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405) AmoTerra Process:

Destruction of Low Level Radioactive Waste?

Ludwik Kowalski; 5/6/2012

Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, USA

Nine years ago in Unit #186 click I wrote: "According to (2), a Canadian company is about ready to start destroying radioactive waste on an industrial scale. [Mrs. Anderson] said that the apparatus built for the company is able to destroy 50% of radium, whose half-life is known to be 1620 years, in only 3 days. It also changes thorium into lead. ... They plan to move to highly radioactive waste later. I said that I would like to come and observe the pyrolytic device in operation. They said that they would invite me, probably in several weeks. I hope this will happen; I would be happy to write a unit on the first industrial application of what is, according to Monti, a cold fusion transmutation process. Will they allow me to make some measurements? This remains to be seen." On 4/2/2012 I received the email message from Mrs. Anderson; she wrote:

"Dear Ludwik: A long time has passed since you last heard from us and much has happened. With a heavy heart, I am informing you that Ernst, my husband of nearly twenty years, passed over on November 28, 2011. It was totally unexpected and an enormous shock. However, I am proceeding on with our project." Responding to my short reply she informed me that the name of the company is now called AmoTerra, and that Roberto Monti is no longer part of it.

We started corresponding and I had a chance to familiarize myself with their ATM process. Here is a brief discription of it, based on what I read in materials sent to me by Eleonora. They begin with several grams of thorium, in the form of an oxide (ash from burning commercially available lantern mantles). They mix this original material with nearly 2 kg of proprietary combustibles and burn the mixture in a stainless furnace, for about 2 minutes, at the temperature of about 1000 C.

They claim that approximately 50% of thorium (plus or minus 20%, depending on conditions) is transmuted into non-radioactive isotopes, or into isotopes which decay much more rapidly than thorium (within days). The equipment used is commercially available, except the secret combustible mixed with the initial radioactive material. They used three approaches to validate the thorium destruction claim: gamma ray spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy, and nuclear activation analysis.

Suppose I accidentally discovered that placing powdered thorium into milk, for ten minutes, destroys a large fraction of that radiactive metal. What would I do to convince myselve, and others, that my claim is valid? I would also begin with gamma ray spectroscopy. The amount of thorium can be determined from its speciphic activity, A, that is from knowing how many atoms decay in each second in each gram of 232Th. That well known number, calculated from the half-life (14 billin years), is 3940. It does not depend on the kind of structure in which the element is found: solid metal, thorium oxide, thoriom salt, thorium solution, etc.

Suppose one gram of thorium is placed at a distance of 20 cm from a gamma ray detector and that the number of counts recorded per second is M=1000. That allows us to calculate the coefficient of proportionality, k, between the activity A and the measured counting rate, M. Knowing that

A=k*M

I would be able to say that k=3940/1000 = 3.94. The value of k depends on the size of the detector, and on its distance from the source. These two parameters--the detector and its distance from the source--must thus be kept constant when the amount of thorium is determined by measuring the counting rate, M.

Suppose the original counting rate, from a sample of thorium oxide, is M1=4000 per second. That means that the original activity is A1=3.94*4000 = 15760 per second. The corresponding mass of thorium is 15760/3940 = 4 grams. Suppose the final counting rate (after the sample was processed) is M2=2000 per second. The corresponding mass of thorium (calculated in the same way) is 2 grams. Could I conclude that the processing destroyed 50% of the original thorium? Yes I could, but not before convincing myself (and others) that no thorium was lost via escaping into the atmosphers, or remained in the apparatus. Loosing thorium in that way would have nothing to do with my claim--the destruction of thorium atoms.

Showing that nothing was lost would call for additional control experiments. This part of the procedure would probably be very demanding. Several independent confirmations of the "no hidden losses" would be necessary, considering the extraordinary nature of the claim--transmutation of thorium into another element, or elements.

The same approach would be used in the case of the activation analysis. The only difference would be that M1 and M2 would refer of counting rates due to radioactivity induced by neutrons, rather than to radioactivity of thorium.

In the case of the mass spectromerty, on the other hand, the M1 and M2 could refer, for example, to measured heights of the 232Th peak in the mass spectra, before and after processing. The most difficult part of the procedure--showing that nothing was lost--does not depend on which approach is used.

Added on 5/8/2012

Using my numerical illustration (4 grams of Th-232 initially and 2 grams finally) let me imagine the worse possible scenario. Suppose that these 2 grams  of thorium are lost rather than transmuted. Even in this case the lost activity is only:

2*3940=7880 decays per second

Suppose that all this is uniformly distributed over the area of 100 square meters (106 cm2). This is the floor of a small classroom or of a large living room. The activity per unit surface would be:

7880 / 1,000,000=0.008 decays/cm2 per second (or 28 decays/cm2 per hour.)  

Monitoring this kind of contamination would not be easy. To demonstrate the "nothing is lost" I would use radium instead of thorium. 226Ra decays about 8.6 million times fastes than 232Th. Suppose two grams of radium (rather than thorium) is uniformly distributed over the area of 100 square meters. In that case the activity of each square centimeter would be 6.8 million decays per second. That would be much easier to measure than 7880 decays per second.

Needless to say, experimenting with grams of 226Ra, 60Co, or 241Am, even if these materials were availabe, and if using them were legal, would be fulish. A tiny fraction of one gram would be sufficient to conduct a "nothing-was-lost" test. Furthermore, such tests can also be condicted with non-radioactive isotopes, such as 36S, whose natural abundace is only 0.02% . This is only a speculation; I do not know how practical this would be. The 37S, produced from this stable isotope via neutron bombardment, is beta and gamma radioactive.

As one can see, I am assuming that a potentially-possible loss via escaping would depend on how the AmoTerra equipment is designed and not on what element is being transmutted. This is not at all obvious.

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