McCarthy 2.0 seems a vast improvement over Speaker Dungsmear. So here’s the question. Was he once a conservative with a little fire in the belly that got captured by the system and now is finding the bellyfire again? Or is this all completely under duress?
For the moment, it doesn’t matter which one. But some day it will matter, and we will have our answer.
RINOs an Endangered Species?
According to Wikipoo, et. al., the Northern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is a critically endangered species. Apparently two females live on a wildlife preserve in Sudan, and no males are known to be alive. So basically, this species is dead as soon as the females die of old age. Presently they are watched over by armed guards 24/7.
Biologists have been trying to cross them with the other subspecies, Southern White Rhinoceroses (Rhinoceri?) without success; and some genetic analyses suggest that perhaps they aren’t two subspecies at all, but two distinct species, which would make the whole project a lot more difficult.
I should hope if the American RINO (Parasitus rectum pseudoconservativum) is ever this endangered, there will be heroic efforts not to save the species, but rather to push the remainder off a cliff. Onto punji sticks. With feces smeared on them. Failing that a good bath in red fuming nitric acid will do.
But I’m not done ranting about RINOs.
The RINOs (if they are capable of any introspection whatsoever) probably wonder why they constantly have to deal with “populist” eruptions like the Trump-led MAGA movement. That would be because the so-called populists stand for absolutely nothing except for going along to get along. That allows the Left to drive the culture and politics.
Given the results of our most recent elections, the Left will now push harder, and the RINOs will now turn even squishier than they were before.
I well remember 1989-1990 in my state when the RINO establishment started preaching the message that a conservative simply couldn’t win in Colorado. Never mind the fact that Reagan had won the state TWICE (in 1984 bringing in a veto-proof state house and senate with him) and GHWB had won after (falsely!) assuring everyone that a vote for him was a vote for Reagan’s third term.
This is how the RINOs function. They push, push, push the line that only a “moderate” can get elected. Stomp them when they pull that shit. Tell everyone in ear shot that that’s exactly what the Left wants you to think, and oh-by-the-way-Mister-RINO if you’re in this party selling the same message as the Left…well, whythefuckexactly are you in this party, you lying piece of rancid weasel shit?
In Defense of Ranked Choice Voting
One of the biggest obstacles to direly-needed change is RINOs, and one of the weapons in their arsenal is the “Wasted Vote” argument.
Periodically a third party has arisen, trying to hold RINOs to account by putting pressure on them from outside of the party, since doing so from the inside has historically done very little good. But, even if you find a third party candidate who perfectly reflects your views, you’re likely to vote for the RINO anyway. Why? Because if you don’t, the Democrat might win, and that would be even worse. So if you vote for that third party (that few will vote for), you’re throwing your vote away and increasing the likelihood of the Democrat winning. (It’s half as much a gain for the Democrat, as actually voting for the Democrat would be. Not as much, but half as much. Because although you denied the R your vote, you did not flip your vote to the Democrat.)
The Republican Party Establishment knows you don’t love them. But they know you hate the Democrats worse, and they use that to continue to herd you into supporting them. With gritted teeth you cast your vote, but your vote counts the same whether you cast it enthusiastically. And the other alternative, pissing on the voting apparatus to express your actual feelings, is probably a felony.
But what if you could vote for that third party without increasing the chances of the Dem walking away with the prize?
This is what ranked choice voting, or instant runoff voting, can do provided it is properly implemented. (And this includes the votes, and only genuine votes, being counted honestly, of course. However, I’m going to compare it to what we have today, and pretend that is honestly done too. RCV can’t work if it’s not honestly administered, just like our current system isn’t working because it isn’t honestly administered.)
The idea behind RCV is to vote by expressing your order of preference. You could vote for the Patriot Party, then for the RINO Party as your second choice (and ignore the Democrat, the Green, the Overt Socialist Schmuckmonkey Party, etc).
What does this do? It nullifies the wasted vote argument. Your vote will be counted for the Patriot party, first, then instead of it being “wasted” when the Patriot Party loses, it ends up going to the RINO. Actually, it’s just barely possible that the Patriot Party would actually beat the RINO, if people weren’t all individually afraid to vote for it.
It’s just like the famous “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where your fear of other peoples’ actions prevents you from doing the optimal thing–and vice-versa. As long as Job Lowe is afraid to vote Patriot because he’s afraid you’ll vote RINO, you’ll have to vote RINO because you fear that Job Lowe will, because he fears you will.
So on the whole I like RCV. It gives you a no-risk way to vote against the RINO scum, and in favor of someone who deserves your vote.
The problem is, as done here in the US, it comes packaged with a “jungle primary.” A bunch of candidates get to put their name out there, and the top four (or so) candidates get onto the “main” ballot. This gives party establishments their way around the threat of a good third party bumping them off. Because they know that few people bother with primaries, and third parties don’t have the resources to run in a primary…so they throw two or three establishment hacks into the primary and they will probably beat the third party. The result is the RINOs end up with two of the four slots in the general election, and the Dems get the other two. Now there’s suddenly no third party candidate on the ballot at all.
If we were to combine RCV with the present system where each party could nominate exactly one candidate to appear on the November ballot, or at the very least, ensure minor parties could get onto the ballot with at least one candidate regardless of the primary, we would be getting somewhere, but the establishment is smarter than we like to give them credit for. They will support the jungle primary + RCV “solution” rather than the more appropriate one-candidate-per-party + RCV solution.
It’s not RCV that is the problem, it’s the primary structure grafted onto it.
It says “Justice” on the picture.
And I’m sure someone will post the standard joke about what the fish thinks about the situation.
But what is it?
Here’s a take, from a different context: It’s about how you do justice, not the justice that must be done to our massively corrupt government and media. You must properly identify the nature of a person, before you can do him justice.
Ayn Rand, On Justice (speaking through her character John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged):
Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification—that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero—that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues or vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous an honor as you bring to financial transactions—that to withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement—that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit—and that the bottom of the pit at the end of that road, the act of moral bankruptcy, is to punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices, that that is the collapse to full depravity, the Black Mass of the worship of death, the dedication of your consciousness to the destruction of existence.
Ayn Rand identified seven virtues, chief among them rationality. The other six, including justice, she considered subsidiary because they are essentially different aspects and applications of rationality.
Justice Must Be Done.
Trump, it is supposed, had some documents.
Biden and company stole the country.
I’m sure enough of this that I put my money where my mouth is.
The prior election must be acknowledged as fraudulent, and steps must be taken to prosecute the fraudsters and restore integrity to the system. (This doesn’t necessarily include deposing Joe and Hoe and putting Trump where he belongs, but it would certainly be a lot easier to fix our broken electoral system with the right people in charge.)
Nothing else matters at this point. Talking about trying again in 2022 or 2024 is pointless otherwise. Which is not to say one must never talk about this, but rather that one must account for this in ones planning; if fixing the fraud in the system is not part of the plan, you have no plan.
This will necessarily be piecemeal, state by state, which is why I am encouraged by those states working to change their laws to alleviate the fraud both via computer and via bogus voters. If enough states do that we might end up with a working majority in Congress and that would be something Trump never really had.
Lawyer Appeasement Section
OK now for the fine print.
This is the WQTH Daily Thread. You know the drill. There’s no Poltical correctness, but civility is a requirement. There are Important Guidelines, here, with an addendum on 20191110.
We have a new board – called The U Tree – where people can take each other to the woodshed without fear of censorship or moderation.
And remember Wheatie’s Rules:
1. No food fights
2. No running with scissors.
3. If you bring snacks, bring enough for everyone.
4. Zeroth rule of gun safety: Don’t let the government get your guns.
5. Rule one of gun safety: The gun is always loaded.
5a. If you actually want the gun to be loaded, like because you’re checking out a bump in the night, then it’s empty.
6. Rule two of gun safety: Never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
7. Rule three: Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
8. Rule the fourth: Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
(Hmm a few extras seem to have crept in.)
This week, 3 PM MT on Friday, markets closed for the weekend
Precious metals again taking a beating. Dollar going up…somehow.
Recycled from The UTree
When the U-Tree first began, Wolf had set up a generic opener, but each day was devoted to a different element. Some of the geekier of us (i.e., Cthulhu and I) would talk about that element in the comments.
When it got to 92-Uranium, I had something written up already and simply pasted it into several succeeding comments. The next two days carried on with that.
I’m going to just copy those into here lest they be lost. I’ll include some of cthulhu’s commentary too (attributed).
I remembered these posts when someone mentioned the UTree over on the backup site.
Dates: 6-9 February of 2020.
Uranium may be an actinide, but it is FAR from dull.
The story begins with a mineral that was once called “blende,” from a German word for “to blind” because it resembled galena, a valuable ore of lead, yet contained nothing of value. It is now regarded as a zinc ore, but back then it wasn’t appreciated for that. Today, blende is called “sphalerite.”
One variety of blende was called pitchblende, for being black, like pitch. This showed up alongside silver, lead and copper ores in Germany and what is now Czechia (the Czech Republic).
In particular, there was a town called Joachimsthal in what is now Czechia, with a VERY rich silver mine, and that mine had pitchblende in it.
Joachimsthal had so much silver its lord began coining very large silver coins, which became known as Joachimsthalers, which got shortened (in some countries) to thalers. These are the direct ancestor of the US dollar.
But we’re more interested in the pitchblende tonight.
The German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743-1817) took an interest in pitchblende, and began experimenting on it. He eventually ended up, in 1789, with a yellowish substance, which he figured had to be the oxide of a new metal. (This sounds a lot like the stories of discovering the lanthanides, doesn’t it?). (This oxide, by the way, is now known as yellowcake.)
There was, at the time, a strong tradition of associating metals with planets. (Look, for instance, at mercury, and Mercury.) And in 1781, just eight years before, a new planet–the first one since ancient times–had been discovered. So Klaproth named his new metal, which he hadn’t isolated, after the planet: uranium. (Nor was this the only time this happened: shortly after Ceres was discovered in 1801, cerium was named after it. Eventually we realized Ceres was something of a totally new type, an asteroid, not a full-blown planet.)
OK, so Klaproth wanted to see the real metal, not just its oxide. He tried a trick that often worked, he reacted it with charcoal. That often pulls oxygen away from something else. And indeed he got a shiny black powder, and he figured that was the metal uranium. So did everyone else.
In fact, yellowcake is UO3 uranium trioxide, and what Klaproth had done was to strip one oxygen from it; his black shiny powder was uranium dioxide, UO2.
This was eventually realized, in 1841, by the French chemist Eugene Peligot (1811-1890), who had been experimenting with UO2, and finding he couldn’t get things to add up; he concluded there must still be oxygen in it. He then decided to try to isolate the real metal. He started with uranium tetrachloride (that sounds like nasty stuff), UCl4, and figured he’d try something a lot more reactive than charcoal to pull the chlorine away.
He used potassium metal. (Yikes!) And did so without injuring himself. And now he had a new black powder, and this really was uranium.
Nobody but a few chemists cared. Uranium was a thoroughly useless substance, unremarkable in any way, most people had never even heard of it. It was as obscure back then, as thulium is today.
When people tried to determine uranium’s atomic weight in the middle of the 19th century, they thought it was about 116. So it didn’t even get noticed as having the highest atomic weight of any known element. Instead, it was thought to lie between silver and tin. The champion was bismuth, coming in at 209.
Dmitri Mendeleev, when he constructed the first periodic table around 1869, found that uranium simply didn’t fit, chemically, between silver and tin, not in the least. But it worked well if he doubled the weight to 232; then it naturally fell into a place with the right chemical properties. Going back to the experimental data, it could actually be re-interpreted to give a value near 240; someone had made assumptions while interpreting the data the first time around, that apparently were unwarranted.
That brings us up to 1871. Uranium is now by far the heaviest atom known, easily beating out bismuth…but that meant nothing to anyone but chemists and trivia geeks like Cthulhu and me.
In 1896, something interesting happened. The previous year, X rays had been discovered by Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, and exotic rays became all the rage. Well, Antoine Henri Becquerel was running experiments to see if fluroescent minerals emitted X rays. He used photographic plates, wrapped in black paper. Visible light couldn’t affect them, but X rays, if any were present, would. So he figured he’d put the fluorescent substance on top of the plate, expose it to sunlight, let it fluoresce, and then later, unwrap the plate and develop it. If it were fogged, the fluorescent substance had emitted X rays.
He tried a huge number of fluorescent substances, and got zero positive results. There was one exception: potassium uranyl sulfate. It would fog the plates. So Becquerel got excited. That particular day it had been cloudy, but he’d wait for good weather, really expose the potassium uranyl sulfate, and get a really good fogging of the photographic plate.
So what happened? Murphy stepped in. Paris had a long run of crappy weather. Becquerel had a bunch of brand new plates and nothing to do with them, for a while, so he stuck them in a drawer, and put his sample in with them.
Days passed; Becquerel got more and more frustrated. He was this close to confirming an interesting result from his experiment; if only the damn Sun would come out!
Well, he figured, he might as well develop the plates. Maybe there had been some lingering X ray fluorescence. That could be interesting, couldn’t it?
The plates were totally fogged. As if he had simply exposed them to sunlight! WTF!!!
Whatever this was…it could go right through the black paper, and did NOT need the Sun to excite the sample, like fluorescence did. It just kept on going, even in the darkness of his cabinet.
Becquerel tried samples that hadn’t seen sunlight in months. He eventually realized that what mattered was how much uranium was present; he even tried uranium compounds that did not fluoresce.
Whatever this was, it had NOTHING to do with fluorescence, and everything to do with uranium.
He had a new phenomenon, and it became known as Becquerel rays. Maybe it wasn’t Murphy after all.
Marie Sklodowska Curie stepped in almost immediately, and named this new phenomenon “radioactivity” and showed that thorium, which had been discovered in the meantime and had an atomic weight almost has high as uranium’s, was also radioactive.
This, suddenly, made uranium glamorous. Nothing like this had ever been seen before…a totally inanimate lump of metal, just pumping out energy continuously.
Further experimentation showed that uranium and thorium were giving off gamma rays…a lot like X rays only even more energetic. But they were also giving off small particles with mass, and that implied atoms weren’t the smallest pieces of matter out there. So now we had “subatomic particles.”
And it turned out uranium and thorium slowly turned into lead. (The alchemists who had tried to turn lead into gold would surely be spinning in their graves; something was turning other things into lead–the wrong direction!)
Ernest Rutherford was able to demonstrate that an atom had a huge cloud of negatively charged particles (electrons) and a very small, dense nucleus with a positive charge to balance the electrons.
And in 1913 Henry Gwyn-Jeffries Mosely used X-rays to excite nuclei, and showed that every nucleus had a positive charge that was a multiple of hydrogen’s; this became the atomic number. Hydrogen is 1, iron is 26, silver is 47, tin is 50, gold is 79, lead is 82, bismuth is 83, thorium is 90, and uranium is 92.
Uranium had the highest number, and nothing known lay between bismuth and thorium. It was speculated that there probably were elements 84-89, but they hadn’t lasted long enough to survive to the present day, whereas thorium and uranium had known half lives of billions of years, so they were still around. This is essentially correct.
So now uranium is fascinating–it was radioactive, the highest atomic weight, the highest atomic number…but still, only chemists really cared.
Uranium minerals were tested for their radioactivity. And there was too much of it. Chemists knew exactly how much uranium was in the mineral. And they knew, based on uranium’s 4.5 billion year half life, how much radioactivity there SHOULD be from that much uranium. Yet there was quite a bit more. Separating out the uranium and checking it, the numbers came out right; the more pure the uranium, the better the fit. So there was other stuff in the minerals that was radioactive. More radioactive than uranium.
Which made no sense; if it were MORE radioactive, it should have been gone by now.
They even noticed the pure uranium samples got more radioactive with time.
This was realized well before 1913.
The only explanation that made sense was that the uranium didn’t turn directly to lead, it broke down by stages into intermediate elements, and an old sample would basically be in a balance, uranium decaying into something else at a rate just enough to replenish that something else as it decayed into yet another something else. If it’s something that breaks down quickly, there’s never much around. It’d be undetectable chemically.
Well Marie Curie and her husband Pierre realized they could find those in-between elements, though, because their radioactivity was a beacon.
So they got a bunch of pitchblende and started experimenting on it. (The Ronco Pitchblendeamatic had not been invented yet.) They went through several tons of the stuff, doing experiments and noticing if any of the results showed a concentration of radioactivity. Eventually, in 1898 they got just a bit of polonium (84). Further experimenting hit on radium (88). But they couldn’t get much of it, and they wanted a visible sample. So they asked Joachimstal to send them their waste slag, which they were happy to do as long as the Curies paid the shipping.
They went through tons of it to get the radium. By 1902 they had a tenth of a gram. And it became the glamour substance. Who cared about uranium any more?
Back to 1911 and Ernest Rutherford. He decided to try to deliberately produce nuclear reactions. He was able to bounce alpha rays off of nitrogen atoms…and some of them transformed into oxygen atoms.
He decided to try other things, and, ultimately, switched to using bare protons (which are just hydrogen atoms with the electron stripped away, or to put that another way, positive hydrogen ions). Devices that could accelerate protons were developed, in particular by Ernest Orlando Lawrence in 1931. Still, it was hard to do this, because the proton, with a positive charge, was repelled by the nucleus, which was its target. [Cthulhu commented here to point out that Ernest Orlando Lawrence is the namesake of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. I responded by pointing out that element 103, lawrencium, is also named after him.]
But it also turned out that when beryllium was exposed to alpha rays, a new particle came out. One without a charge. That made it hard to pin down, but eventually it was to become known as the neutron (1932). It was much easier to hit a nucleus with a neutron, because the positive charge of the nucleus didn’t repel it, as it did with protons and alpha rays.
Almost immediately, we realized nuclei didn’t just contain protons, they also contained neutrons.
And often, when a neutron was added to a nucleus, the nucleus would become radioactive, spit out an electron, and one of the neutrons would turn into a proton–the atom would become an atom of the next higher element.
What would happen if you did this to uranium? Would you get element 93?
This would be a new–and man-made–element. That would be a big deal!
Enrico Fermi, who had worked a lot of this out (including methods to slow down neutrons so they could react with nuclei), decided, in 1934, to try. He got some very peculiar results. He was unwilling to announce success, he couldn’t be sure what he had. But Mussolini got wind of this and insisted on announcing a triumph of Italian physics.
By 1940 people had untangled the mess and realized that Fermi hadn’t just created element 93, but that element 93 had decayed *again* and become element 94. These elements were named neptunium and plutonium, continuing with the planet sequence.
But elsewhere, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner whad different ideas. Perhaps, if they hit uranium atoms, they could get TWO alpha decays instead of just one…uranium could turn directly into radium without going through thorium first.
They tried it, figuring if they started with pure uranium, then later detected radium, they’d have the proof they needed. But there wouldn’t be much of it. But, radium and barium are virtual twins, like zirconium and hafnium. So they figured they could do the bombardment, mix the uranium with barium, chemically separate the two, and see if the barium was radioactive…because it had some radium in it. Then they could put the final period on the whole thing by separating the radium from the barium, which was difficult but possible.
Before they could get started, Germany annexed Austria, and Meitner fled to Denmark, where Niels Bohr helped her get on her feet again.
Hahn, who had stayed behind, performed the experiment, and indeed the barium was radioactive. But he couldn’t get any radium out of it! Not a shred!
Eventually, the logic forced itself on him. If he couldn’t separate out the radioactive atoms from the barium by any means, it’s because they were barium.
So wait…you hit uranium, element 92, with a neutron…and you don’t get something nearby (like element 93 or 91 or 90 or even 88), you get barium, element 56?
This implied…that the nucleus was splitting into two very large pieces. It was fissioning!
Meitner had been kept updated, and although Hahn didn’t want to go public–this was just too crazy–she did. This was January, 1939. World War II was months away.
As it turned out: Fermi’s results came from hitting the uranium-238 isotope, with 92 neutrons and 146 neutrons.
Hahn and Meitner’s results came from hitting ther uranium-235 isotope, with 92 neutrons and 143 neutrons. And it turned out the fission released two or three free neutrons. Another physicist, Leo Szilard, had already wondered if one could find a reaction, started by a neutron, that would release more neutrons, and set up a chain reaction and produce energy…and now here was his answer.
American physicists were the first to follow up on this…luckily for the world.
And Leo Szilard, who had fled to America to get out from under Hitler, realized we HAD to do that chain reaction before Hitler did. He wrote letters to scientists, begging them to keep their research secret…and many of them did. And he eventually got Einstein to write to Roosevelt, and the Manhattan Project was born.
But let us consider uranium 235. It has a half life of 700 million years or so, which means most of the U-235 the earth had at formation, is gone. And indeed uranium is less than one percent U-235, 0.72% in fact.
If you add a neutron to uranium 235, it becomes U-236. U-236 is likely to just split into two large pieces, as Hahn had discovered. (All uranium isotopes can do this; but U-236 does so often, and very quickly, when it has just been excited by the neutron capture that created it) This releases a LOT of energy. It also happens to release some neutrons…which could go on to hit more U-235, which releases more neutrons…the chain reaction has started.
That means that U-235 is not just fissionable (all uranium isotopes *can* fission) but since it can sustain a chain reaction, it’s “fissile.”
The rub is, there’s so little U-235 in a lump of uranium those freed-up neutrons are more likely by far to hit a U-238 nucleus, and do other interesting things…but not release more neutrons. That would squelch the chain reaction right there. Instead we need to have a net increase of neutrons (for a bomb) or a steady number of them (for a reactor).
The only way to do that with U-235 is to concentrate it. Somehow, it must be separated from the U-238.
This cannot be done chemically. Both types of uranium are uranium and will behave the same. But, because the weight is over one percent different, perhaps, say, a centrifuge, or gravity could separate them. But for that to work, the uranium cannot be in solid form.
It turns out that uranium hexafluoride is a gas, and (bonus) there’s only one isotope of fluorine found in nature, so any difference between uranium hexaflurode molecules is due to the uranium atom. So the Manhattan project was able to produce “enriched” uranium this way. It was difficult (fluorine is nasty, nasty, nasty stuff) and took buildings so big people rode bicycles in them to do, but we managed to produce uranium where a large fraction of the U-238 had been removed.
You end up with some uranium that is enriched (a large percentage is U-235) whereas the U-238 that has been removed is called “depleted uranium”
[And, if you hear about Iran and its centrifuges, that’s what they’re for: to enrich uranium, to make bombs.]
Apparently, uranium that is more than 5% but less than 20% U-235 is suitable for use in reactors, above that you’re getting into nuclear bomb territory.
In principle, it’s easy at this point. To make it go kaboom, you need only put a sufficient mass together in one place at one time. That mass is the critical mass. But that depends on how concentrated it is. The more concentrated, the better. You could make a bomb out of hundreds of kilos of 25% U-235, but if you can get it up to 85%, you need a lot less.
It’s so simple, that we didn’t bother to test the U-235 bomb we built in World War II. (We did test the plutonium bomb, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. But that’s a story for another day, like maybe two days from now.) We dropped our one and only U-235 bomb on Hiroshima, and it worked like a champ.
The bomb, named “Little Boy,” consisted of a cylindrical slug, and a cylindrical ring, of U-235, combined mass 64 kilograms, of 80% U-235. There was a neutron reflector around the whole thing, increasing its efficiency; the 64 kilograms was about two and a half critical masses.
To detonate it, explosives fired behind the ring, it went down rails to surround the cylinder, and the critical mass was formed. With a little help from some neutron sources in the nose of the bomb……
(Note to potential aggressors: Don’t sneak-attack US soil. Unless some pusbag like Obola is in office. Little Boy was ~20 kilotons. We now have bombs, in the plural, at least 50 times as powerful.)
So the U-235 bomb is very simple to make…but getting the U-235 itself is a very painful process.
The U-238 isn’t useless for nuclear energy…but it has to go through a different process, again, a story for a different day.
One thing I forgot.
The order creating the Manhattan Project was signed on December 6, 1941.
If Roosevelt had dithered for a day, well, he would likely have been too distracted to remember to sign it.
[The next day I did this. But before I posted, cthulhu posted about the isotopes, so let me quote that first]
Neptunium has three isotopes of significant interest. Np-237 has a half-life of 2.14 million years; Np-236 has a half-life of 154,000 years; and Np-235 has a half-life of 396.1 days [or just less than 1.1 years]. Other isotopes have been observed, but not for long.
It has been determined that Np-237 could be used to make an atomic bomb. This would clearly be less of a geopolitical threat than making an atomic bomb out of Np-235 — such a bomb would have to be used within a few months of the neptunium’s isolation or half the fissile material could have transformed into something else.cthulhu
Neptunium was discovered by Enrico Fermi when he tried bombarding uranium with slow neutrons. (I described this yesterday, but I will recap it here.)
In doing so, he converted some U-238 nuclei into U-239 nuclei. (Recall that U-238 is the most common uranium isotope, with 146 neutrons, as opposed to U-235, which has 143 neutrons; the 238 and 235 are the numbers you get when you total up the number of neutrons with the number of protons, 92 in the case of any uranium isotope).
U-239, however, has a very short half life (in contrast with over four billion years for U-238). That half life is 23.45 minutes. But makes it far more interesting is that U-239 does NOT decay by alpha decay. Alpha decay (hypothetically) would subtract 4 from the isotope number and two from the atomic number, making it thorium-235. Big deal.
Instead U-239 undergoes beta decay. In essence, a neutron splits apart into a proton and an electron (and an antineutrino is blooped out too, but Fermi didn’t know about that…yet). The electron flies out of the nucleus, and that’s the “beta radiation.” The proton remains in the nucleus.
But now…instead of element 92, isotope 239, you have element 93, isotope 239.
And that is a VERY BIG DEAL indeed, no sarcasm at all this time.
Until this moment, we had never seen ANY element past uranium.
(Which is not to say element 93 doesn’t exist in nature; it does, because sometimes this neutron capture happens naturally in uranium ores. It’s an extremely rare occurrence, however.)
Fermi didn’t realize it at the time. He thought his experiment had succeeded, but there was an awful lot of other stuff in his sample and his measurements were all over the map; likely because he’d fissioned some U-235 (see yesterday). But he had also unknowingly created element 94.
You see, element 93, isotope 239 has a 2.3 day half life…and it, too decays by beta decay. So it bumps up to element 94, isotope 239.
Uranium had been named after the planet Uranus; it seemed natural to continue the sequence with Neptune->neptunium, and Pluto->plutonium, because in the 1930s and 1940s Pluto had just been discovered and was decades away from being understood as the first member of a new class of astronomical object. It was considered a planet. (Sort of like Ceres, after which cerium was named; it became recognized as the first known asteroid.)
So element 93, the element of the day, is “neptunium,” symbol Np, and stands as the first element artificially created, in fact many tons of it have been created.
But in and of itself it’s of little interest. It’s the plutonium we’re after. And that’s a story for another day…tomorrow being that day.
The most stable isotope of Neptunium isn’t 239, it’s 237. And 237, with a 2.14 million year half life, decays by alpha emission; in fact it’s considered the “top” of the neptunium decay series, which consists of a number of isotopes whose numbers, when divided by four, leave a remainder of 1.
The earth is over 2000 times as old as that half life, thus in order for one atom of original neptunium 237 to still be around, statistically, we’d have to have started out with 2^2000 atoms of neptunium-237 in the earth. This is quite absurd. 210 is 1024, roughly a thousand [add: and exactly equal to 1/fauxcahontas], so for every ten powers of 2, we have roughly 3 powers of ten, so 22000 is very roughly 10667.
There aren’t that many atoms in the universe, much less the earth, not even close! (I’ve seen figures–old ones–estimating the number of protons in the universe at 1080. Replace each proton with 10587 protons, and now we’re getting somewhere close to 10667 atoms in the universe.) So, it’s safe to say there isn’t an atom of original neptunium 237 on earth, and there isn’t a four billion year old atom of neptunium 237 anywhere in the universe; it would have to beat incredible odds to still exist after 2000 half lives.
So there are few, if any, naturally occurring neptunium-237 decay series atoms on Earth. Any that do, exist because something in the thorium decay series captured a neutron, and that’s just as rare as natural Np-239.
If you look up “neptunium” on wikipedia, there’s actually a picture of a sphere of it (coated in nickel, I believe), but that makes the point that neptunium can be, and is, mass-produced.
Thus it actually makes sense to talk about its bulk properties.
The density is 20.45…that beats out gold and wolfram, but does not beat out platinum, iridium, osmium, or rhenium. Still, it’s respectably dense.
Here are some videos, from “Periodic Table Videos”
[To which cthulhu responded:]
It should be noted that Neptunium is produced in volume inside nuclear power reactions as an unwanted by-product of their operation. It’s not that anyone is generating it on-purpose.cthulhu
And I replied:
Np-239 of course is the stepping stone to Pu-239, so it IS definitely produced, quite deliberately, in breeder reactors. But it’s a mere stepping stone to what we really want.
But you’re certainly correct that the other isotopes are crud.
More from me:
I mentioned that Np-237 was the “top” of the neptunium decay series, but…hypothetically, Am-241 will decay into Np-237. It has a much shorter half life, though, so it’s not considered the father of the series.
But–you almost certainly have some Am-241 in your house! A story for another day.
And more from Cthulhu:
Work done by Edwin McMillan at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley starting in 1939 led to the discovery of neptunium when he was playing with their new 60-inch cyclotron that had just been built there.
Berkeley had an extensive collection of cyclotrons (particle accelerators) around that time — it seemed that every PhD student wanted to build a bigger one as his thesis work (or first postdoc grant). There’s actually an amusing anecdote that arises from this.
It seems the FAA kept getting reports from people flying airplanes around the East Bay hills. They’d be flying along, clear skies, nothing untoward — and all their cockpit electronics would fail. Or an engine would quit firing. Or their radio would drop out….a second later, things would go back to normal — and a few minutes later, the pilots’ heartbeats would return to normal. This happened for years and the FAA had no idea why.
Until some bright boys figured it out. One of the smaller cyclotrons — about a 30-incher IIRC — was used for training purposes to “show people how it worked” before they could book time on the larger ones. Because this was for practice purposes, students would irradiate stuff like paper clips and pencils. And because it wasn’t very large, it didn’t have a specific home — they’d move it from classroom to classroom. And, without a specific home, they’d just aim the output that went past the target out any convenient window.
So these random aviators would encounter invisible particle beam weapons while flying anywhere near Berkeley. Mind you, the beam wasn’t collimated like a laser — it formed a cone……but at 10,000 feat, the cone was only a few yards across. Large enough to get one engine in a two-engine plane. And even if you hit it right in the middle, you’d be through it in a second or so. And the strength probably wasn’t going to permanently damage anything…..cthulhu
Plutonium is interesting for various reasons.
First and most famously, of course, is its use in nuclear weapons.
That’s generally plutonium 239…which, if you’ve been following along, is generated by decaying neptunium 239, which in turn is generated by decaying uranium 239, which comes about when uranium 238 in a breeder reactor captures a neutron.
It’s called a breeder reactor because it actually creates nuclear fuel, to wit the plutonium 239. It’s an excellent fuel, easily made (far more so than uranium-235) but it’s much more difficult to make a bomb out of, fortunately. It won’t fission unless it’s compressed, and the best way to compress it is to surround it with explosives and have those explosives detonate simultaneously so the plutonium has nowhere to squirt out to. A large part of the Manhattan project was figuring out how to do this–precision explosives.
A plutonium bomb, like the one dropped on Nagasaki, is basically a hollow sphere of plutonium surrounded by the explosives; when the explosives are detonated, the plutonium is compressed to far higher than its normal density and it goes *kaboom*.
This was just complicated enough we felt the need to test it, before dropping the bomb on nagasaki, so the very first nuclear explosion was near Alamagordo, New Mexico. It worked quite satisfactorily so we could drop “Fat Man” on Nagasaki to end World War II.
It’s called “Fat Man” because of its bulbous shape (to accomodate the sphere of plutonium and the surrounding explosives). By contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima involved moving part of the critical mass along rails, so it was relatively long and thin, “Little Boy.”
Nowadays the hydrogen bomb functions by putting tritium and deuterium in the bomb, and letting the heat and pressure of the plutonium detonation cause them to fuse, resulting in a MUCH more powerful bomb. A 50,000 kiloton hydrogen bomb was built and detonated by the Soviet Union once; without hydrogen we were pretty much limited to a few dozen kilotons.
The plutonium in hydrogen bomb–the little bang before the big bag–is often called a “trigger.”
[Cthulhu comment: The bomb at Alamogordo was called “gadget.”]
Plutonium 239 has a half life of about 24,000 years.
Plutonium has another very useful isotope, plutonium-238, with a half life of 87 years It’s used as radioisotope fuel for spacecraft, and at one point, even in pacemakers, in nifty devices called radioisotope thermoelectric generators that directly generate electricity and heat. Its half life is comfortably longer than a human will live, or a space mission will run, without being so much longer we just don’t get as much energy as we could out of it. (Why put something that decays slower than it needs to in your spacecraft? You don’t get as much bang for your buck.) This isotope has a density of 19.3+, similar to gold.
As I mentioned above, it was used in pacemakers for a while starting in 1966, until someone realized tht if the body was cremated, the container might rupture. Not being able to guarantee that some idiot wouldn’t cremate a corpse with one of these installed, the program was canceled. Meanwhile 139 people had received the pacemakers. As of 2007, seven were still with us. On dying the undertaker is supposed to ship the device home to Los Alamos where it will be lovingly cared for.
But that’s not (to me at least) nearly as interesting as another isotope…
Plutonium 244 has a half life of 80 million years. It’s one of the two longest-lived non-primordial radioisotoes.
(There are 34 primordial radioisotopes, i.e., ones that have long enough half lives that they still exist on earth, 4.5 billion years after its creation. Obviously, Uranium 235 and 238, and thorium 232 are on this list, but there are also isotopes of lighter elements that are slightly unstable. In fact most of the indium, tellurium and rhenium on earth today are unstable isotopes, as is all of the bisuth. The tellurium has a halflife in the septillions of years, the indium in the trillions, and the rhenium in the tens of billions of years, so it’s all very, very mild.
Of the primordial radio isotopes, potassium 40 (1 billion years) and uranium 235 (700 million years) have the shortest half lives, after that the next POSSIBLE isotope is Plutonium 244 with its 80 year half life. (It’s interesting that there is no isotope in between 80 and 700 million year half life.)
The age of the earth is 57 half lives of plutonium 244, so some have estimated there might still be about ten grams of it in the earth’s crust. Indeed, someone in 1971 claimed to have detected it. But more recent lab work has failed to confirm this. On the other hand some of the meteoric dust that hits the Earth is of interstellar origin, and some Pu-244 has been detected in that.
It was probably never particularly common, though, because to make Pu-244, you have to keep adding neutrons to something like pu-239, and Pu-243, one of the stepping stones, has a short half life (5 hours), making it unlikely that any slow natural process will manage to get past it–it will most likely decay before another neutron happens along. But that’s a slow process. The same issue arises inside our nuclear power plants, for the same reason, so Pu-244 doesn’t show up much in spent fuel rods. For a fast process, like inside a nuclear bomb, the neutrons get added on quickly, and indeed Pu-244 has been detected in the residues of nuclear bomb blasts.
But it’s interesting to think that, say, two or three billion years ago someone could have mined plutonium from rocks in the earth’s crust. And that some of it, a very small amount, might still be around, a residue of the creation of the solar system and our earth.
One more isotope to consider: Pu-240. This one is a nuisance. When one is creating Pu-239 by exposing U-238 to neutrons, it’s important to pull the sample out of the reactor before too much of the freshly-created Pu-239 has a chance to capture another neutron and become Pu-240, because Pu-240 will actually act to damp the chain reaction that is desired. It simply absorbs the neutron and says, “Ok, give me another” rather than fissioning and creating more neutrons, like Pu-239 does.
The first nuclear reactors dedicated to manufacturing plutonium (as part of the Manhattan Project) were at the “Hanford Site” in Washington State, on the banks of the Columbia River. Being in the rain shadow of the Cascades, the area is pretty much a desert.
The facilities are massive, and by April 1945, they were making a shipment of Plutonium to Los Alamos every five days.
The Hanford Site is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.
Americium-241 is very likely in your home.
It’s generally kept safe under a layer of gold foil inside that big black thingamabob in your smoke detector.
That’s an ionization chamber, within which smoke particulates pick up an electric charge (from encountering an alpha or beta particle given off by the americium). The electrically charged smoke sets off the detector.
Am-241 has a half life of around 432 years. It decays by alpha particle to the much more stable (but not stable enough) neptunium 237, which is the namesake of the neptunium decay series (isotopes of elements heavier than lead, whose numbers have a remainder of 1 when divided by 4).
The other “common” isotope (remember that spent nuclear reactor fuel has to be gone through to find all this stuff, about 100 grams per tonne) is Am-243, with a half life of 7,370 years.
One of the metastates of Am-242 hangs around for 141 years, on average.
Other than that no americium lasts for more than a year.
Americium was discovered in 1944 by workers on the Manhattan project; they actually found curium (the next element) before they found americium. The discovery was not made public until the next year. (Why announce to the enemy that, with a war on, you’re spending resources on atomic research? They might wonder why and we don’t want them wondering why.)
The amount of americium in a typical new smoke detector is 1 microcurie (37 kBq) or 0.29 microgram. This, of course, would be several times the number of milli-microcuries found in Italian mineral water — which is why you seldom find ionization smoke detectors powered by Pelligrino.
In theory, you could build ultra-compact atomic bombs from americium-242m (half-life 141 years) with a critical mass in the 3-5 kg range if a metal reflector is used. Nobody has claimed to have done so. Then, again, nobody has claimed to have actually orbited a “rods from God” weapons system yet…..
One enterprising young lad removed the americium from approximately 100 smoke detectors in 1994 in hopes of constructing a breeder nuclear reactor in his home shop. I’m not sure that David Hahn, at 17, would have had the wet chemistry chops to actually do anything with a reactor if he had managed to accumulate sufficient material and lit it up…..but we all have to start somewhere.cthulhu
Obligatory PSAs and Reminders
China is Lower than Whale Shit
To conclude: My standard Public Service Announcement. We don’t want to forget this!!!
Remember Hong Kong!!!
Zhōngguò shì gè hùndàn !!!
China is asshoe !!!
China is in the White House
Since Wednesday, January 20 at Noon EST, the bought-and-paid for Joseph Biden has been in the White House. It’s as good as having China in the Oval Office.
Joe Biden is Asshoe
China is in the White House, because Joe Biden is in the White House, and Joe Biden is identically equal to China. China is Asshoe. Therefore, Joe Biden is Asshoe.
But of course the much more important thing to realize:
Joe Biden Didn’t Win
Qiáo Bài dēng méi yíng !!!
Joe Biden didn’t win !!!