The Arizona Highway Patrol were mystified when they came upon a pile of smoldering wreckage embedded in the side of a cliff rising above the road at the apex of a curve. The metal debris resembled the site of an airplane crash, but it turned out to be the vaporized remains of an automobile. The make of the vehicle was unidentifiable at the scene.
The folks in the lab finally figured out what it was, and pieced together the events that led up to its demise.
It seems that a former Air Force sergeant had somehow got hold of a JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) unit. JATO units are solid fuel rockets used to give heavy military transport airplanes an extra push for take-off from short airfields.
Dried desert lakebeds are the location of choice for breaking the world ground vehicle speed record. The sergeant took the JATO unit into the Arizona desert and found a long, straight stretch of road. He attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, accelerated to a high speed, and fired off the rocket.
The facts, as best as could be determined, are as follows:
The operator was driving a 1967 Chevy Impala. He ignited the JATO unit approximately 3.9 miles from the crash site. This was established by the location of a prominently scorched and melted strip of asphalt. The vehicle quickly reached a speed of between 250 and 300 mph and continued at that speed, under full power, for an additional 20-25 seconds. The soon-to-be pilot experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog-fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners.
The Chevy remained on the straight highway for approximately 2.6 miles (15-20 seconds) before the driver applied the brakes, completely melting them, blowing the tires, and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface. The vehicle then became airborne for an additional 1.3 miles, impacted the cliff face at a height of 125 feet, and left a blackened crater 3 feet deep in the rock.
Most of the driver's remains were not recovered; however, small fragments of bone, teeth, and hair were extracted from the crater, and fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel.
Ironically a still-legible bumper sticker was found,
"How do you like my driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT."
This is a very old spoof from the early 1970's at the latest.
The recent discovery of coal (black, fossilized plant remains) in a number of places offers an interesting alternative to the production of power from fission. Some of the places where coal has been found show indeed signs of previous exploitation by prehistoric men who, however, probably used it for jewels and to blacken their faces at religious ceremonies. The power potentials depend on the fact that coal can be readily oxidized, with the production of a high temperature and an energy of about 0.0000001 megawatt days per gram. That is, of course, very little, but large amounts of coal (perhaps millions of tons) appear to be available. The chief advantage is that the critical amount is very much smaller for coal than for any fissile material. Fission plants become, as is well known, uneconomical below 50 megawatts, and a coal driven plant may be competitive for small communities (such as small islands) with small power requirements.
The main problem is to achieve free, yet controlled, access of oxygen to the fuel elements. The kinetics of the coal-oxygen reaction are much more complicated than fission kinetics, and not yet completely understood. A differential equation, which approximates the behaviour of the reaction, has been set up, but its solution is possible only in the simplest cases. It is therefore proposed to make the reaction vessel in the form of a cylinder with perforated walls to allow the combustion gases to escape. A concentric inner cylinder, also perforated, serves to introduce the oxygen while the fuel elements are placed between the two cylinders. The necessary presence of end plates poses a difficult but not insoluble mathematical problem.
It is likely that these will be easier to manufacture than in the case of fission reactors. Canning is unnecessary and indeed undesirable since it would make it impossible for the oxygen to gain access to the fuel. Various lattices have been calculated, and it appears that the simples of all - a close packing of equal spheres - is likely to be satisfactory. Computations are in progress to determine the optimum size of the spheres and the required tolerances. Coal is soft and easy to machine; so the manufacture of the spheres should present no major problem.
Pure oxygen is of course ideal but costly; it is therefore proposed to use air in the first place. However, it must be remembered that air contains 78% nitrogen. If even a fraction of that combined with the carbon of the coal to form the highly toxic gas cyanogen this would constitute a grave health hazard (see below).
To start the reaction one requires a fairly high temperature of about 988°F; this is most conveniently achieved by passing an electrical current between the inner and outer cylinder (the end plates being made of insulating ceramic.) A current of several thousand amps; is needed, at some thirty volts, and the required large storage battery will add substantially to the cost of the installation. There is the possibility of starting the reaction by some auxiliary self - starting reaction, such as that between phosphine and hydrogen peroxide; this is being looked into. Once the reaction is started its rate can be controlled by adjusting the rate at which oxygen is admitted; this is almost as simple as the use of control rods in a conventional fission reactor.
The walls of the reactor must withstand a temperature of well over 1000°F in the presence of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and dioxide as well as small amounts of sulphur dioxide and other impurities, some still unknown. Few metals and ceramics can withstand such gruelling conditions. Niobium with a thin lining of nickel might be an attractive possibility, but probably solid nickel will have to be used. For the ceramic, fused thoria appears to the best bet
The main health hazard is attached to the gaseous waste products. They contain not only carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide (both highly toxic) but also a number of carcinogenic compounds such as phenanthrene and others To discharge these into the air is impossible, it could cause the tolerance level to be exceeded for several miles around the reactor. It is therefore necessary to collect the gaseous waste in suitable containers, pending chemical detoxification. Alternatively, the waste might be mixed with hydrogen and filled into large balloons, which are subsequently released. The solid waste products will have to be removed at frequent intervals (perhaps as often as daily) hut the health hazards involved in that operation can easily be minimized by the use of conventional remote-handling equipment The waste could then be taken out to sea and dumped. There is a possibility - though it may seem remote - that the oxygen supply may get out of control; this would lead to melting of the entire reactor and the liberation of vast amounts of toxic gases. Here is a grave argument against the use of coal in favour of fission reactors, which have proved their complete safety over a period of several thousand years. It will probably take decades before a control system of sufficient reliability can be evolved to allay the fears of those to whom, the safety of our people is entrusted.
This really happened in July 1988.
Liz and I went on holiday to Iceland for two weeks in the summer of 1988. While
there we climbed volcanoes, forded glacial rivers in bare feet, bathed in
a hot spring fed river with mountains all around as well as quite a lot
of tramping around.
Near the end of our tour we were able to climb up
to overlook one of the snouts of the Vatnajökull glacier in the Skaftafell
National Park. There was some sort of small visitor centre built like
a cabin with a porch and with a sofa under the porch. We were returning
from our hike kitted out with walking boots, waterproofs and rucksacks
when I noticed two very fat men sitting on the sofa. As we passed I heard
one fat American say to the other:
"That's the trouble with these holidays. All you do is sit and eat."
This was a story that I came across when my wife did a psychology course. It sums up what it is like to have small children very well.
Preparation for parenthood is not just a matter of reading books and decorating the nursery. Here are 12 simple tests for expectant parents to take to prepare themselves for the real-life experience of being a mother or father.