GONE FISSION

So two guys from Hawaii have started a lawsuit to stop the CERN project as they fear that it might destroy the universe. CERN is the European Centre for Nuclear Research and it is their Large Hadron Collider project that is at the centre of the lawsuit. The two claim that the project might create a black hole, which could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.”

All of this reminds me of the Joint European Taurus (JET) project based in Culham which is doing research into nuclear fusion as a future method of generating power. Current nuclear power stations use nuclear fission and generate lots of nasty waste which fusion does not. The JET project has a way of crashing particles together which generate energy (in the form of heat) as a by product of the process.*

I visited JET during one of their open days probably about the same time that I was doing poorly at O Level Physics. I remember very clearly being told/hearing/making up that if one of the particles that was being accelerated around the ring hit the sides it would blow a hole in the Earth 40 miles in diameter. That would have been enough to include where I was living at the time and where I am sitting now. So you can see why the guys in Hawaii are getting conCERNed about this.

What I find even more amazing is that I accepted this fact and lived with it for the next 30 years. I certainly didn’t stop my guide on the tour and ask him what safety features had been built in to ensure that I wasn’t going to be blown into outer space with some force. Nor did I ask to see the HSE risk assessment that was bound to have been carried out – now that must have been a weighty document.

I also remember that Fusion was the great big hope for the future of energy at a time when the oil reserves were going to have run out by the year 2000 and we needed a clean, reliable alternative pretty quickly. I had envisioned that by now we would all be going round in De Lorian cars with a device looking suspiciously like a sodastream on the back delivering fusion based drive (time travel strictly optional). However, none of this has to date come about.

So should we be ConCERNed about the Large Hadron Collider? Well under normal circumstances I would say no but this is a massive project with input from twenty different European countries. These are the same countries that can’t agree on the outcome of a singing contest each year… Also the number languages that the documents must have to be translated into leads one to wonder about the ability of the translators to get the nuances correct. I have worked with enough developers to know that it is sometimes difficult to workout what is meant to be going on from a document written in your native language. It only takes for someone to mistranslate the size of a bolt and we are one step away from being a black hole.

If that isn’t enough to get you to sign up for the inaugural Virgin Galactic flight then take a look at the video on the link below. However, better be quick as the Collider goes live in May ‘08.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7334208.stm

*NOTE: this paragraph contains my understanding of nuclear fusion. It is inevitably going to be incorrect since I only got a “C” at O Level Physics some 30 years ago. Check the facts for yourself, links provided!