New Drug Has Potential As Dirty Bomb Antidote

It perhaps goes without saying that one nuclear bomb can really ruin your day. The same is true for non-nuclear dirty bombs, which just use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material over a wide area. Either way, the debris scattered by any type of radiation weapon has the potential to result in thousands or perhaps millions of injuries, for which modern medicine offers little in the way of relief.

HOPO 14-1, aka 3,4,3-Li(1,2-HOPO). The four hydroxypyridinone groups do the work of coordinating radioactive ions and making them soluble so they can be eliminated in urine.

But maybe not for long. A Phase 1 clinical trial is currently underway to see if an oral drug is able to scour radioactive elements from the human body. The investigational compound is called HOPO 14-1, a chelating agent that has a high affinity for metals in the actinide series, which includes plutonium, uranium, thorium, and cerium curium. Chelating agents, which are molecules that contain a multitude of electron donor sites, are able to bind to positively charged metal ions and make the soluble in aqueous solutions. Chelators are important in food and pharmaceutical processing — read the ingredients list on just about anything from a can of soda to a bottle of shampoo and you’re likely to see EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, which binds to any metal ions that make it into the product, particularly iron ions that come from the stainless steel plumbing used in processing equipment.

The compound under evaluation, HOPO 14-1, is a powerful chelator of metal ions. Its structure is inspired by natural chelators produced by bacteria and fungi, called siderophores, which help the microorganisms accumulate iron. Its mechanism of action is to sequester the radioactive ions and make them soluble enough to be passed out of the body in the urine, rather than to have the radioactive elements carried around the body and incorporated into the bones and other tissues where they can cause radiation damage for years.

HOPO 14-1 has a number of potential benefits over the current frontline chelator for plutonium and uranium toxicity, DTPA or diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid. Where DTPA needs to be injected intravenously to be effective, HOPO 14-1 can be made into a pill, making stockpiling and administering the drug easier. If, of course, it passes Phase 1 safety trials and survives later trials to determine efficacy.

Nuke Your Own Uranium Glass Castings In The Microwave

Fair warning: if you’re going to try to mold uranium glass in a microwave kiln, you might want to not later use the oven for preparing food. Just a thought.

A little spicy…

Granted, uranium glass isn’t as dangerous as it might sound. Especially considering its creepy green glow, which almost seems to be somehow self-powered. The uranium glass used by [gigabecquerel] for this project is only about 1% U3O8, and isn’t really that radioactive. But radioactive or not, melting glass inside a microwave can be problematic, and appropriate precautions should be taken. This would include making the raw material for the project, called frit, which was accomplished by smacking a few bits of uranium glass with a hammer. We’d recommend a respirator and some good ventilation for this step.

The powdered uranium glass then goes into a graphite-coated plaster mold, which was made from a silicone mold, which in turn came from a 3D print. The charged mold then goes into a microwave kiln, which is essentially an insulating chamber that contains a silicon carbide crucible inside a standard microwave oven. Although it seems like [gigabecquerel] used a commercially available kiln, we recently saw a DIY metal-melting microwave forge that would probably do the trick.

The actual casting process is pretty simple — it’s really just ten minutes in the microwave on high until the frit gets hot enough to liquefy and flow into the mold. The results were pretty good; the glass medallion picked up the detail in the mold, but also the crack that developed in the plaster. [gigabecquerel] thinks that a mold milled from solid graphite would work better, but he doesn’t have the facilities for that. If anyone tries this out, we’d love to hear about it.

The Intricacies Of Creating Fuel For Nuclear Reactors

All nuclear fission power reactors run on fuel containing uranium and other isotopes, but fueling a nuclear reactor is a lot more complicated than driving up to them with a dump truck filled with uranium ore and filling ‘er up. Although nuclear fission is simple enough that it can occur without human intervention as happened for example at the Oklo natural fission reactors, within a commercial reactor the goal is to create a nuclear chain reaction that targets a high burn-up (fission rate), with an as constant as possible release of energy.

Each different fission reactor design makes a number of assumptions about the fuel rods that are inserted into it. These assumptions can be about the enrichment ratio of the fissile isotopes like U-235, the density of individual fuel pellets, the spacing between the fuel rods containing these pellets, the configuration of said fuel rods along with any control, moderator and other elements. and so on.

Today’s light water reactors, heavy water reactors, fast neutron reactors, high temperature reactors and kin all have their own fuel preferences as a result, with high-assay low-enriched (HALEU) fuel being the new hot thing for new reactor designs. Let’s take a look at what goes into these fuel recipes.

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Roll The Radioactive Dice For Truly Random D&D Play

When you have a bunch of people gathered around a table for a “Dungeons & Dragons” session, you have to expect that things are not always going to go smoothly. After all, people who willingly create and immerse themselves in an alternate reality where one bad roll of the dice can lead to the virtual death of a character they’ve spent months or years with can be traumatic. And with that trauma comes the search for the guilty — it’s the dice! It’s always the dice!

Eliminating that excuse, or at least making it statistically implausible, is the idea behind this radioactively random dice roller. It comes to us from [Science Shack] and uses radioactive decay to generate truly random numbers, as opposed to the pseudorandom number generators baked into most microcontrollers. The design is based on [AlphaPhoenix]’s muon-powered RNG, but with a significant twist: rather than depending on background radiation, [Science Shack] brought the power of uranium to the party.

They obtained a sample of autunite, a weird-looking phosphate mineral that contains a decent amount of uranium, perfect for stimulating the Geiger counter built into the dice roller. Autunite also has the advantage of looking very cool under UV light, taking on a ghostly “fuel rod glow,” in the [Homer Simpson] sense. The decay-powered RNG at the heart of this build is used to simulate throws of every standard D&D die, from a D4 to a D100. The laser-cut hardboard case holds all the controls and displays, and also has some strategically placed openings to gaze upon its glowing guts.

We really like the design, but we have to quibble with the handling of the uranium ore; true, the specific activity of autunite is probably pretty low, but it seems like at least some gloves would have been in order.

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Optimizing The Mining Of Uranium From Coal Ash And Seawater

Of all the elements that make up the Earth’s crust, uranium is reasonably abundant, coming in at 49th place, ahead of elements such as tin, tungsten and silver. Ever since humankind began to exploit uranium for its fissile properties in energy production, this abundance has also translated into widespread availability for mining. As of 2019, Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia formed the world’s main producers, accounting for about 68% of output.

Considering the enormous energy density of uranium when used as fuel in a nuclear fission reactor, the demand for uranium is relatively low, especially combined with the long (two years on average) refueling cycles of commercial reactors. The effect is that even with the very inefficient once-through fuel cycle – which only uses a fraction of the uranium fuel’s potential energy – uranium market prices have remained relatively low and stable even amidst geopolitical crises.

Despite this, the gradual rise in uranium market prices ($10/lb in 2003, $49/lb in 2022), as well as the rapid construction of new reactors is driving new exploration. Here recent innovations may make uranium fuel even more accessible to all nations, by unlocking the billions of tons of uranium found in plain seawater as well as the many tons of fly ash produced by coal plants every single day.

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Mining And Refining: Helium

With a seemingly endless list of shortages of basic items trotted across newsfeeds on a daily basis, you’d be pardoned for not noticing any one shortage in particular. But in among the shortages of everything from eggs to fertilizers to sriracha sauce has been a growing realization that we may actually be running out of something so fundamental that it could have repercussions that will be felt across all aspects of our technological society: helium.

The degree to which helium is central to almost every aspect of daily life is hard to overstate. Helium’s unique properties, like the fact that it remains liquid at just a few degrees above absolute zero, contribute to its use in countless industrial processes. From leak detection and welding to silicon wafer production and cooling the superconducting magnets that make magnetic resonance imaging possible, helium has become entrenched in technology in a way that belies its relative scarcity.

But where does helium come from? As we’ll see, the second lightest element on the periodic table is not easy to come by, and considerable effort goes into extracting and purifying it enough for industrial use. While great strides are being made toward improved methods of extraction and the discovery of new deposits, for all practical purposes helium is a non-renewable resource for which there are no substitutes. So it pays to know a thing or two about how we get our hands on it.

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No-Melt Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ Might Win A Few Hearts And Minds

A nuclear power plant is large and complex, and one of the biggest reasons is safety. Splitting radioactive atoms is inherently dangerous, but the energy unleashed by the chain reaction that ensues is the entire point. It’s a delicate balance to stay in the sweet spot, and it requires constant attention to the core temperature, or else the reactor could go into meltdown.

Today, nuclear fission is largely produced with fuel rods, which are skinny zirconium tubes packed with uranium pellets. The fission rate is kept in check with control rods, which are made of various elements like boron and cadmium that can absorb a lot of excess neutrons. Control rods calm the furious fission boil down to a sensible simmer, and can be recycled until they either wear out mechanically or become saturated with neutrons.

Nuclear power plants tend to have large footprints because of all the safety measures that are designed to prevent meltdowns. If there was a fuel that could withstand enough heat to make meltdowns physically impossible, then there would be no need for reactors to be buffered by millions of dollars in containment equipment. Stripped of these redundant, space-hogging safety measures, the nuclear process could be shrunk down quite a bit. Continue reading “No-Melt Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ Might Win A Few Hearts And Minds”