Nuclear power has come in for something of a bad press in the last few months following Fukushima, despite the fact that the actual outcome of that event was that an ageing nuclear plant just about withstood an event which released 15x more energy that it was designed to accommodate, and which resulted in tsunami waves twice the height of any events recorded in the last 1600 years. Still, that’s a whole other post.
The point is that some pioneering frontiersmen of science still dream of the day that we can use nuclear power to generate low-emission electricity. Much of this research is carried out under government licenses, with a lot of industrial funding, and employs highly dedicated and trained nuclear physicists and engineers.
On the other hand, you have Richard Handl who, through developing an unusual buying history on Ebay, decided to try and build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen. Click on this link, skip to 23’16” and listen to the disturbingly hilarious BBC interview from Radio 4’s PM programme last night (Available until 6:02PM Thu, 11 Aug 2011).
In a move worthy of inclusion in the Little Red Cookbook, the industrious Swede bought various radioactive materials and heated them up in a saucepan with 96% sulphuric acid to produce a suitable fuel source. He managed to get hold of Americium (commonly used in smoke detectors), Radium (more difficult to source, although has historically been widespread in glow-in-the-dark paints, medicines, toothpaste and – Handl’s source – glow-in-the-dark clock fingers) and Beryllium (used as a neutron source, a highly unpleasant material, rare, but fairly straightforward to get your hands on).
The authorities only got wind of this from a tip-off, which came from Handl himself, as it occurred to him it might not be ok to be doing this in his house. His own blog documents the project quite well, although I think the whole subject is best summed up by the picture from here, which I’ve included to the right. I’ve eaten some bad dinners in my time, but I think this might actually result in more than a bit of food poisoning.
Perhaps more interestingly it appears there’s a whole subculture revolving around making your own nuclear reactors.
I particularly liked the line:
“Neutron guns make things radioactive, so you’ll want to make your own”
Nothing could possibly go wrong…