Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Emerging Technology from the arXiv

A View from Emerging Technology from the arXiv

Can Pressure Waves Speed Up Nuclear Decay?

If cavitation can speed up the decay of nuclei in solution, we’ve yet to see good evidence for it.

  • July 7, 2009

Is it possible to speed up radioactive decay by squeezing atoms?

In the last few months, Fabio Cardone, at the Institute of Nanostructured Materials, in Rome, Italy, and a few pals have posted on the arXiv a growing body of evidence that it is.

In March, Cardone and co reported an increase in neutron emissions when crushing marble and granite. Their conjecture is that the crushing causes the piezonuclear fission of iron atoms into two aluminum nuclei emitting two neutrons.

But our focus today is a paper published in February, in which the team reported that cavitation–the generation and collapse of tiny bubbles in a liquid using pressure waves–causes the rate of decay of thorium-228 in solution to increase 1,000 times.

I guess it’s not entirely beyond belief that cavitation could have an effect on the nuclei of atoms in solution. Cavitation is known to generate huge pressures and temperatures. By some theories, the energy released in this process is close to that needed for fusion. But it’s fair to say that the current consensus is that there is no good evidence that this line has been crossed in practice.

Nevertheless, Cardone’s claims are interesting, and his paper was published in Physics Letters A earlier this year.

Today, however, Stephan Pomp and pals from Uppsala University, in Sweden, cast some doubt on the result and the methods used by the Cardone team in the Physics Letters A paper.

They point out that the Cardone claim is extraordinary given the body of evidence gathered over the past 100 years about nuclear decay. Such an extraordinary claim should be backed by extraordinary evidence.

“We find that such evidence is missing in this paper and it even seems that methodological mistakes have been made,” they say.

Thorium decays by emitting alpha particles. Pomp and pals say that Cardone and co placed their detector underneath the glass vessel containing the thorium solution. “We note that the range of the emitted particles in glass is in the order of tens of micrometers and that it thus would be impossible for particles … to penetrate the vessel.”

They suggest a number of tests that Cardone and co can do to strengthen their results, such as measuring the background counts when the vessel is empty or filled with pure water in which cavitation is taking place.

It’ll be interesting to see the Cardone team’s reply to these criticisms; perhaps they’ll be able to answer each point made by Pomp and pals.

In the meantime, the question still stands: can pressure waves accelerate nuclear decay? Not on the evidence presented by Cardone and co so far.

Ref:

arxiv.org/abs/0903.3104 : Piezonuclear Neutrons from Fracturing of Inert Solids

arxiv.org/abs/0710.5177: Speeding Up Thorium Decay

arxiv.org/abs/0907.0623: Comments on “Piezonuclear Decay of Thorium” by F. Cardone et al.

Be the leader your company needs. Implement ethical AI.
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.