Tacky ions can be so diverting

19 October 2001

Energy policy phenomena have repeatedly taken many of us by surprise this new century. Among the wonders of 2001 has been the return to mentionability of nuclear power. Not that that reviled resource has become any less a hate object for its more fervent foes. Indeed for some it has seemed to become more loathsome than ever.

Things were not ever thus. Long ago, before nuclear energy was demonised, it was thought so admirable that it became a favourite for pop science expositions. Senior readers of MPS may remember, as examples of the genre, ‘atomic energy’ writings illustrated by pictures of ‘swimming pool’ reactors. These reactors were thought particularly evocative because of their strange blue internal illumination. Cerenkov radiation, of which the blue light was a manifestation, used to mystify backward pupils like me. We did not quite take in the glib analogy that our mentors drew between (a) its causation by the passage of charged particles through a transparent medium and (b) the causation of atmospheric shock waves by the passage of supersonic aircraft.

The ‘sonic boom’ was a well publicised byproduct of the then-novel supersonic aircraft. So what could be more natural – we were expected to think – than a shock wave created in an electromagnetic field when a charged particle went through the medium faster than light could travel in it? Backward pupils like me went on to be confused by talk of a hypothetical sub-atomic particle, called a tachyon, which was capable of producing Cerenkov radiation by travelling faster (and indeed, never more slowly) than light through a vacuum, bewilderingly without violating Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As far as 1 knew in more recent times, until I received certain intelligence of which I am about to tell you, the tachyon had remained as hypothetical and undetected a particle as it had always been.

In the editorial offices of MPS and our sister paper Nuclear Engineering International, we have been fascinated by website (www.nucleostop.onlinehome.de) information on a new German device called Nucleo-STOP. We have gazed in awe at a diagram of the fission of a U235 nucleus showing, among the fission products, a ‘tachyon impulse’. This emanation claimedly puts an ineradicable signature on any electric current produced by a nuclear power station, whatever its type of reactor (PWR, BWR etc) and, by implication, whatever its type of steam-driven generating plant.

The Nucleo-STOP is described as a compact, maintenance-free, high-technology electronic device in an elegant polymeric case, that can be fitted in the home without the help of an electrician and without need for a licence. The device is promised not only to filter out and divert the nuclear content of mains electricity, before it can enter any domestic appliance, but also to send the tachyon-branded amps right back to their supplier so that ‘the atom lobby’ can profit from them no longer.

You can imagine the consternation of German ‘atom lobby’ engineers staring, as we humble scribblers have stared, at the photographs of this device, complete with its ‘single-electron reverse-unit’ and its ‘three-way tachyion (sic) detector’.

The Nucleo-STOP is proudly announced to have been the subject of something called the Franz-Pöhlmann Design Award. Our inquiries have so far failed to reveal this award’s precise nature or provenance. Nor have we discovered who exactly were the lucky winners.

The whole thing seems so magnificently pseud that I cannot help wondering whether it is a practical joke played for the diversion of the pranksters or whether it is a satire put together with subtle pro-nuclear intent. What it surely cannot be is anything as simple as a moneymaking scam . . . can it?

Genset juice is also different

Business presspeople may always be numerate and often literate but they can at times be less than technicate.

An internationally respected, UK-based, newspaper, The Financial Times, opened a contemporary news item with the words, ‘Electricity finally came to the Hebrides island of Muck yesterday with the launch of a wind power system’. Reading further, one learnt that the hitherto deprived islanders had ‘for years relied on diesel generators’.

But ‘electricity will not flow around the clock’, the writer added. During certain periods ‘diesel power will kick in automatically to supply the island’. If the wind drops, that is.

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