occurred on a time span of millions of years, and with increasing intensity, that caused the heavier elements to become radioactive. Elements at the upper end of the Periodic Table would begin disappearing. Perhaps several thousand years ago this process began to affect polonium, which until that time was a stable element. This could explain the mystery of "parentless" polonium radiohalos such as those in Gentry's careful studies that have been used to support the "instant Earth hypothesis" advanced by Creationists. Some references:
A Brief Summary of Gentry's Findings
Pathlights, PO Box 300, Altamont, TN 37301
Examining Radiohalos, R. H. Brown, H. G. Coffin, L. J. Gibson, A. A. Roth, and C. L. Webster, Geoscience Research Institute, Origins 15(1):32-38 (1988), Literature Review: Creation's Tiny Mystery, R. V. Gentry. 2nd ed. (1988). Earth Science Associates, Knoxville, Tennessee. 347 pages.
The Creation Date Controversy, Dr. Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
Also, (in case you are wondering) the Bible says: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1). The time is indefinite and could easily have been millions of years or longer for the creation of the physical heavens and earth. The preparation of the (already existing) earth for habitation took six Creative Days. God rested on the seventh Day, but there is no scriptural statement that the seventh Day ever ended. On the contrary, it seems to have continued down to our time (Hebrews 4:3-6, 9), and this implies that a Creative Day is at least 6000 years long.
And while we are at it, please note that the earth was worked over by water on two occasions, not one. The first was the waters of Creation, (Genesis 1:2) which probably converted the surface of the earth from a pile of rocks (like those evident on Mars and Venus) into something that was more like fine dirt. The other was the Flood of Noah's day (Genesis 7 & 8). ) Both events need to be taken into account when trying to determine the ages of rock strata.
See Advanced Atomic Energy Converters and Some Thought Provoking Issues for some thoughts on how neutrinos might be involved somehow in long term elemental instabilities.
Update 11-27-08: Researchers believe they have seen variations in the radioactive decay rates of silicon 32, chlorine 36, manganese 54, radium 226, and possibly plutonium 238. The variations are typically a few tenths of one percent and seem to correlate with the yearly variations in Earth-Sun distance. The scattered quotes below are from "Half-Life (more or less)", by Davide Castelvecchi, Science News, Nov 22, 2008, p. 20-23:
" . . . when researchers suggested in August that the sun causes variations in the decay rates of isotopes of silicon, chlorine, radium, and manganese, the physics community reacted with curiosity, but mostly with skepticism."
"Both experiments had lasted several years, and both had seen seasonal variations of a few tenths of a percent in the decay rates of the respective isotopes."
"In those experiments, the decay rate changes may have been related to Earth's orbit around the sun, the Purdue teams says. In the Northern Hemisphere, Earth is closer to the sun in the winter than in the summer. So the sun may have been affecting the rate of decay, possibly through some physical mechanism that had never before been observed."
"The closer to the sun, the denser the shower of neutrinos."
"If the results are confirmed, and nuclear decay is not immutable, perhaps physicists could find a way to speed it up to help get rid of waste from nuclear power plants."
"About 7 percent fewer solar neutrinos hit detectors when Earth is furthest from the sun, compared with when it's closest, says Arthur B. McDonald, director of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario." Science News, Vol 160, No. 8, August 25, 2001, p. 115
See "Evidence for Correlations Between Nuclear Decay Rates and Earth-Sun Distance", J. H. Jenkins, et al. Available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3283
http://www.lenr-canr.org/Experiments.htm Shows lots of very detailed color photographs and drawings of cold fusion cells. Also has article "High School Students Do Cold Fusion" which is about the work Prof. John Dash (Portland State University) with high school students as part of the Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering program.
"High School Students Get Results With Cold Fusion Experiment"
"A cold fusion demo at MIT"
http://physics.pdx.edu/faculty_files/das/dash.htm More about Dr. Dash and his research.
"Fun with fusion: Freshman's nuclear fusion reactor has USU physics faculty in awe"
http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,510054502,00.html (Sept 2003)
"Take water and potash, add electricity and get - a mystery", By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
Absolutely Not Cold Fusion (MLP) By imrdkl, Jun 3rd, 2003
http://rexresearch.com/eccles/1eccles.htm ( WO 00/25320 patent info)
http://jlnlabs.imars.com/cfr/html/hpcfr21.htm (Experiments of Jean-Louis Naudin)
COLD FUSION BY PLASMA ELECTROLYSIS OF WATER
CR-39 alpha detector chips and electrolysis of Li2SO4
http://www.gdr.org/nuclear_half.htm (Global Deactivation of Radiation Corp. )
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