ISIS Report 24/10/07
Transmutation, The Alchemist Dream Come True
Not just base metals into gold; but the profuse creation of elements that
is rewriting the book of genesis. Dr.
A fully referenced
and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website, or available for download here
Cold fusion scientists have managed, not so much to transmute base metals
into gold (although there have been unconfirmed reports to that effect), but
more spectacularly, to make a whole range of elements on the lab bench, with
equipment not much more sophisticated than what the ancient alchemists might
have used. In the process, nuclear energy is released - safely and without
toxic or radioactive wastes - that could be harnessed for heating or to generate
electricity  (see From
Cold Fusion to Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, SiS 36).
In addition, there
is the attractive possibility of solving the world’s nuclear waste problem
(see Box) by transmuting highly radioactive and toxic nuclear wastes from
conventional nuclear reactors into safer non-radioactive elements .
The world’s nuclear waste problem
The most pressing nuclear
waste problem is the high level radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors.
It contains nuclear fission products and transuranic elements (with atomic
numbers greater than uranium) generated in the reactor core, which have
half-lives greater than 20 years, in some cases thousands, or tens of thousands
of years .
The US Environment
Protection Agency recognizes the ionising radiation from nuclear wastes
as a serious health hazard . Acute exposures result in radiation sickness,
burns, premature aging, or even death. Cancers and birth defects result
from stochastic exposure. Some radioactive waste elements, such as U-238,
are both radioactive and highly toxic. U-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion
Nuclear wastes also
constitute a major security concern, as they could be acquired by terrorist
organisations or rogue nations and turned into nuclear weapons.
It is estimated that
high level nuclear wastes is currently increasing by about 12 000 tonnes
every year. Most of this waste is put into long-term storage after complicated
treatments such as converting into glass or various concrete blocks. However,
finding long-term storage sites that are safe and geologically stable remain
a hot political issue in most countries.
come in two classes [5, 6]. The first class of reactions result in a large
array of products with mass numbers spanning across the periodic table; these
may involve the formation of a heavy compound nucleus that can decay and split
into different elements (but see later). The second class of reactions give
distinct, isolated products directly, without the compound nucleus intermediate.
These ‘cold’ or low
energy transmutation reactions are remarkably easy to accomplish compared
to the conventional ‘hot’ nuclear reactions that are supposed to take place
in stars or supernova explosions, or else only at millions of degrees K.
By 2003, transmutation
experiments have been studied in some detail by over 14 separate laboratories
worldwide: Beijing University and Tsinghua University in China; Lab des Sciences
Nucleaire in France; Frascati Laboratory and University of Leece in Italy;
Hokkaido University, Mitsubishi Corporation, Osaka university, and Shizuoka
University in Japan; SIA LUTCH, Tomsk Polytechnical University in Russia;
Portland University USA, Texas A & M University, and University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign in the USA .
The minimum requirement
for transmutation is a metal hydride film or membrane loaded up with hydrogen
or deuterium to a high level, and kept in constant flux [5-8]. Electrode materials
have ranged from carbon, nickel, to uranium. The metal hydride can be loaded
by electrolysis of water or heavy water using a thin film of the metal as
cathode; or else deuterium gas can be made to diffuse through the metal membrane
by injecting the gas on one side and evacuating from the other side . But
a wide variety of experimental conditions have been used to trigger or speed
up the reactions, including surface plasma electrolysis, plasma discharge,
laser initiation and external electric or magnetic fields.
George Miley’s team at the University
of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the United States is one of the main groups
involved in transmutation . They used multi-layer thin film nickel, palladium
or titanium  coated by sputtering on polystyrene microspheres, and loaded
up to a high level of hydrogen by packing the coated beads in the cathode
of an electrolytic cell. The products of nuclear reaction were documented
carefully with a combination of secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and
neutron activation analysis (NAA). SIMS detects most isotopes and is very
sensitive but covers only a small area, typically a single microsphere, and
is not very accurate. NAA on the other hand gives very accurate analysis of
the entire electrode, but is restricted to detecting only certain elements.
A combination of the two methods enabled the team to study a large number
of isotopes. An overlap in the data set allowed a more accurate re-standardisation
of the SIMS data to the more accurate NAA measurements.
A typical experiment
is run continuously for 260 hours, resulting in a wide variety of elements.
There are four high yield peaks in the atomic mass of 22-23, 50-80, 103-120
and 200-210. This pattern is generally consistent with results obtained by
other research groups. Non-natural isotope distributions have been found for
some elements, which is also a sign of nuclear reactions.
The most commonly reported
elements are calcium, copper, zinc and iron. They were found in more than
20 different experiments. Forty percent of the least frequently observed elements
were rare earths from the lanthanide group: lutetium, terbium praseodymium,
europium, samarium, gadolinium, dysprosium, holmium, neodymium and ytterbium.
There were other
effects associated with nuclear transmutation. These include energetic charged
particles, protons (~1.6 MeV) and alpha (~16 MeV) emissions, and low level
soft X-ray emissions. Excess heat was also produced simultaneously. Based
on binding energy calculation, Miley concluded that the rate of transmutation
correlates well with the excess power produced.
have been obtained with both light and heavy water solutions, but heavy water
appears to give a larger number of transmutation products under some conditions.
Direct transmutation of single elements
Yasuhiro Iwamura and colleagues at Mitsubishi’s Advanced
Technology Research Center and colleagues have taken another approach to nuclear
transmutation by concentrating on the direct transmutation of one element
into another [10, 11].
They used D2 gas permeation through a sandwich of thin alternating
layers of palladium (Pd) and CaO sitting on a bottom layer of bulk Pd. Permeation
of deuterium is forced through the layers by exposing the top of the sandwich
with a thin Pd film to D2 gas while the bottom is maintained under
vacuum. On the D2 gas side, dissociative absorption causes the
D2 molecules to separate into D atoms, which diffuse though the
sandwich towards the vacuum side, where they emerge from the Pd metal, combine
and are released as D2 gas (see Fig. 1). The element to be transmuted
is deposited on the top Pd film of the Pd/CaO sandwich by electrolytic loading
from a salt solution. Cesium (Cs), barium (Ba) and strontium (Sr) have been
transmuted in this way. The analysis of elements was done in situ,
without removing or disturbing the sandwich, using X-ray photoemission spectroscopy
(XPS) directed at the topside of the sandwich
1. Transmutation by permeation (see text)
A typical experiment
lasts for about a week or two. Cs has been transmuted into praseodymium (Pr)
reproducibly in more than 60 experiments. Sr was transmuted into molybdenum
(Mo) in three experiments lasting two weeks, the resulting Mo differed in
isotope composition from natural Mo.
Based on an analysis
of the depth profile of Pr, it appears that a very thin surface region of
up to 10 nanometres is the active transmutation zone.
In the experiment
involving transmutation of Ba to Sm, different isotopes of Ba resulted in
the correspondingly different isotopes of Sm. 138Ba transmuted
into 150Sm, and 137Ba transmuted into 149Sm,
the increase in atomic mass was 12 in both cases, and atomic number 6. In
both the transmutation of Cs to Pr and Sr to Mo, the increase in atomic mass
was 8, and atomic number 4.
The role of the CaO layer was revealed in an experiment
in which Cs was transmuted to Pr . In all three samples with the normal
Pd/CaO sandwich, Pr was found as the end product, but not in an experiment
without a CaO layer; nor in two experiments in which the CaO layer was replaced
by MgO. The CaO layer appeared to increase the deuterium density 10-fold compared
to palladium alone. The layer also has a very negative free energy, so that
the transition metal Pd serves as a source of interface electrons to screen
the positive charges of the deuterons from one another , thereby facilitating
fusion and transmutation. It is thought that fusion may have occurred between
deuterons to form helium, 4He2, which then further fuses
with the heavier nuclei to give the end product.
editor of 21st Century Science and Technology commented that Iwamra’s
work implies a revolution in our understanding of the nucleus, a fundamental
breakthrough in science, compared to which, practical applications, even one
so necessary as a new supply of cheap, clean energy, is of secondary importance
The most common products of conventional thermonuclear fusion are about 3
to 4 MeV, and that involves an enormous amount of energy input to accelerate
apha particles to one-tenth the velocity of light. Iwamura’s transmutation
yields 50 to 67 MeV, with the greatest of ease, or very little energy input
Allen Widom at Northeastern University Boston and Lewis
Larsen of Lattice Energy recently proposed a mechanism that could account
for a wide range of fusion and transmutation reactions  (for an accessible
account read How
Cold Fusion Works , SiS 36). They suggested that the surface
of metallic hydrides fully saturated with protons develop collective electron
and proton surface plasma oscillations (plasmons) that enable the electrons
to gain sufficient mass to be captured by protons resulting in ultra-low momentum
neutrons. In a subsequent paper, they showed how these ultra-low momentum
neutrons could be absorbed (captured) by heavier nuclei to produce new elements
across the Periodic Table . The expected chemical nuclear abundances resulting
from such neutron absorption fit the available low energy transmutation experimental
data quite well.
feature of such nuclear transmutations is that they do not need special mechanisms
to penetrate the high Coulomb barrier, as proposed in other models.
First of all,
the experimental distribution in atomic mass number A of the low energy nuclear reaction products measured in laboratory
chemical cells are similar to the nuclear abundances found in our local solar
system and galaxy. Furthermore, these maxima and minima in abundances resemble
those predicted in the ultra-low momentum neutron absorption reaction cross-section
(the likelihood of interactions), treating the neutron as a wave. Thus, it
raises fundamental questions as to whether the conventional astrophysical
account of how the elements are created in our stars and galaxies under thermonuclear
conditions is correct.
based on treating the ultra-low momentum neutron as a wave results in a quasi-periodic
curve: the peaks of reaction corresponds to the neutron wave fitting inside
the spherical model potential wells of the nuclei, the radius of the well
varying with atomic mass.
Data on the
yields of transmutation product in an experiment using light water containing
Li2SO4 in an electrolytic cell are plotted on the graph
(see Figure 2). As can be seen, there is a reasonable correspondence between
the experimental points and the predicted peaks and troughs of the neutron
cross-section. The magnitude of the transmuted nuclear yields varies from
one experimental run to another, but the agreement with the predicted curve
remains over all experiments, and regardless of whether the electrode is titanium
hydride, palladium hydride or layered Pd-Ni hydride.
Figure 2. Experimental abundance of elements (filled
circles) superimposed on neutron absorption cross-section as a function of
atomic mass (continuous line)
When the neutron wavelength
within the well reaches resonance with the radius of the well, a peak appears
in the scattering strength. If we associate resonant couplings with the ability
of the neutron to be virtually trapped in a region near the nucleus, then
for intervals of atomic mass numbers around and under the resonant peaks,
we could expect to obtain recently discovered neutron ‘halo’ nuclei (nuclei
that have a clear separation between a normal core nucleus and a loosely bound
low-density ‘halo’ of neutrons outside the core). The spherical potential
well model predicts the stable regions for the halo nuclei and thus the peaks
in observed nuclear transmutation abundances.
The neutrons yielding
the abundances in our local solar system and galaxy have often been previously
assumed to arise entirely from thermonuclear processes and supernova explosions
in the stars. These assumptions may be suspect in the light of the evidence
from low energy nuclear reactions. Widom and Larsen remark: “It appears entirely
possible that ultralow momentum neutron absorption may have an important role
to play in the nuclear abundances not only in chemical cells but also in our
local solar system and galaxy.”
The story of our
universe has been created may well have to be rewritten.