Thursday, February 14, 2008

The smoke detector nuclear proliferation problem

David Hahn, who is also known as the radioactive boy scout, in effect pointed out a clear path to nuclear proliferation. Hahn attempted to build a reactor with americium241 from smoke detectors, and thorium from Coleman lanterns. Ionizing smoke detectors contain minute amounts of americium241. Americium241 is fissionable, but unfortunately for David, who attempted to use it in his back yard reactor, fission can only be achieved by fast neutrons. That makes americium241 potential weapons material, but not good to burn in ordinary reactors. Hahn's approach does open the door for would be bad guys who want to build nuclear weapons on the sly. Just buy a few billion ionizing smoke detectors, extract the americium241, and voilĂ , you have the stuff to make nuclear weapons.

If you get tired of throwing away all of those smoke detectors - this is a real nuclear waste problem you know - you might try try opening your own smoke detector factory. That way you can get all the americium241 you want without the IAEA being any the wiser. Did anyone think to check if A.Q. Khan went into the smoke detector business? I'll bet not. Even as I write this nuclear weapons may be rolling off the assembly lines at the Osama bin Laden Smoke Detector factory. Think about it!


DV8 2XL said...

Very droll Charles.

More seriously, is there not hazmat programs in the US to recover these things? I know there is one in my neighborhood. Twice a year they have a special hazmat garbage day nothing else is permitted) and a firm comes around in a truck door-to-door to get this stuff.

This is backed up by big fines for trying to send such material out with the regular trash.

Charles Barton said...

I have never heard of a special Hazmet program for smoke detectors.

DV8 2XL said...

Well it's not just for those, batteries, old paint, pesticides, etc are all included.

DaveMart said...

Charles, I've come across an objection to nuclear that I can't answer, perhaps you could take a look at it:
Chris is arguing that nuclear cores can't be re-cycled, and hence are a bad design.

Sounds a pretty far-fetched objection to me, any stick to beat a dog, but we have to be prepared to deal with any reasonable criticism.
Sorry to contact you here, but I have no direct means.
If you want to e-mail me I am on brittanicone2007 at yahoo dot co dot uk


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