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 The Management of Unwanted Nuclear Material

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 First paragraph adapted from "Dealing With Unwanted Nuclear Material," Feed Line No. 2 


The threat to safety and security posed by the radioactive waste generated nuclear power plants and the growing stockpile of plutonium and other fissionable materials presently being recovered from disassembled nuclear bombs might be reduced. A theory offered by Tesla researcher Tom Bearden holds there may be a solution to the problem of dealing with unwanted nuclear material that is piling up after the disassembly of nuclear warheads. The process, which could be called the "Holy Grail" of nuclear engineering, will require, according to Bearden, the definition of a new class of nuclear interactions that would allow for the controlled transmutation of radioactive nuclei to an inert form. The proposed electromagnetic treatment of radioactive substances would, in effect, accelerate the rate of random nuclear decay. In addition to dealing with a result of the long awaited move toward disarmament, the ever increasing accumulation of radioactive waste from various civilian activities might also be dealt with. With the alternative being long term entombment, with all of the associated costs and perils, it would seem the possibility of the hypothesized electromagnetic to nucleus interactions actually existing should be investigated.

And now we have word from Paul Brown.  His company, Nuclear Solutions, Inc. (NSOL), is said to be developing a system for the relatively quick transmutation of nuclear waste products to a short-lived or stable non-radioactive form through a process they call "photodeactivation."  The technique involves a nuclear reaction known as photofission or nuclear fission induced by gamma rays.  They claim the technology can also be used to create a new generation of accelerator-driven reactor systems for the safe production of electrical power.  "The physical principles underlying the Photodeactivation technology are established conventional photonuclear principles applied in a new and revolutionary manner."  It may be that all we need is an economical source of gamma rays.

The following is an abstract of Brown's paper "Photo-transmutation for Waste Management" that explains the basics.

"A linear accelerator, preferably of the monochromatic type, accelerates electrons which are directed onto a high Z target such as tungsten to generate gamma rays [hard x rays] about 9 MeV, which are directed onto the fuel material such as U-238 which results in the (g, f) reaction, thus releasing about 200 MeV. A reactor built according to this principle requiring an accelerator driven by 1 MW will develop about 20 MW of power. The reaction is not self-sustaining and stops when the beam is turned off.  This accelerator driven reactor may be used to "burn-up" spent fuel from fission reactors, if simply operated at 10 MeV. The photo-fission results in typical spent fuel waste products such as Cs137 and Sr90 which undergo photodisintegration by the (g, n) [(g , n)] reaction resulting in short lived or stable products. Chemical separations of the spent fuel isotopes is not necessary. Of course, more than one accelerator may be used to drive the reactor to higher power levels, and speed-up the burn-up process.  The fact that the reaction is not self-sustaining is a safety feature allowing immediate shut-down in the event of a problem."

Notes to Editors:
1. The application of photonuclear physics to nuclear waste is called Photodeactivation.  Photodeactivation involves the irradiation of specific radioactive isotopes to force the emission of a neutron, thereby producing an isotope of reduced atomic mass.  These resultant isotopes can be characteristically either not radioactive or radioactive with a short half-life.
   The fundamental mechanism works on the laboratory scale, and preliminary research suggests that this technology will also work on the industrial scale.  NSOL is taking the steps necessary for commercialization of the technology.  As for most of the advanced nuclear technologies developed today, computer simulation is one of the most important and necessary steps.  NSOL will use and improve a series of nuclear simulation codes (MCNP).  The new set of simulation codes will allow the NSOL research and development team to design, test, improve, and develop experiments and commercial facilities through computer modeling.
   NSOL plans to capitalize on its patent and patent-pending technology by forming strategic alliances and joint ventures with well-established leaders in the nuclear industry.  Continued revenue streams are expected through licensing of the technology with both upfront fees and ongoing royalties.
2. NSOL's technology, the HYPERCON
(TM) ADS process, is an X-ray based photodisintegration process.  The technology could be developed into new applications for remediation of nuclear waste.  The proposed process would operate at a sub-critical level, and be inherently safe.  Any excess heat produced by the process could also be recovered to generate electricity.
3. NSOL holds a license for the exclusive worldwide rights to a proprietary technology for the removal of radioactive isotopes from contaminated wastewater called GHR.  Water containing tritium and deuterium is currently stored in several locations worldwide due to the expense of available methods of treatment.  Severe health problems for humans and animals are linked to these contaminants and pose a worldwide environmental threat.  Several methods for the extraction of tritium from water are currently available. However these methods such as chemical, electrolytic, ion exchange, or distillation systems have high costs associated with their operation.  As a result significant quantities of tritium-contaminated water are being stored rather than treated due to cost concerns.  The storage of tritium-contaminated water poses a risk to the environment due to the high mobility of water after a containment failure.

CONTACT: for Nuclear Solutions, Inc.
Paul Kuntz, 1 (800) 518-1988
Information in German,%20Inc.

Papers on this this emergent technology by the late Paul M. Brown, Nuclear Solutions, Inc.:

  • "The Photon Reactor: Producing Power By Burning Nuclear Waste"

  • "Photoremediation — An Emerging Treatment Technology"

  • "Neutralizing Nuclear Waste Using Applied Physics"

  • "Transmutation Of Nuclear Waste Products Using Giant Dipole Resonant Gamma Rays"

  • "Photo-transmutation for Waste Management"

Some additional information gleaned from the web.


The Photodeactivation process of the late Dr. Paul Brown is essentially conventional physics, albeit applied in a new and novel way. The process involves the use of a high-energy electron beam impinged on a tungsten target, which in turn produces a monochromatic gamma radiation that is tuned to induce Photofission and Photoneutron reactions in the target material causing rapid neutralization of radioactive isotopes. The efficiency claimed exceeds 500% due to the high cross-section reactions in the Giant Dipole Resonance region. The 10 MeV electron beam produces typical fission reactions in the 200MeV range effectively turning high level solid wastes such as spent fuel into an energy source. The process is apparently intended for on-site treatment with some waste-partitioning required, an aspect which may not be desirable in certain countries.

While this idea is similar in topology to a system being developed by Los Alamos National Labs, Dr. Paul Brown—s approach offers several advantages: no need for extensive chemical pre-processing and the energy required to effect transmutation is greatly reduced. No new technology needs to be developed, yet the engineering of such a photon reactor must be completed and it could itself become a practical method for generating power.

Transmutation success story may transform long-lived radwaste into non-issue, and have implications for isotope production, too -- August 17, 2003

We'll be checking The Journal of Physics site regularly to read a soon-to-be-published paper by Ledingham et al. about an experiment which inspires imagination of big changes to come. The researchers used a laser to transmute I-129 (15.7 million-yr half life) into I-128 (25-minute half-life). Here's how some other publications have written about it in recent days:

* "A form of 21st century alchemy pioneered by a British physicist could solve the problem of disposing of nuclear waste, it was claimed." [Australian AP]

* "Dangers associated with radioactive waste, and the problems and huge expense of its disposal could soon end after a Scottish researcher discovered how to neutralise its harmful effects using light. New research by a leading scientist at the University of Strathclyde could revolutionise the waning fortunes of the nuclear power industry - restoring both political and public faith in an energy source that was once hailed as the future of clean, green energy." [Scotsman]

* "The feat raises hopes that a solution to nuclear power's biggest drawback - its waste - might one day be possible. 'It is not going to solve the waste problem completely, but it reduces toxicity by a factor of 100. That's an attractive proposition,' says Ken Ledingham." [New Scientist]

* "If developed on a commercial scale the technology would transform nuclear power generation from a hazardous and prohibitively expensive means of power production by making it safer and cheaper, as well as opening a potentially huge lead for the UK." [Scotsman]

* "Ledingham says that the same technique could be applied to other radioactive wastes like technetium-99, strontium-90 and isotopes of caesium. But a different process would be required for other long-lived wastes like plutonium and americium. [New Scientist]

* "Prof Ledingham said: 'The question of transmutation of all radioactive waste is a long way down the track, probably ten to 20 years. The only way of doing this at present is by building huge accelerators. However, in the same time lasers will develop enormously and so there will be two players on the block.'" [Scotsman]

* "Laser driven nuclear power means that radioactive material can be dealt with on site." [Scotsman]

The actual paper will be available at Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics. The journal's normal practice is to make papers freely available for 30 days after publication.

The authors are a consortium of UK and German researchers -- including scientists from the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow), Imperial College (in London), Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (in Oxfordshire), the Institute for Transuranium Elements (in Karlsruhe, Germany) and Jena University (in Jena, Germany). Contact info for Professor Ledingham can be found at his University of Strathclyde page.

The field of nuclear physics with lasers took off in 1999 when Ledingham and co-workers, and an independent team using the Petawatt laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US observed laser-induced nuclear fission in uranium-238 for the first time, along with a variety of other laser-induced nuclear reactions. Earlier this year a team at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena managed to achieve photo-induced fission in U-238 and thorium-232 with a much smaller "table-top" laser. The Jena team has also observed the transmutation of iodine-129 with its system. [Physics Web]

The most recent experiment involved a speck of radioactive material -- about a million atoms of iodine-129 were transformed into iodine-128 -- according to New news service. A higher number was cited in the Physics Web article: "Ledingham et al. illuminated a small gold target with a 360 Joule laser pulse from the VULCAN glass laser at Rutherford. The pulse had a duration of 0.7 picosecond and was focused to give an intensity of 5x10E20 Watts per square centimetre. The laser ionized the gold to form a plasma and then accelerated the electrons in the plasma to relativistic energies. When the electrons struck the solid gold of the target they emitted gamma-rays as bremsstrahlung radiation. Ledingham and colleagues then placed a sample of nuclear waste containing radioactive iodine behind the gold target. Transmutation occurs when a gamma-ray ejects a neutron from a iodine-129 nucleus to leave behind short-lived iodine-128. Each laser shot produced about 3 million iodine-128 nuclei." New Scientist's description was stated more simply: "The Vulcan laser can produce short pulses of enormous power - a million billion watts. Pulses were fired at a small lump of gold, which produced enough gamma radiation to knock out single neutrons from iodine-129, converting it to iodine-128."

photo of laser experimenter from Cordis News article

The next step for Professor Ledingham is to develop this technique on an industrial scale and with other radioactive isotopes. He is currently seeking funding to develop a laser system large enough to cope with the volume of Iodine-129 produced by the nuclear power industry. [e4engineering]

Nuclear waste can also be transmuted by reactors or particle accelerators. For laser transmutation to challenge these methods, Ledingham says that suitable "tabletop" lasers will have to be developed, which could take 30 years. [New Scientist]

The consortium also believes that their method will facilitate production of the isotopes needed for PET scanners, used in hospitals and research. Currently these isotopes are created in huge "atom smashing" machines called cyclotrons, but the team believe that isotope manufacture using lasers will be a practical reality within five years. [Cordis News]

Before you get too excited ...

The New Scientist piece was the only article to express anything but sheer exuberance at the prospects for transmutation by laser. Here are the cautionary ideas:

"[A]ll the approaches [to transmutation] use vast amounts of energy. At present, the Vulcan laser would have to be fired 10x10E17 times at the original 46-gram block of iodine-129 to transmute all of the atoms. 'You would need to build a number of power stations to transmute the waste from another power station,' warns Karl Krushelnick, a laser physicist at Imperial College in London and part of the team.

"Even if this major problem could be overcome, other obstacles could block the laser technology from entering commercial use. According to Ian McKinley from the Swiss nuclear waste company, Nagra, the approach assumes that reactor spent fuel will be reprocessed, which separates the waste. But reprocessing is 'extremely expensive and increasingly unpopular', he says.

"He also points out that dramatic reductions in the half-lives of isotopes inevitably lead to huge immediate increases in the levels of radiation being emitted per second. Initial emissions from iodine-128 would be hundreds of billions of times higher than from iodine-129, causing handling problems for nuclear operators.

"'It's a nice idea,' McKinley told New Scientist, 'but I wouldn't buy shares in a company selling this process quite yet.'"

nuclear.comMENT has rued the day that President Carter redefined spent fuel as a waste to be disposed of rather than an energy resource to be reprocessed. We also find it quite "unAmerican" that Nevada is being forced to be the home of the Yucca Mountain spent fuel dump, designed to make the waste "irretrievable". Perhaps the State of Nevada can point to this recent research and convince those who need to be convinced that it is onerously unjust to sock this long-lived waste away, perhaps risking eventual contamination of the underground water supply of folks who've never used a kWh from a nuclear plant, when technology might soon be available to eliminate the long-term part of the hazard.


* James Reynolds, Laser lights renders radioactive waste safe, The Scotsman, August 6, 2003

* Peter Rodgers, Lasers tackle radioactive waste, Physics Web, August 13, 2003

*, Nasty nuke tamed by lasers, August 14, 2003

* Rob Edwards ( news service), Giant laser transmutes nuclear waste,,—August—14, 2003 16:19

* Australian Associated Press, Lasers to help remove nuclear waste, The Age (Melbourne), August 14, 2003

* Cordis News, European scientists make breakthrough in nuclear waste disposal, August 14, 2003

[update: Oct 10 -- the journal article is now available at The citation is Ledingham et al. Laser-driven photo-transmutation of 129 I -- a long-lived nuclear waste product. J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 36 (2003) L79—L82]

Table-top gamma-ray sources (?) and nuclear reactions
". . . High power (petawatt) laser sources are used to bombard solid targets by light pulses of duration of about 1 psec. The energy transfer of near about 1020 W/cm2 creates plasma and the plasma electrons get accelerated to tens of MeV. At these relativistic energies of electrons, gamma rays are produced due to Bremsstrahlung process. These gamma rays in turn knock-off high energy neutrons from the nuclei of any solid target by the (g , n) process. These reactions are referred to as photonuclear or photoneutron reactions. That such reactions should be observable had been foretold theoretically some ten years ago. In two letters which appeared in Physical Review Letters on 31 January 2000, two groups have reported these photonuclear reactions. 

"Cowan et al. of the Livermore group used a petawatt laser to bombard a solid gold target mounted on a copper sample holder containing uranium (see Figure 3). A lower energy laser on the target surface had created a plasma before the high energy laser pulse hit the target. As already stated, the Bremsstrahlung gamma rays knocked off neutrons from Cu and Au, which in turn led to fast fission in 238U, and creation of isotopes. 

"Leddington et al. of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory used the VULCAN laser (50 terawatt power) to bombard a tantalum target with light pulse of intensity 1019 W/cm2 and 1 psec duration when 50 J of energy was transferred to the target. The gamma-ray beam generated, is said to be highly directional and could be used to carry out photonuclear reactions. Isotopes of 11C, 38K, 62,64Cu, 63Zn, 106Ag, 140Pr and 180Ta were produced by the (g , n) reaction. Nuclear fission of 238U has also been demonstrated. 

"The photonuclear reactions have demonstrated feasibility of carrying out interesting nuclear physics experiments using laser beams, which may mean that this route will circumvent use of accelerators. Secondly, neutrons from the photonuclear reactions have been used in causing fission of 238U and releasing neutrons in turn. Thirdly, a variety of isotopes have been produced via the (g , n) reaction. If petawatt lasers could be configured in a table-top laser assembly, in future, nuclear physics could be carried out far away from expensive particle accelerators."

The Electromagnetic Spectrum
"Electromagnetic radiation, or light, can be considered to be composed of particles (photons) or waves. Its properties depend on its wavelength: longer waves are less energetic than shorter waves -- photons with long wavelength have less energy than short-wavelength photons. Electromagnetic radiation is usually described as bands of radiation of similar wavelength, e.g., infrared, radio waves, microwaves, gamma rays, X-rays. . . ."

The X-ray
Electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between those of ultraviolet and gamma rays, approximately 0.01-10 nm. At these short wavelengths, it is more common to talk in terms of photon energies. These energies range from 0.1-100 keV. (An electronvolt (eV) is a unit of energy defined as the energy acquired by an electron in falling through a potential difference of one volt.) X rays are usually produced by fast electrons going through matter or by the de-excitation of excited atoms.

What are Hard X-Rays?
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
"X-rays are at the short wavelength, high energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Only gamma rays carry more energy. It is convenient to describe x-rays in terms of the energy they carry, in units of thousands of electron volts (keV). X-rays have energies ranging from less than 1 keV to greater than 100 keV.

"Hard x-rays are the highest energy x-rays [ranging from approximately 5 keV to 100 keV], while the lower energy x-rays [between 0.1 keV and approximately 5 keV] are referred to as soft x-rays. The distinction between hard and soft x-rays is not well defined. Hard x-rays are typically those with energies greater than around 10 keV. More relevant to the distinction are the instruments required to observe them and the physical conditions under which the x-rays are produced. . . ."

Gamma Ray
The highest energy (shortest wavelength) photons in the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays are often defined to begin at 10 keV, although radiation from around 10 keV to several hundred keV is also referred to as hard x-rays. A highly penetrating type of nuclear radiation, similar to x-rays and light, except that it comes from within the nucleus of an atom, and, in general, has a shorter wavelength. Gamma rays emission is a decay mode by which excited state of a nucleus de-excite to lower (more stable) state in the same nucleus.

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