Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Red mercury and Shatner's Bassoon

The BBC reports:

Three men have been cleared of trying to procure a substance which police claimed could have made a "dirty bomb".

They were arrested in September 2004 after trying to buy "red mercury" from an undercover reporter.

Why the inverted commas around "red mercury"? The BBC explains further:

The most bizarre aspect of the trial of Abdurahman Kanyare and his two co-defendants was the fact that no-one in the court could be certain whether the terrifying substance on which the entire prosecution case was based actually existed.

The prosecutor, Mark Ellison, admitted the police had no idea if there even was such a thing as red mercury - supposedly the main ingredient for a "dirty bomb" which could have devastated London.

But he told the jury at the outset: "The Crown's position is that whether red mercury does or does not exist is irrelevant."

He warned the jury not to get "hung up" on whether red mercury actually existed at all.

Being accused of trying to buy red mercury sounds a little like being accused of trafficking Chris Morris's cake:
David Amess, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Basildon, was fooled into filming an elaborate video warning against the dangers of a fictional Eastern European drug called Cake, and went as far as to ask a question about it in Parliament. The drug purportedly affected an area of the brain called "Shatner's Bassoon" and was frequently referred to as "a made-up drug". Other celebrities such as Sir Bernard Ingham, Noel Edmonds and Rolf Harris were shown holding the bright-yellow cake-sized pill as they talked.
You can find Amess's question in Hansard.


James said...

I feel it is a little unfair to have a go at David Amess about an incident more than 10 years ago when our very own Lynne Featherstone fell for a similar thing just this year.

Anonymous said...

Being unfair to Mr Amess is not an easy task.

Allegedly , the word intimidating sums him up pretty well.

Chris Black said...

The Wikipedia entry on ballotechnics is quite interesting:

The hafnium bomb is a hypothetical explosive device based on a metastable excited state of hafnium-178 (a nuclear isomer, Hf-178m2, half life around 31y, decay energy 2.5 MeV). While this excited state was known as a curiosity for some time, in the 1990s Carl Collins of the University of Texas at Dallas claimed to have discovered a method of inducing it to rapidly decay through exposure to x-rays. As x-rays of the required energy were relatively easy to produce, and the energy of the released gamma rays was far greater than the required energy input, this discovery had considerable applicability as a radiological weapon.

If the induced-emission effect exists, then ballotechnic materials may have an energy density that is high enough to allow their energy release (in the form of gamma radiation) to cause deuterium-tritium fusion, it is speculated. Induced gamma emission (IGE) of ballotechnic materials can be caused by gamma rays, x rays, or physical shock. Because of that, ballotechnic energy release could concievably cause chain reactions at a sufficient density. Therefore, a bomb that includes a trigger, ballotechnic material of sufficient density, and a deuterium-tritium mixture could constitute a working fusion bomb that does not require a critical fissionable mass (such as uranium or plutonium). As a result, such a bomb could be very small (about the size of a softball), and it would not produce radioactive fallout, such that it is a 'clean' nuclear bomb, (except for some escaping gamma rays and induced radioactivity from the neutron flux). Because of that, the creation of ballotechnic fusion bombs might decrease the psychological threshold for their use, and thus nuclear war. However, producing a sufficient ballotechnic material density appears to be unlikely in the near future.

If a ballotechnic fusion bomb does not incorporate a neutron reflector, then it constitutes a ballotechnic neutron bomb, and, as was mentioned, such neutron bombs could be as small as a softball.

However, even if the required physical effect exists, none of these weapons have been shown to be technically feasible.

Could hafnium (pictured) one day power an aerial vehicle?

In February 2003, New Scientist the idea of the ballotechnic nuclear powered airplane was described. The new idea was to utilize Hf-178 (presumably due to its high energy to weight ratio) which would be triggered to release gamma rays that would heat air in a chamber for jet propulsion. This power source is sometimes called a "Quantum nucleonic reactor".

False rumors

Some have thought that a substance called red mercury, that appeared in the media in the mid 1990s, is a Soviet code name for a ballotechnic substance, particularly hafnium-178. See red mercury for other theories about it.