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Harvest noble gases from radioactive building materials

Bring down the price of something which goes up
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As we know, the US Government stockpiles helium in Amarillo, possibly to inflate the price. At the same time, radioactive waste is produced by nuclear power stations, nuclear weapon production and sundry other processes. It has been suggested, here and elsewhere, that it be used in building materials. These materials would, as i said elsewhere, give off a bit of radon, which is not terribly useful so far as i know, but in terms of actual volume, they would give off quite a bit more helium through alpha decay.

Therefore, i suggest that the likes of bridge struts and skyscrapers be hermetically sealed and helium be collected at the top, then taken off and used, or maybe connected to a helium pipeline. What i don't know is how much helium is produced, which is probably where it all falls down, but it seems to me that there's a source there which currently ends up in space, but which could be used for airships and cooling superconducting magnets.

There would also be some radon, which can fairly easily be removed if necessary through fractional distillation.

nineteenthly, Mar 25 2008


       // there's a source there which currently ends up in space // he he.
marklar, Mar 25 2008

       I know this is outside this idea, but did anyone see the article on the proposed room temperature superconductor? I just wanted a scientific review if this is another cold fusion type screw up or is there a chance it could work? I'll post a link if anyone didn't see it, but the idea used compression instead of cooling to allow superconductivity.   

       Maybe I'll just post the obligatory "squeeze those chemicals inside a nanotube" and seal the ends idea.
MisterQED, Mar 25 2008

       If you could collect Radon, it might be worthwhile as it is marvelously expensive, but the half-life is less than four days. The amount of helium generated is so microscopically small that it would make more sense to get it from the atmosphere.
ldischler, Mar 25 2008

       I had a feeling that might be so, but i don't really understand why it is. Surely fewer radon nuclei result from the breakdown of adjacent elements than helium nuclei from alpha decay? Every time an atom breaks down in that way it will produce at least an alpha particle if not an actual helium atom, whereas only a couple of specific elements maximum would produce radon.   

       I'm not going to believe in a room temperature semiconductor until a robot vacuum cleaner is levitating around my living room cleaning the ceiling.
nineteenthly, Mar 25 2008

       The decay of radon to lead-206 produces four alpha particles, so there's at least four times as much helium as radon. Still, it's a matter of price. A gram of radon is an enormous amount, while a kilogram of helium is nothing (about $20).

As for radioactive bridge struts (if they exist), any gas produced would not escape.
ldischler, Mar 25 2008

       Struts are just a possible example. I'm actually thinking of any building material massive enough for this to be worthwhile, which is possibly none.
nineteenthly, Mar 25 2008

       The earth is pretty massive.
ldischler, Mar 25 2008

       True, but it has a relatively small surface area.
nineteenthly, Mar 25 2008

       //stockpiles helium ... to inflate the price// he he
phundug, Mar 25 2008

       Has anyone stopped to do any calculations on the amount of helium which could be obtained in this way? I suspect it would be negliscule.   

       Also, be warned about the resale price of helium. I took a few cubic metres of the stuff to our local scrapyard, who were offering £15 per kilo by weight. I ended up owing them £27.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 25 2008

       They just had the scale mounted incorrectly. It needs to be on the ceiling.
normzone, Mar 25 2008

       Seriously, i thought already that that might be a problem. It may be cheap, so cheap in fact that it's not cost-effective to harvest, but it still seems a shame to waste it.
nineteenthly, Mar 25 2008

       The US government stockpiles helium for use in producing weapons-grade fissionabble material, for which they will need ALOT, should they choose to resume doing so. As for getting commercial helium from the atmosphere, that's exactly how it's done. I get a couple of tanks of it every month from my local welding supply depot. I haven't seen much fluctuation in the price to speak of.
Alterother, Mar 27 2008


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