They know everything at the Financial Times, don\’t they?

Err, no, they don\’t.

FT Alphaville has lovely fun mocking AEP and his piece on thorium based reactors.

Now it\’s true that AEP was a tad over the top: but nothing in his piece was wrong, even if he glossed over the odd technical difficulty. You can run a reactor on thorium, there is lot\’s of it around, it would be cheap, there isn\’t much waste and no, a thorium reactor cannot have a runaway meltdown.

But what elevates the FT\’s misunderstanding to a truly higher level is that they compare AEP\’s enthusiasm to part of a Dan Brown novel.

Gosh, tee hee, eh?

Well, we at FT Alphaville are definitely not scientists, but we can’t help feeling we have heard about this sort of particle-accelerator generated energy before.

For example:

The world’s largest scientific research facility-Switzerland’s Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN)-recently succeeded in producing the first particles of antimatter.

Antimatter is identical to physical matter except that it is composed of particles whose electric charges are opposite to those found in normal matter. Antimatter is the most powerful energy source known to man.

It releases energy with 100 percent efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5 percent efficient). Antimatter creates no pollution or radiation, and a droplet could power New York City for a full day. There is, however, one catch . . . Antimatter is highly unstable.

It ignites when it comes in contact with absolutely anything . . . even air. A single gram of antimatter contains the energy of a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb-the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Until recently antimatter has been created only in very small amounts (a few atoms at a time).

But CERN has now broken ground on its new Antiproton Decelerator-an advanced antimatter production facility that promises to create antimatter in much larger quantities. One question looms: Will this highly volatile substance save the world, or will it be used to create the most deadly weapon ever made?

That was an extract from Dan Brown’s 2000 bestseller Angels & Demons.

Very tee hee in fact. For they\’ve managed to pick the one and only piece of science from a Dan Brown novel which actually happens to be true.

Over the past 20 years scientists at CERN have been using antiparticles in many different ways for their daily work.
Antiparticles can be generated by colliding subatomic particles. Before being delivered to the various physics experiments, they must be isolated, collected and stored in order to tune their energy to the appropriate level.

Until now, each of these steps has been carried out by a dedicated machine with the main purpose of providing high energy antiparticles.

But now the first \”self-contained antiproton factory\”, the Antiproton Decelerator (or AD), is operational at CERN . It will produce the low energy antiprotons needed for a range of studies, including the synthesis of antihydrogen atoms – the creation of antimatter.

15 thoughts on “They know everything at the Financial Times, don\’t they?”

  1. good job we never see attempts to mock others than turn out to be somewhat weaker than the author imagines around here 😉

    (and does the fact that Dan Brown was referring to an actually existing thing make his breathless treatment of it any less mockable? AEP is referring to an actually existing thing too)

    Tim adds: Luis, Luis, you’re missing the point. FT Alpha thought AEP was spouting nonsense about thorium and used Dan B spouting what they thought was obvious nonsense as an example. That both turn out to be true is the fun part, not the writing style.

  2. The argument, essential to all left wing politics, about the wisdom of the State, and its ability to make long-term investments, fails entirely when it comes to nuclear power. It’s been obvious for thirty or forty years that it would be wise to fund research into reactor designs better fitted to electrical power generation than the scaled-up submarine motors and bomb factories that we used to build. It was also clear that the propensity of the State to interfere with all nuclear matters, retrospectively if it fancied it, meant that no sane commercial outfit would take on that task. So, did the State pick up the baton? Ho bloody ho.

  3. Of course, as a pendant, I have to point out that Dan Brown’s point about charge is wrong, normal matter has both + and – charge. Antimatter actually has negative mass.

  4. Yes, well, there is a certain kind of well connected Oxford educated Arts graduate that goes on to write for the Economist and the FT. They are good at a certain kind of patronising sneering, but are not very numerate or knowledgeable about scientific subjects.

    Hiring Cambridge Natscis would be far better, but the patronising sneering is actually cover for fear of being shown up, so they don’t.

  5. What, the Alphaville writer meant that the idea that Thorium is a promising fuel is nonsense? OK, if that’s what he meant then mock away (isn’t India already building a Thorium reactor?).

  6. “Hiring Cambridge Natscis would be far better, but the patronising sneering is actually cover for fear of being shown up”

    Dont like patronising sneering? You’ve never met any Cambridge grads then..

  7. “Of course, as a pendant, I have to point out that Dan Brown’s point about charge is wrong, normal matter has both + and – charge. Antimatter actually has negative mass.”

    Amazingly enough, Dan Brown actually got this right: it is the charge, not the mass, that sets antimatter apart from regular matter.

    An atom of antihydrogen has the same mass as a regular hydrogen atom. The difference is that it’s made up of an antiproton with a negative charge and a positron with a positive charge, rather than the positively charged proton and negatively charged electron in an atom of hydrogen.

  8. Aw, Dave, you beat me to it. And I could even have said IAAPP (I *am* a particle physicist). Negative mass doesn’t exist, except in some exotic physical theories.

    When I read it, I thought the AEP piece was a bit overblown. The first question I always ask when confronted with that kind of breathless ‘fantastic new technology!!!11!!’ is what the drawbacks are.

  9. “It releases energy with 100 percent efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5 percent efficient). Antimatter creates no pollution or radiation”

    Isn’t this bit bollocks too? Any annihilation of matter/anti-matter is going to be a hugely high energy event – there’s no way this energy is going to released at nicely infrared wavelengths: isn’t it all (or almost all) going to come out as gamma radiation?

  10. I’m a bit surprised at fission being quoted as high as 1.5% conversion efficiency – hydrogen / helium fusion only converts 0.8% rest mass. But then that was in the Dan Brown bit – I was getting confused between the Torygraph fiction, Financial Labourgraph sneers and badly researched facts from a novel.

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