Half-Life Heresy

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"Half-Life Heresy" is the heading of an article in New Scientist, 21 Oct 2006, p36. The article refers to studies on the rates of radioactive decay by Prof Claus Rolfs of Ruhr University written up on PhysicsWeb 31 July 2006. The rate of decay of radioactive elements has always been assumed to occur at a steady fixed rate in any particular element, but Rolfs, who studies nuclear reactions in stars, has experimental evidence that show radioactive decay can be made to happen more rapidly depending on the environment of the elements. He commented to New Scientist: "When I was studying physics, my teachers said nuclear properties are independent of the environment - you can put nuclei in the oven or the freezer, or any chemical environment, and the nuclear properties will stay the same. That is not true anymore." His experiments are described in the PhysicsWeb article as follows: "Using the university's particle accelerator he fired protons and neuterons (nuclei containing a proton and a neutron) at various light nuclei. He noticed that the rate of fusion reactions was significantly greater when the nuclei were encased in metals than when they were inserted into insulators. He also observed that the effect is enhanced at lower temperatures (J. Phys. G: Nucl. Part. Phys 32 489)." If the experimental results are confirmed, Rolfs believes they can be used to develop methods for disposing of radioactive waste by speeding up the decay rate, so that hazardous material that remains radioactive for thousands of years can be rendered harmless in decades. In the conclusion to their original research article Rolfs' team wrote: "Finally, a reduced half-life of alpha emitters such as 238U and 232Th in a metallic environment may have important corrections in their use as cosmo-chronometers (i.e. the age of the elements) as well as in understanding the flux of geo-neutrinos using the Kamland detector (i.e. the energy source of the earth)." This is explained in the New Scientist article as: "If Rolfs is right, it could have profound implications not just for nuclear waste management, but also for understanding the Earth's interior and measuring the age of the universe."

Evidence News 25th October 2006

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