[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Author Index][Date Index][Thread Index]
Not With A Bang
- To: <file>, <megalon!fusion>
- Subject: Not With A Bang
- From: John Walker <acad!throop!kelvin>
- Date: Wed, 20 Dec 89 04:35:27 PST
A TeX PostScript version of the following is available on
technet in acad!~uucp/nwab.ps. This file can be printed on
a PostScript printer to which the TeX prologue
(/usr/tex/ailocal/dvips.ps) has been downloaded.
Not With A Bang
by John Walker
December 20th, 1989
The ravine baked in the sun of a cloudless June afternoon. The pickup
and the three people it had brought provided the only evidence this
was a world dominated by humans and not less dangerous creatures such
as the rattlesnakes and scorpions that so outnumbered them in these
parts. The truck sat next to a field of boulders, each almost the
size of its cab. Kurt Matson was calibrating an array of instruments
piled on a folding table beside the truck. The truckbed was littered
with the shipping cases Matson had spent the last three hours
unpacking as he arranged and connected the equipment according to the
diagram on his clipboard.
Sam Friedman, who'd finished lowering the gadget into the borehole an
hour ago, sat on the tailgate of the truck and adjusted his straw hat
once again to keep the sun off his face. Wes French, sent by the lab
director to provide at least symbolic representation of Policies and
Procedure at this highly irregular yet urgent field trip, was
recording the proceedings with a handheld video camera.
French scrambled down the hill where he'd been shooting some wide
angle views of the borehole, the equipment, and the cable that
connected them. When he got to the bottom, he mounted the camera on
the tripod he'd brought so it could record the experiment while he,
Matson, and Friedman watched the instruments. ``I can't get over how
much all this looks like those Manhattan Project home movies you see
every now and then in documentaries.'' he remarked, peering through
``Yeah,'' Friedman commented, ``we should'a got you one of those old
hand-crank movie cameras and some scratchy black and white film for
the right effect.'' Matson looked up from the chart recorder, ``Of
course the truck's a Toyota, the generator's a Honda, half the
instruments are from Germany, and we aren't here to split atoms.''
``No, not to split atoms,'' Friedman said, as he hopped down from the
truck and walked up and down the instrument table, checking the
readings and scanning the firing panel. ``You ready?''
``Just about,'' muttered Matson, whose finicky attention to detail
never failed to irritate Friedman, yet helped insure the success of
the many projects on which they collaborated. He continued to tick
off items on the checklist they'd prepared in the wee hours that
morning. ``O.K., primary instrumentation recorder to high speed, all
channels reading at background, backup recorder running, 20 minutes
tape available. Firing power on. Wes, you got that camera going?''
French indicated readiness and walked over to the table, whether to
observe more closely or to be in the picture, Friedman hadn't a clue.
Matson scanned the table one last time. ``Ready? All right, safe and
arm switch to arm position. Yellow arm light is on, firing circuit
continuity indicator is green.'' He stepped back from the panel and
motioned Friedman toward the small black button at the bottom, ``This
was your idea, Dr. Friedman. Let 'er rip.''
``Shouldn't we count down or something?'' French said, amused.
Friedman placed his finger on the button, ``Sure. Zero.'' and pushed
it. There was a muffled thud, an almost imperceptible shudder in the
ground, and a little puff of dust from the top of the borehole. A few
rocks landed near the hole, making little tick-tick sounds.
Matson stopped the tape reels and the three gathered around the strip
chart recorder. Even before the paper was torn off and spread out on
the table, they knew that French's camerawork would find a place in
some future documentary about this day. Friedman could barely contain
his excitement, ``Neutron counters one, two, three, and four offscale
high. Counters five and six right in the middle of our projected
range. Backup counters confirm. Pulse length looks like about 10
French was taping all of Friedman and Matson's examination of the
charts and their reactions. He broke in, ``No radiation back here,
was there?'' Matson glanced at the rightmost line on the strip chart,
``No. We'll live.''
``But in a very different world, I suspect.'' said Friedman as he
started disconnecting the cables and packing the instruments for the
four-hour ride back to the lab.
Later, bumping and jostling over the dirt road across the empty basin,
heading back to the lab, Matson driving: French looked over at
Friedman, who'd been admiring the dust plume they were raising in the
still New Mexico afternoon. ``You two are going to be famous, you
know.'' ``Sure, Wes,'' said Friedman, ``just as soon as all this gets
declassified. Remember who we work for? Would you like to bet on the
year?'' French turned to Matson, ``But didn't you say driving out that
all this should be obvious from the open literature?''
Matson responded, ``It was obvious enough to Sam. When all the ruckus
about `cold fusion' hit the street, almost nobody noticed that the
Soviets reported neutrons from fracturing a crystal of lithium
deuteride back in 1986. Hammer fusion. It looks like either
deuterons are getting accelerated along propagating cracks, or else
little pockets of plasma are appearing that enable fusion. Think of
it as the subatomic version of crunching a wintergreen Life Saver in a
dark room. All this `cold fusion' stuff involves packing a metal
crystal with lots of deuterons, and that's known to cause all kinds of
cracking and disruption in the lattice.''
``So when Fleischmann and Pons reported it was a volume effect,''
Friedman expanded, ``and they burned up a chunk of palladium, we
wondered if they weren't seeing a runaway version of the same
mechanical fusion process. And when others had trouble making it
happen, that pointed right at something very dependent on the
properties of the metal. Now the Soviets are seeing neutrons when
they crush fragments of titanium with steel balls in a bath of heavy
water. We wanted to see how this scaled with volume and density by
explosively compressing a chunk of deuterium-saturated titanium.
Fortunately the director agreed.''
``After you scared him to death with the prospect of basement nukes,
which you gentlemen appear to have invented this fine spring
afternoon.'' French interjected.
``But not a nuclear explosive.'' Friedman responded, ``This process
generates plenty of neutrons but little or no gamma or other
electromagnetic energy.'' French looked at Matson, then at Friedman,
``So the Eighties brought us the personal computer, and in the
Nineties we're going to have personal neutron bombs?'' Matson
shrugged, ``Looks that way, doesn't it?''
``Is there any way to restrict access to the materials?'' French
``Not really. Titanium's an industrial metal available all over the
world, and we didn't use any special purity or fabrication steps.
Besides, other transition metals may work just as well, and maybe
ceramics or something will work even better---we don't understand
enough to guess at this point.''
``But heavy water? That's subject to all kinds of controls, isn't
``In industrial quantities, sure.'' Matson replied, ``But our gadget
doesn't need the tons of it you use in a reactor, just a couple cc's.
You can make that, if you're patient enough, in your garage by
fractional distillation.'' ``Yeah, start with acid from old car
batteries,'' Friedman added, ``it's already way enriched in deuterium
by differential evaporation.''
``Marvelous...where are you two planning to publish anyway, `Popular
Friedman thought for a few seconds. ``It's not that great a terror
weapon, really, other than the cachet `nuclear blackmail' has in the
media. You can kill a lot more people a whole lot easier with bugs
and chemicals right now---and none of that stuff is controlled at
They rode along in silence for a while, watching the play of light and
shadow on the desert as the sun sank toward the hills behind them.
Matson broke the reverie, ``It'll stop tanks.''
``Tanks?'' Friedman said. ``You mean, like Sherman tanks?''
``Sherman, M-1 Abrams, Soviet T-72, you name it. Remember the neutron
bomb Carter decided not to build? That was a little artillery-fired
fusion bomb optimized for neutron production. You pop one above a
tank column and suddenly you have a bunch of tanks full of dead
French broke in, ``But there was one little catch. You still had a
couple of kilotons of fission and fusion explosion, and as they say in
Germany, the towns are only a kiloton apart.''
Matson continued, ``Yeah, but look at what we saw today, the same
thing the `cold fusion' people have been reporting---lots of neutrons
and no gamma rays or blast.''
``How much would you have to scale this thing up to make a weapon?''
``Ours would have taken out a tank column. That's why we fired it
three thousand feet down the borehole. And we threw this thing
together in two days from spare parts.''
French contemplated this for a minute or so. ``Yes, but you had
access to explosive lenses, synchronized detonators---all the
resources of a weapons lab.''
``Handy, but unnecessary. Given the reaction rates we saw, I'll bet
gunpowder and a piston would work just fine.''
``So let me get this straight,'' French said, ``when we get back to
the lab, I'm going to walk into the director's office and report to
him that we have crowned our achievements of the last forty-five years
by inventing a nuclear pipe bomb?''
``One that stops tank assaults.'' Friedman remarked. ``You know, the
original work on fracture-induced fusion was done in the Soviet Union,
and one of the authors was an East German. They're the ones with all
the tanks. They've gotta be thinking what we're thinking.''
``Yeah,'' Matson said, as the shadows lengthened and the truck began
to climb out of the valley toward the lab, ``I'll bet the Berlin Wall
is down before Christmas.''
Damned if it wasn't.
Klyuev, V. A. et al., Sov. tech. Phys. Lett. 12, 551 (1986).
Fleischmann, M., Pons, B. S., & Hawkins, M., J. electroanalyt.
Chem. 261, 301 (1989); and erratum, 263, 187 (1989).
De Ninno, A. et al., Europhys. Lett. 9, 221 (1989).
Menlove, H. O. et al., Los Alamos Nat. Lab. preprint LA-UR 89-1974.
Cohen, J. S. & Davies, J. D., Nature 338, 705 (1989).
Derjaguin, B.V., Lipson, A.G., Kluev, V.A., Sakov, D.M. & Toporov,
Yu.P., Nature 341, 492 (1989).
Goldanskii, V. I. & Dalidchik, F. I., Nature 342, 231 (1989).
Cohen, J. S. & Davies, J. D., Nature 342, 487 (1989).
(C) Copyright 1989 by John Walker
All Rights Reserved