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The Controversy of a Potential Hafnium Bomb 499

deglr6328 writes "Physics Today has a report detailing the surprisingly heated controversy surrounding the usually sober science of nuclear isomers (the Washington Post has run a less scientifically rigorous version). Since the 70's it has been known that the specific "m2" isomer of Hafnium-178 has an extraordinarily long half life of 31 years (nuclear isomers usually have half-lives on orders of pico or nanoseconds) and on decaying, emits high energy gamma rays at ~2.5 Mev. The prospect of energy storage and rapid release in Hf-178 for the puropse of creating large energy stores, bombs and even exotic gamma ray lasers did not escape the interest of Reagan era Star Wars researchers and was seriously studied for a time during SDI's heyday, but was eventually abandoned after being considered unfeasible. Then, in 1999, Carl Collins at the Univ. of Texas Center for Quantum Electronics reported inducing energy release from Hf-178 by bombarding a sample with X-rays (from a dental machine no less). Immediately, comments about the article were submitted, pointing out inconsistencies with basic nuclear theory and the controversy has only grown since then, with claims and counter-claims of flawed experimental design, incompetence and irrational theories in feuds reminiscent of the cold fusion debacle of the late 80's. It's seeming more unlikely as the arguments drag on, but if a Hafnium bomb could be built, it is thought that a golf ball sized chunk could produce the energy equivalent of 10 tons of conventional explosives."
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The Controversy of a Potential Hafnium Bomb

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