Tuesday, June 02, 2009

DIY nuclear experiments

People might get the false impression from this blog that I underestimate the risk of ionizing radiation. That is not the case. Radiation is dangerous. It is also well understood, and ubiquitous. A natural 400 KeV gamma ray will do just as much damage as a natural one, so treating the risks from them differently doesn’t make a whole lot of scientific sense.

That being said, one needs to respect nuclear materials. If you are going to build a nuclear reactor in your garden shed, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The first half of the 20th century is full of tales of radiation-induced sickness that happened because people didn’t know what the risks were. We know now. So educate yourself, and be sensible of you are going to fool around.

1 comment:

Lockwood said...

Have you actually read the book? If not, I recommend it heartily. It manages to be simultaneously humerous and horrifying. In the end, the subject's pragmatic acceptance that what he did was stupid, weighed against the way the reader is basically forced to grant a grudging admiration of his ingenuity, creates a delightful cognitive dissonance. As to your first point, I couldn't agree more. I worked for nearly a year at OSU's research reator, on a grant to use INAA on some cobalt rich laterites to get a better idea of their composition and possible ore concentration techniques. Some people still react with shock when they hear that. And once again, I have to patiently explain that my radiation exposure in a six hour shift was less than I got walking home on a sunny summer afternoon after that shift. It's a matter of knowledge and respect: I wish people had the same degree of trepidation about driving their cars.