First revision, February 9th, 1998 – Second revision, March 31rst, 1999
Of all the radiation-chemical reactions that have been studied in aqueous solution, the most important is the decomposition of pure water itself. It has been shown by Pierre Curie and Debierne that a vacuum can not be maintained with a solution of radium salts, that from the solution a continuous evolution of hydrogen and oxygen takes place.
It must be mentioned that the decomposition of water in any form by alpha particles renders the practice of sealing radioactive salts in small tubes for long periods of time a dangerous one unless certain precautions are observed. Accidents involving serious loss of radium have occurred through the explosion of tubes by accumulated pressure of hydrogen and oxygen. It appears to be dangerous to heat an old tube or to exert any mechanical stress upon it. It is possible that weakening of the glass container by the continued radiant bombardment enhances the danger through devitrification of the glass. A far reaching disintegration of quartz containers by radium rays has been reported.
The wide variety of chemical actions brought about, particularly by alpha particles, is surprising, and one must be struck by the universality of the phenomenon of chemical change by radiation. We find that alpha and beta particles, in their passage through molecules, are almost universally capable of changing them chemically; their action does not depend upon any wave-length relation with the atom or molecule affected. This is in marked contrast with photo chemical action, where the specific nature of the reaction and of the system being acted on depends entirely upon the wave-length of the light, and the capability of being absorbed by a given element or molecule. Owning to the tremendous kinetic energy of alpha particles they always ionize and frequently produce chemical changes in substances through which they pass.
Water when exposed to radiation undergoes a breakdown sequence into hydrogen peroxide, hydrogen radicals and assorted oxygen compounds such as ozone which when converted back into oxygen releases great amounts of energy. Some of these are explosive. This decomposition is produced mainly by the alpha particles, that can be entirely absorbed by very thin layers of water. This fact was not recognized by early experiments.
It has been observed by Runge, Bodländer, Ramsay, Kernbaum, Duane, and Scheuer that a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen obtained by the decomposition of water by radium radiation contains an excess of hydrogen. The excess is greater in the early stages of the reaction and has been found to amount to an excess of 36% in one case. Kernbaum showed that hydrogen peroxide is formed in water in an amount equivalent to the deficiency of oxygen in the gaseous mixture. As the quantity of hydrogen peroxide accumulates in the solution a point is reached where its rate of decomposition just balances the new formation, under which condition of dynamic equilibrium the gases evolved would have normal composition. This explains the gradual diminution in the observed excess of hydrogen.
Radiant energy from radium or thorium holds the key to obtaining an endless supply of electrical power. Just a few sprinkles of this magic dust introduced into a weak solution of sodium hydroxide could provide the hydrogen and oxygen for a fuel cell. There is nothing to wear down. The radium or thorium endlessly, day or night, generates hydrogen and oxygen to provide our fuel. The only thing required is to draw off the electrical current, this is so that the gases will not build up. By drawing off the electrical energy the hydrogen and oxygen recombines and reverts back to water. The cycle then starts all over again with nothing to replenish.
In 1907 Bragg calculated that the number of molecules decomposed by alpha particles was almost exactly equal to the number of ions that would have been produced in air. Madam Curie stated in 1910 with respect to the decomposition of water by alpha particles that, “the production of electrolytic gas by radium in solution is of the same order of magnitude as that which one would obtain if the number of molecules of water decomposed by the alpha rays emitted, were equal to the number of ions which these same rays would produce in air.” This electrolysis without electrodes is the key to generating almost limitless electrical power.
There is one major difference between the ionization of air and the dissociation of water molecules by alpha ray bombardment. Almost immediately after air is ionized recombination occurs, energy is released in the form of heat. When the water molecule is dissociated very little recombination occurs, less than 5%. This means that molecular dissociation of water that results from alpha decay is over 95% efficient.
Today we have fuel cells that are 50 – 65% efficient in converting hydrogen and oxygen into useful electrical current. Do the math, if the conversion of alpha decay to hydrogen and oxygen gases is over 95% efficient, less than 5% inefficient, this means that we can achieve about 45% to 60% conversion efficiency with our radiant energy fuel cell, and it will go on generating electricity for the lifetime of the fuel cell. All we need to do now is to find out what a gram of radium or thorium is in relationship to a watt of electricity. We now take this figure and divide it by 2. This will give us a pretty fair estimate of how much radium that we will require for x amount of electricity.