Here at PopSci we like to nurture that DIY, can-do, experimental spirit, but file this one under what not to do: A Swedish gentleman, citing a a curiosity about whether or not it's possible to split atoms in one's own home, has been arrested for trying to induce fission of radium, americium, and uranium in his kitchen. No joke.
Now, lest the Swedes get a bad name for running an over-protective state, it's important to note here that Richard Handl was not arrested for being a scientific pioneer, but for being in possession of highly controlled radioactive materials, one of which has previously been used to destroy entire cities.
And in Handl's defense--as he is now more or less my new personal hero--the 31-year-old turned himself in. Or rather, after catalyzing a "small meltdown" on his stove he wrote an inquiry to the Swedish Radiation Authority asking if his activities were, strictly speaking, legal.
There's no telling what the clerk at the Radiation Authority thought as he or she opened and read that letter, but what happened next is clear: the police stopped by to take a look at Handl's "lab." Though they did not detect any dangerous levels of radiation in Handl's apartment, they did arrest him. He faces fines and/or possibly up to two years behind bars. And though time served won't stop Handl from chasing big ideas, he told police he'll think better of such projects in the future, telling the AP "from now on, I will stick to the theory."
ok, dumb question, but I've got to ask this. How in the world did this guy get his hands on Uranium? I thought uranium was a controlled substance. Am I wrong in this thought? I'm surprised this guy didn't get terrorist charges.
I don't think I'd be worried about him making a nuclear bomb, it takes a lot of refining to get enough of the right isotope of Uranium. Making a radioactive mess might be possible on a small scale though, I'd hate to get the neighbors sick.
It's a good question, where did he get it?
However, I'm disturbed that you might think he's a terrorist or that he deserves terrorist charges. The word is thrown around haphazardly and I really implore you reconsider using it again in the future without really thinking about what a terrorist actually is.
So what are the laws about having and experimenting with Uranium and other radioactive elements in the US?
Maybe he did hospital dumpster diving and melted left over x-ray supplies and x-ray trash into one clump of radioactive disk?
You're right, my apologizes. My intent was not to label him that. My train of thought is that the US gov. always talks about Al Qaede trying to get their hands on enriched uranium. If it was easy for this guy to get uranium, then would it also be easy for Al Qaede to get it too?
Also, the US seems very concerned about Iran using enriched uranium. For me, personally, I think Iran is telling the truth that they want to use uranium for power generation. I don't have a problem with them using it for power.
If someone in the US was working with uranium without authorization what would that person be charged with? My thought, knowing how our government has taken a lot of our rights out the window with the Patriot Act; the US gov. would probably through the full book of the law at that person. Probably labeling them an Enemy Combatant and sending them to Guantanamo Bay.
Your thoughts on that are welcome, and again I apologize for throwing the terrorist term around.
Wasn't Popular Science the one that said we'd all have nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners by the year 1965? Why so squeamish now about it?
That's awesome. Good for him.
Ok, first: The how. Uranium is not a particularly super rare material in itself. It's not that hard to get some ( and judging by the low levels of radiation, he probably never had large quantities ). It's found naturally in lots of places. EX: Moab Utah has major Uranium deposits. The main issue is usually getting the right isotope that is required for nuclear power and weapons. It is particularly hard to separate different types of the same element ( In this case the more stable Uranium 238 and the desired Uranium 235. ) and in the case of Uranium, the desired isotope accounts for less than 1% of the total Uranium. So, finding the ore and getting some Uranium of some form is fairly easy, but getting enough of the right form of Uranium takes absolutely massive complexes.
I don't know the exact laws in the US regarding nuclear materials, but I do know it is indeed illegal to posses some form of processed Uranium, I believe even the less useful 238.
X-ray supplies would not contain any Uranium. You can read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-ray_machine to learn a little about how an x-ray machine works. Completely different type of radiation btw: X-ray radiation is just a different "color" of light. Uranium radiation is actually parts of the atom ( Neutron in this case ) flying off at extremely high speed.
The US, and everyone really, is always concerned about anyone enriching Uranium ( that is, separating out the 235 from the 238 ) because the basic process can just be repeated to reach the 92% required for "weapons grade" Uranium. However, Iran has actually been the most compliant of all countries, and the US actually has helped them with their nuclear program a lot. We have been trying to promote safe and peaceful uses for nuclear materials for decades now, but we also want to minimize North Koreas. They are a perfect example of why we must be cautious. They created a Nuclear program, claiming to be working on Nuclear Power. However, anything above 86% enriched Uranium actually causes reactors to lose performance, but Weapons Grade is officially set at 92%. North Koreas Nuclear Power programs were found to be producing up to 91.9% Enriched Uranium. As I mentioned, all they would have to do is put this 91.9% Uranium back through for a few more runs to get weapons grade Uranium...and this is indeed what they did. So, we have to be careful any time someone claims to be working on Nuclear Power, the more countries that have Nuclear weapons, the larger risk of a nuclear weapons incident or war.
Personally, I find that he had Americium more interesting, as there's pretty much only 2 ways to get it: Make it with an atom smasher( It does not occur naturally ), or get A LOT of smoke detectors and remove it from there. Granted, they didn't say how much he had...but for it to have been noted, it had to have been a noticeable amount. So, did he also have a tabletop smasher in his dining room?:)
Anyways, hope that answered most peoples questions. Cheers!
Thank you for the input. I didn't know that the US has actually helped Iran with their nuclear program. Was that during the 1980's? Didn't the US have a puppet government set up in Iran in the 1980's. I'm not up to speed with all foreign affairs. I remember the Iran Contra scandal that was with Regan. Of course I was in my preteen years at the time.
I do remember hearing about North Korea detonating fissile material underground a couple of years ago. I am curious as to what is currently going on in North Korea. Meaning how far of they come since their testing underground nukes.
The HuffingtonPost is also running this article and I have been reading what people have posted there too. Apparently, there was a teenage boy (who was a boy scout) in the US that tried to make his own nuclear reactor. The poster on the HuffingtonPost said that the boy was dubbed the Atomic Boy Scout. Didn't Popular Science run an article about this teenage boy a couple of years ago. I use to subscribe to Popular Science's Magazine, but stop since I don't have a job and I'm low on money
I don't keep up much with politics either, I just catch the important bits:)
However, wikipedia, while not a perfectly trustworthy source, is always a good start:
So, late 60s we began providing aid to Iran under the Atoms for Peace program. This included providing a 5MW HE Uranium research reactor. If you want more details that that, I'd recommend going to a more reliable resource and using that information to narrow your search. The references linked at the bottom of the Wiki page can sometimes be helpful as well.
North Korea continues to work on their Nuclear Program, and are estimated to have around 10 nuclear devices. Their current priority appears to be working on longer range missiles for delivery of the nuclear weapons. Several of these tests ( and their relative failure ) has been in the news several times.
The boy scout did not try, he succeeded. It was a Fusion reactor though, not fission. As such, no controlled substances were used:
You got lucky on that last one:) I happened to have been browsing the science section of xkcd and ran across a posting of that one. So, I just found out about it myself, hehe. You might find xkcd.com an interesting comic, and the forums there are an excellent source for information. The quality of forum goer there is significantly higher than even what popsci attracts.
You can buy Uranium online at UnitedNuclear.com and it is legal!
It's only the ore, and even unrefined their highest grade already reaches maximum allowed, but as an ore it would not be useful in attempting to create a nuclear device for either power generation or as a weapon. It's the refined Uranium itself that is illegal, not the "Torbernite".
Oh, and no, you can't buy any Uranium ore from them either...they're all sold out:) Cool site for lots of other stuff though!
Very interesting. I am actually shocked. I checked out the radiation ore material and they were selling different grades of uranium ores. Though, the website noted that all samples where sold out...whatever that means.
This is a very interesting find you found. I'm curious has to what the market for this area is? Do you need a special license to get this material? Is the radiation at dangerous levels? How would this company ship uranium through the mail system? Is even shipping uranium through the US Postal Service even aloud? Very interesting find.
The FAQ answers your questions pretty nicely:) They do not require any kind of licensing for what they have. Some it can indeed be quite dangerous. Ex: The top radiation ore is safe to handle for short times only. More detail on that, and you'll need to ask someone else as I can't find a quick and easy way to convert the "Counts Per Minute" stated into a useful amount of radiation, such as Sieverts. I did find though that even the absolute top, 81,000 CPM, is 1/456,790th of 1 curie, which is the equivalent radiation from just 1 gram of Radium. This should help tell you just how little Uranium is actually in that ore (especially since it's not just 1 gram of the ore, but several pounds). Also note that 1,000 curies is deadly in minutes, but that would also be nearly 457 MILLION times more than what the ore produces.
I'm not sure who exactly they ship through, but I believe you can still use USPS just fine. It is just classified as "Hazardous Materials". So, you can't just plop it in a mail box, but it can still be shipped once you have filled out the proper paper work and such.
You can buy Uranium on amazon (^_^)
Be sure to check out the reviews and customer images.
Did they mention in the article (or in news articles elsewhere, I've seen this headline a few times now) if he actually had a refined source of uranium? that picture was taken offline and has been around a while, its not the actual piece he had. It would be hard to achieve a 'meltdown' (if that isnt over embellishemnt on the part of the article) with primarily U238. Yo would need a fast neutron source for that (ot as simple).
@Zechio - The problem with CPM (especially with an unrefined radiation source) is that the measure itself is meaningless in the context of how dangerous the radiation source is to organic tissue. Measuring in curies doesnt really give you any additional information, as it is essentially just an equivilent to 'disinegrations per minute', wich is again, essentially CPM all over again. You need to know what kind of decay mode(s) the particular isotope gives off, at what energy, AND the disintegrations per minute to get any valuable information on what the absorbe dose equivalent (sievert or rem) is.
To answer your question though... its important to note that U238 is primarily an Alpha emitter, so unless you go about ingesting the ore, you will not likely have any effects (even during lengthy exposure, provided you take precautions like wearing gloves and masks, preventing contamination of clothes and other items). Other isotopes (235 for instance) can decay by other means (including sustained fission in high enough concetration, especially in the presence of a neutron source.
I suspect that was why he had americium and radium, both could be used to create an alpha-neutron source when combined with a lighter material (beryllium is common).
Where did he get his uranium? To me the answer is obvious, Swedes must get it from that venerable source of all assemble it at home institutions, Ikea. My question is how long before my wife can go waste money on a kit at our local store.?
the reason why US believes Iran is building Nuclear devises is that when offered an exchange program giving them 'yellow cake' they turned it down, this yellow cake is sufficient enough to use in nuclear reactors, so this warns us that they may be refining there existing stockpile to weapons grade material, also the number and complexity of there refinement process (number of centrifuges etc.) indicates a drive for weapons grade material, NK has allready tested there weapons but have shown low yields on the tests, they are refining it with supposed help of Iran, and possible Russia but i have my doubt of Russia arming a potential lose cannon next door. on another note, to bad this guy wrote that letter after the fact that he created the mini melt down, probably should have wrote it before.
Just reading through the comments, Americium from smoke detectors is mentioned. Just want to make anyone who is curious enough to tear apart a smoke detector that the Americium is deposited in a thin layer on a very small disk and so long as it remains undamaged, is a relatively safe alpha emitter. Here's the caveat: If you chip or scratch the disk, even a particle too small to be seen can be deadly. Especially a particle too small to be seen, can become airborn and inhaled. Chemically Americium acts like Calcium and becomes incorporated into living bone where it emits alpha particles virtually ensuring a painful death from bone cancer. And unlike Iodine-131 with a half life of 8 days, Americium-241 (the kind found in smoke detectors) has a half life of 432 years. Thought you should know...
To make this happen in your kitchen you would need enriched Uranium -235 or 232 both bomb grade material and it would be extremly dangerous without accurate instrumentation and A control substance like hafnium. Otherwise you will end up with a bomb."Prompt criticality" where the neutron lifecycle is 10(Superscript-14) seconds!
Ok, here is another question. Doesn't NASA sometimes use a nuclear power source for some of their deep space probes? I'm thinking like the Voyager probes. Do you think he was trying to make something similar to what NASA uses? How useful is the power source that is generated by these deep space probes?
jlight, the RTGs or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators that NASA uses are powered by radioactive decay of a single radioactive material such as Plutonium 238. Americium 241 can be used for an RTG though, but that wouldn't explain the other two elements in his possession.
As for usefulness, they are quite useful for long term low draw situations. A plutonium RTG will diminish in output at a rate of 0.787% per year if not accounting for the thermocouple degradation. The Voyager probes are still operating (though not fully. some systems are disabled) after being launched in 1977 with 420 watt RTGs.
"How in the world did this guy get his hands on Uranium?"
Bought it from Doc Brown?
Maybe they should give the guy a lab to work from instead. He is definitely dedicated, which in my experience often trumps most things when it comes to science and creativity.
How and how and how can we as a society escape our leader’s persistent desire to chase nuclear energy as the savior of life? Yup, yes and more so it is cheap energy, but we as a society are just beguiled, bewitched, fooled and just fooled or choose to forget the management of the disposable of its use energy nuclear garbage is a dollar amount that defies common sense. We burry our heads in the sand, because the rich benefits of cheap energy and we just want energy. We do NOT HAVE A SAFE AND MANAGABLE PLACE TO PUT THE USDE NUCLEAR WASTE. WE ARE NOT A STUPID SOCIETY AND TO PURSUE THIS COURSE IS JUST GREED FOR THE CHEAP ENERGY AND JUST DUMPING THE WASTE ON THE STUPID. PLEASE DO NOT ASSUME THE PLACE OF STUPID AND RISE UP AND JUST BECOME SMARTER AND DO NOT TOLERATE THE NUCLEAR WASTE. THE PRODUCTION OF ELCTRICITY IS NOT IN HUMANITIES BEST INTEREST! DONE! FINISH! CHANGE IS VITUAL! MOVE ON!
The word terrorist seems to be doing more damage than we think.
Oh yes you can still buy Uranium from http://unitednuclear.com/ just look under Chemicals & Metals
"High Purity Uranium238 metal chunks. Uranium is a chemical element; atomic number 92. Ideal for element collectors or those conducting experiments with genuine Uranium metal."
Only $49.00 for ~3 Grams
The seeker of knowledge who seeks to reach beyond the stars to go where no mans gone before to see things no man has seen and bring these experiences back for the whole world to hear and see.
I don't about you guy's but i applaud him thats a true scientist right their he's a innovator tho his ideas may be rash and not well thot out thats the stuff it takes to do something extraordinary great job bro hope you don't get jail time....
okay, maybe he's just a scientist wannabe but at least he proved something without blowing up himself (and his neighborhood). Though I still wont recommend someone to do this at home.