Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Can Germans speed up the radioactive decay?

Charles Tye has pointed out the following news that will close the German week on The Reference Frame together with the following article about the green Alps.

As physicsweb.org reports, Claus Rolfs et al. from University of Bochum used their local accelerator to speed up or slow down the fusion rate of individual protons, deuterons, and other light nuclei. The authors argue that if the particles are encased in metals, the process is faster than with insulators.

Besides fusion, they have proposed a similar method to speed up the rate of both alpha and beta+- radioactive decay. Rolfs' explanation is based on electrons near the nuclei that accelerate positively charged particles towards the nuclei. Blah blah blah.

I have very serious difficulties in believing this sort of stuff because the electrons can only give the particles electronVolts of energy while you need differences of order megaelectronVolts: electrons can simply be neglected in nuclear physics. In other words, the proposed mechanism and its problems seem equivalent to those of cold fusion. I am far from being the only one who believes that cold fusion is BS. In fact, even sonofusion is probably BS.

For long-lived nuclei that decay via alpha-decay, the huge timescales come from the exponentials that we know from quantum tunnelling. Most of the barrier that the alpha particle needs to penetrate is unaffected by the electrons.

So I am convinced that electrons, chemistry, and atomic physics can't cause any significant changes in the lifetimes of the elements and that their work is nonsense, despite their precious German nationality. But if I am missing something, I am sure that a reader will correct me. Such a discovery would have profound implications. The main problem with radioactive waste is its long lifetime. If you could significantly speed their decay up, that would make a huge political difference for nuclear power plants.

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