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Alaskan Cyclotron - Not in My Backyard! 392

Posted by Hemos
from the NIMBY-vs.-DIY dept.
j-beda writes "Wired reports that "Albert Swank Jr., a 55-year-old civil engineer in Anchorage, Alaska, is a man with a mission. He wants to install a nuclear particle accelerator in his home." To be used to create medically useful isotopes, and even though some of the neighbours are supportive, opponents "compared potential damage from a cyclotron mishap to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident" though an expert says "Probably the worst thing that could happen with small cyclotrons is that the operator might electrocute themselves." It looks like the Anchorage Assembly plans to hold an public hearing on December 20 to determine whether Swank will be permitted to install the device."
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Alaskan Cyclotron - Not in My Backyard!

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  • by millahtime (710421) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:08AM (#14184076) Homepage Journal
    I can understand the hold. It's all about risk. People in the area most likely don't know the possible repurcussions of this. At least, they havn't been stated before the record. If the repurcussions are low, I am sure this will go in without a problem. Have to look out a little for public safety.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:45AM (#14184285)
      It's all about risk.

      What risk? Oh, wait, you mean the risk that the crackpots that the "opposition" digs up saying that a cyclotron could blow all of alaska to kingdom come could actually be right?

      Look, I know people talk about bias and shit, and how everyone should listen to "both sides" of every argument, but didn't it occur to you that sometimes the other side is just plain wrong?
      • by aelbric (145391) on Monday December 05, 2005 @12:18PM (#14185391)
        I agree that the general reaction to anything nuclear is tantamount to instantaneous hysteria. Even if the "other side" is misguided, there is never harm in a public conversation about an issue that is disputed. I could understand wanting to know a bit more if this guy were living next to me.

        Emergency legislation banning home cyclotrons? Gimme a break. Why not just have a councilmember go talk to the guy and say "Hey, look. Your neighbors are concerned. How about coming and giving a presentation to explain this thing to everyone before you install it?"

        My problem is that every disagreement in this country has to be some kind of a crusade nowadays. Don't like something? Protest! Shortchanged at the store? Sue! Teacher give your kid a B-? Lynch him! Guess we've lost the art of conversation.

        My opinion: If there is no serious, likely risk, let him have it.
    • by pocopoco (624442) on Monday December 05, 2005 @10:19AM (#14184473)
      Just like how irradiated food succeeded so brilliantly even though it is safe? Most people hear the word radiation or nuclear and that's it for them, logic never comes into play.
      • Radiation phobia (Score:3, Informative)

        by shadowj (534439)

        Most people hear the word radiation or nuclear and that's it for them, logic never comes into play.

        Very true, unfortunately. That's exactly why the medical imaging technology called Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was renamed. The technique is a variation on an earlier technology called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). Someone (probably one of the early MRI manufacturers, like GE) realized that the word "nuclear" would have doomed the product, so they changed the name... along the same lines as renamin

    • I can understand the hold. It's all about risk. People in the area most likely don't know the possible repurcussions of this. At least, they havn't been stated before the record. If the repurcussions are low, I am sure this will go in without a problem. Have to look out a little for public safety.

      No, it's all about fear. So a cyclotron can produce nuclear reactions. So what. It only produces radiation in one direction, and I could stand in front of one plenty long without dying (yes I would get damaged).
    • While I "understand" the hold, it annoys me. The problem is that people fear the unknown. I'm sure these same folks would freak out if someone told them most their smoke detectors are radioactive and thus "nu-klear" as well. The fact that the isotopes emit alpha particles which are blocked by something as simple as a sheet of paper doesn't register.

      It's not reasonable to expect the general public to be experts in particle physics, but I'd like to think they could at least be bothered to do a little rea

  • by chandip (751271) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:09AM (#14184084)
    Local lawmakers rushed to introduce emergency legislation banning the use of cyclotrons in home businesses. State health officials took similar steps, and have suspended Swank's permit to operate cyclotrons on his property.

    This the same lawmakers who wanted a A bridge to nowhere [salon.com] costing $941 Million?
    • by bcattwoo (737354) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:29AM (#14184206)
      This the same lawmakers who wanted a A bridge to nowhere costing $941 Million?

      Now to be fair, the bridge itself cost only $223 million. The $941 million was for the overall pork that Alaska got in that bill. That works out to ~$1500 per Alaskan compared to the $86 per citizen for the country as a whole.

    • I've been thinking: it's no secret that the blue states subsidize the red states with tax dollars. Save for a few exceptions (PA and TX I think), the pattern of net cash flow is rather stark. And AK has to be one of the biggest recipients of Federal aid per capita, and one of the lowest contributors.

      Why don't we just revoke its statehood and sell it to the Chinese?

      Think about it. If you're the kind of person who thinks government should be run like a business, then this state, as a business unit, is a chr

      • I've been thinking: it's no secret that the blue states subsidize the red states with tax dollars.

        And so they should, to the good bleeding-heart liberal who favors progressive taxation and government handouts for the less fortunate. Compare the average yearly incomes in the different states and you will see what I mean.

        According to liberal dogma, the wealthy limousine liberal in Connecticut ought to be proud and happy that the government will take money from him and give it to the poor white trash li

  • NIMBY YIMBY (Score:2, Funny)

    by corcoranp (892008)
    That'll bring down your NIMBY score...
    I'd put a skateboarding halfpipe next to him, maybe that will improve the area.
    • People fear what they don't understand. They hear nuclear and they think 3 mile island or world war 2. They don't think of safety. A little education and reassurance is what people need. Head to head fighting will loose this. The people need to have their point of view changed.
  • by shobadobs (264600) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:11AM (#14184090)
    This is just people being stupid. Also the reason they dropped 'Nuclear' from NMRI.
  • by gentimjs (930934) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:12AM (#14184103) Journal
    How do I get one installed in MY home? While it doesnt have the style points of being able to say "You do realise each one of us has an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on our backs?", it certainly would be a conversation peice ;-)
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:13AM (#14184108) Homepage Journal
    Plenty of people do stupid shit in their garden sheds, thats what they are there for!
    I have read about a kid building a reactor from smoke detectors [dangerousl...tories.org], and the NZ guy who built his own cruise missile [interestingprojects.com].

    I sense a business opportunity for lead lined garden housing :)

    Also, didn't Young Einstein manage to split the beer atom in his? (and with a hammer and chisel if I remember rightly)

    • You can't really build a nuclear reactor with the radioisotopes in smoke detectors. Yes, you can collect the Americium-241 found in smoke detectors, but you won't get much. You could even collect quite a bit of it, if you collected, say, several tens of thousands of smoke detectors, but it would be useless. The isotope is found in an oxide form. Those oxygen atoms would act as neutron absorbers, immediately damping any reactions. One would have to purify the element, something that's beyond the abiliti
  • NIMBY! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumPion (805098) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:15AM (#14184120)

    While obviously a cyclotron can't compare to a commercial nuclear power plant, I wouldn't want my neighbor building one. Aside from self-electrocution, they can release high energy photons which could reach other people, if improperly shielded. There is also the issue with any radioactive waste he may produce. The risk may be miniscule, but people generally shy away from non-controllable risks. While the guy is a civil-engineer, TFA doesn't say whether he has training or experience in nuclear technology or health physics either.

    That said, I think it would be awesome to have a back-yard cyclotron. Imagine all the cool things you could do, activate pennies, evil radioactive monsters, become THE HULK, etc.

    • Seconded. If you whack a heavy metal target with a good enough e- stream it is bound to spit at least some high energy X-rays. I am not sure if you can get gamma rays on a "backyard" device, but X-rays should not be a problem.
    • by AB3A (192265)
      I presume this guy has a reasonable "back yard." The article didn't say how large his property was. Assuming that Swank has room for a reasonable building in his back yard to house this endeavor, I don't see why this is any different than a garden shed or a garage.

      With all those household chemicals, pesticides, sprayers, fertilizers and the like, one could easily mix them wrong and gas the neighborhood to death. The gasoline from the lawn mower might leak and cause an explosion from the fumes. The pesti
    • That said, I think it would be awesome to have a back-yard cyclotron. Imagine all the cool things you could do, activate pennies, evil radioactive monsters, become THE HULK, etc.

      You've just hit on the real reason that they don't what it. They don't want their kids visiting him and becoming The Hulk or Spiderman.
    • Re:NIMBY! (Score:3, Informative)

      by jafiwam (310805)
      I don't think I would want my home computer(s) on the same local transformer loop on the electrical grid either.

      UPSs and surge protectors can only do so much.

      That guy is going to be using A LOT of power and have BIG magnets for that thing.

      Maybe he should move his buisiness to I dunno... maybe a comercial park or something where that sort of stuff is better tolerated. A buisness running from a home that causes problems for the residents in a residential neighborhood needs to shut down or move IMO.
    • Re:NIMBY! (Score:3, Informative)

      by bigpat (158134)
      While obviously a cyclotron can't compare to a commercial nuclear power plant, I wouldn't want my neighbor building one. Aside from self-electrocution, they can release high energy photons which could reach other people, if improperly shielded. There is also the issue with any radioactive waste he may produce. The risk may be miniscule, but people generally shy away from non-controllable risks. While the guy is a civil-engineer, TFA doesn't say whether he has training or experience in nuclear technology or
    • Re:NIMBY! (Score:3, Informative)

      by polypody (928276)
      Fortunately even high-energy X-rays (which is what you would be dealing with in terms of photons) don't get very far in air so the guys neighbors will be safe. That's why the dentist jams the x-ray machine in your jaw. I worked for several years around synchrotrons and the major risk is electrocution, NOT radiation.
    • Re:NIMBY! (Score:3, Informative)

      by iabervon (1971)
      A small cyclotron is probably no more likely to leak nastiness than a microwave or CRT, and his cyclotron would presumably get inspected on occasion. It's not like it uses hazardous fuel or is self-sustaining. (For that matter, a cyclotron isn't particularly "nuclear"; it accelerates either ions or electrons). If I were his neighbor, I'd be primarily concerned about him overloading the electrical wires in the neighborhood or erasing his guests' credit cards with the big electromagnet.

      TFA does say that he's
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:16AM (#14184124)
    I bet he wants to use dihydrogen monoxide as a coolant too. Got to watch out its dangerous stuff. http://www.dhmo.org/ [dhmo.org]
  • ...is never a good way to describe a potential risk or accident.

    We will know it didn't work by the 20 foot crater where the guy's house used to be.
  • by bxbaser (252102) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:19AM (#14184140)
    call attaention to my cyclotron and they will pass laws and ordanaces banning them ,and i just replaced the electrode cooling pipes with a radiator from a 1972 ford maverick.
  • by mabus42 (805037) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:20AM (#14184145)
    in the article they quote an expert from fermilab. incidentally i grew up less than 5 miles from there and all i have to show from it is this third eye and multiple superfluous nipples. one of my neighbors was affected to the extent that he can set things on fire by only using his mind... why did i have to get the shaft when it comes to deformities/mutations caused by cyclotrons? WHY GOD WHY?!?!?
  • One of the historically frustrating parts of the "practice" of physics, particularly nuclear physics, is that one normally cannot just "do" physics on your own, such as setup a bevatron in the backyard. Well, at least that used to be true! :).

    Of course there are now other cutting edge fields that also are now open to low power and smaller scale/lower cost experimentation as well. These include fun with lasers, slowing light through different mediums, and of course the ever popular tabletop "cold fusion"

  • This guy's running a business. If he's using industrial equipment, he should be in an industry-zoned location. Why would he be running it out of his house? Save money on a building? Avoid paying property taxes? Avoid OSHA regulation? Not so noble. It's not like he's a weekend inventor with contraptions in his basement that likely would only hurt himself. This is heavy-duty equipment (20T) that will be used by a (presumably) for-profit company.
  • by PhotoBoy (684898) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:23AM (#14184162)
    ... if he's found guilty of witchcraft?
  • 1. Cyclotron
    2. Build own stargate with postorder material
    3. Build warp engine
    4. Build working deathstar on 1:1 scale
    5. Build new porch at house so car can stand in shadow in the hot Alaskan summers.
  • Folks may be (perhaps legitimately) worried that property values might drop significantly in the surrounding area if this guy gets his way (I know it's Alaska, but let's pretend it's Anytown, USA). I understand that argument that it's your property and therefore your right to do whatever you want with it, neighbors be damned, etc., but if that's the way you feel, think about Joe Anchorage when he gets transferred back to the Continental US in six months and finds that his property's value just took a 33% c
    • Re:Property Values (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timster (32400) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:51AM (#14184310)
      There's nothing legitimate about an obsession with "property values". Nobody has a right for their property to maintain a certain value. If land speculation is a critical part of your retirement plan, you might want to consider some less risky investments.
  • by waterford0069 (580760) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:44AM (#14184275) Homepage
    Dr Ray Stantz: You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't had a successful test of this equipment.
    Dr. Egon Spengler: I blame myself.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: So do I.
    Dr Ray Stantz: Well, no sense in worrying about it now.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.
  • by dotmax (642602) on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:44AM (#14184278)
    These things are not toys. They make prompt and residual radiation. It's made to transmute elements into radioactive forms. Concern is not unreasonable.

    Again: this machine will be used to make radioisotopes. Short half lives or not, the proximal homowners have a legitamite reason to be concerned about a radioisotope factory next to their homes. What about contamination issues?

    2: It is reasonable to have some concern about shielding. Anything energetic enough to make radionuclides can also make X-rays by the assload. Given that we're talking nuclear transmutation, a concern about neutron radiation (fairly long ranged and not stopped by standard rad shielding).

    ASS-U-Ming the installation will be industry standard, there shouldn't be a problem. If this guy doesn't know what he's doing, he could cause problems. Given that nobody seems to know what his specific shielding and radcon/exposure control plan is... he screwed up by not getting preapproved in advance.

    FWIW, i have run a re-tasked SDI helium-3 RFQ PET accelerator, and currently run the Tevatron, have manufactured antiprotons for the last 7 years send the Giant NuMI Neutrino beam from Fermilab to Minnesota, so i have a clue.

    Let us rise above our usu. cynical smirking condescencion and allow as how the loi polloi have a legit concern in this instance. .max
  • If his neighbors are going to get up in arms about negligible radiation hazards, who don't they also ban cosmic rays while they're at it?

    -jcr

  • by NLG (636251) on Monday December 05, 2005 @10:08AM (#14184405)
    Farnsworth: "So what are you doing to protect my constitutional right to bear doomsday devices?"
    NRA Guy: "Well, first off, we're gonna get rid of that three day waiting period for mad scientists."
    Farnsworth: "Damn straight! Today the mad scientist can't get a doomsday device, tomorrow it's the mad grad student! Where will it end?!"
    NRA Guy: "Amen, brother. I don't go anywhere without my mutated anthrax. For duck huntin'."

    This story made me think of this. Am I the only one?
  • what kind of christmas light shows could he make with this?

    create his own aurora borealis? (although redundant, since he's in alaska)

    and i don't see how anyone can oppose this guy if they accept the principle of existing contemporary christmas light displays that consume more power and emit more radiation than your average cyclotron

  • by crovira (10242) on Monday December 05, 2005 @10:15AM (#14184447) Homepage
    I'm sorry if the word nuclear in anything scares some people but this cyclotron is for generating microscopic amounts of nucleotides for use in radiology.

    He isn't some towel-head deforming the unborn in the name of some thing unspeakable or likely to blow up the neighborhood as the equipment is more likely to screw with people's TV signals than to leave a smokin' crater.

    Next they'll riot and walk 'round with pitchforks in front of the dentist's because he's got an X-Ray machine. What?
  • by grolaw (670747) on Monday December 05, 2005 @10:21AM (#14184482) Journal
    Look folks, the amount of material produced would be very, very small - on the order of micro or pico curies of the DIAGNOSTIC isotope of fluorine - that has a 6 hour half-life!

    Iodine 131 is another reagent common in treating thyroid cancers...

    Molybdenum has an isotope with a half-life measured in seconds! Used in scintillation scans of soft tumors. Molybdenum has six stable isotopes and almost two dozen radioisotopes, the vast majority of which have half-lives measured in seconds. Mo-99 is used in sorpation generators to create Tc-99 for the medical nuclear isotope industry.

    Finally, the cyclotron is not radioactive - it bombards the target element to create an isotope that is radioactive. I'd live next door to one - even in Anchorage (spent last August in that city) with the extrodinary earthquake & tsunamai risk - because the cyclotron could only release the very small amount of material that it was bombarding at the time of a catastrophic failure.

    Also, have any of you folks noticed that AK is 5 time zones removed from the East Coast? You simply can't ship these short-lived isotopes.

    Many hospitals have cyclotrons for that very reason! Others have manufacturers in the same city. Not the case in AK.
  • This thing is probably far less dangerous then the industrial x-ray machines they use to check for metal fatigue, and welding integrity.

    The neighbors biggest worry should be problems with their wifi when its operational.

  • by pyite (140350) on Monday December 05, 2005 @10:49AM (#14184693)
    Such a silly thing to oppose. There's a cyclotron a few hundred feet from me and I'm not frightened. I'm right next door to Rutgers Physics' Cyclotron [rutgers.edu]. Maybe I'm not frightened because there is NO DANGER. *Sigh*

  • ... the obscure "Time-Lime Home Cyclotron" completes the series coveted by collectors!!!
  • > "Probably the worst thing that could happen with small cyclotrons is that the operator might electrocute themselves."

    Or send himself to another world! [apple2.org.za]
  • by moorley (69393) on Monday December 05, 2005 @11:47AM (#14185152)
    I'm still getting used to living in the states, but there are times I do miss Anchorage. The folks there are... unique ;-)

    West Anchorage Highschool was a place of many tales as well. Underground bunkers that students from all over the district would try to sneak into the ductwork and access ways to go see. I even remember seeing a bunch of them down through an access plate in Junior Hall a good 20 feet down. Underground newspapers and pranks. But that's another tale.

    If you ever get the chance to visit Anchorage it's a fun town. Nothing like living at the biggest town at the tip of the Western United States expansion. I wouldn't trade my youth there for anything.
  • by Hosiah (849792) on Monday December 05, 2005 @11:54AM (#14185216)
    Human stupidity. DON'T TELL THEM that you're building this scientific thing with lots of scary big words in it. Tell them it's a shed for your gardening tools. Hell, it's Canada, tell them you're growing pot.

    Even when a young lad, I heeded it well: "An ounce of keeping your mouth shut beats a ton of explanation." That's saved my ass - in every imaginable context.

  • by whitroth (9367) <whitroth AT 5-cent DOT us> on Monday December 05, 2005 @12:11PM (#14185330) Homepage
    ... or maybe slept through it in elementary school. Hell, my *high* *school* had a cyclotron, and this was the early-to-mid sixties. (If you're wondering, Central High, in Philly.)

    But that's like the idiot article that a friend passed along to me, who's worried about the plutonium-powered RTG on the Pluto mission "polluting space with radioactivity" (I'm not making this up!)

                    mark
  • They have no clue. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doit3d (936293) on Monday December 05, 2005 @12:28PM (#14185483)
    I work in medicine. A cyclotron is just simply a big circular magnet. Electrocution from the power driving the magnets is the most dangerous thing possible, IMHO. Sheilding in the area where the drugs are bombarded by the machine to create the isotopes is quite adequate. Handeling procedures in place for these drugs and machines used in their production by the FDA, NRC, & other medical oversite organizations is very extensive. Here are just a few drugs off the top of my head that are used commonly that have short useful working span: Technetium-99m has a half-life of 6 hours. Fludeoxyglucose has a half-life of 109.8 minutes. C-11 methionine has a half-life of 20 minutes. ...and the list goes on. Many drugs used in diagnosis & treatment of cancers & other ailments require an on-site cyclotron because of the short half-life. It is not possibly to make these drugs in the lower states & fly them to Alaska in a timely mannor for them to be effective for dianosis and/or treatment. What this gentelman wants to do is needed & I commend him for trying to help others.The people who are against him building this thing are not very well informed.
    • by jafiwam (310805)
      There's a difference between arguing "need" and "needs to be here".

      The guy can do that in a comercial park somewhere in Anchorage rather than a residential neighborhood.

      Problem solved.
  • No big deal (Score:3, Funny)

    by loose_cannon_gamer (857933) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:24PM (#14188372)
    I don't know what the big deal is. I watched a couple of documentaries back in the 80's about guys who ran around with unlicensed nuclear accelerators on their backs, and it was fine. They mentioned something about 'total protonic reversal', but even when they did that intentionally, it didn't seem like a big deal. And that was New York, not the middle of nowhere, Alaska.

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