Could French victim of the Alpine massacre have been the main target? French police admit cyclist may have led \’double life\’
Sylvain Mollier worked in the nuclear industry, specialising in zirconium metal-working for nuclear reactors
No idea whether there\’s any truth to it mind.
Vaguely plausible I guess, the nuclear industry does use some interesting Zr based alloys. But they\’re not exactly secret really.
I guess you could tell a tale of someone working in the field helping out the Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, on the side perhaps. But I\’m not sure, for there\’s a technical fault line in the nuclear world.
Western (perhaps should be \”Western\”) zircalloy is a Zr/Sn alloy. That\’s what the tubes for sticking uranium into a reactor are made from and a lot of the surrounding metal work as well. It is also Zr with a very low Hf content….
Ah, background. Zr and Hf are always found together. Chemically very similar indeed. Zr ore will be 2-4% Hf. They are a right bugger to separate, one from the other. So, we don\’t bother. Go and buy a piece of zirconium and it will be 2-4% Hf. The Zr we stick into Al alloys will be 2-4% Hf. The zirconia (the oxide) that is used to make ceramics is 2-4% Hf.
However, Zr is transparent to neutrons, Hf opaque to them. So you can\’t use the normal Zr in the nuclear industry. You have to extract the Hf. A right bugger to do, as above. But you do this, use the Zr to make the tubing etc that you want the neutrons to pass through and the Hf to make the control rods that you don\’t want them to pass through. Or ship it off to the jet engine makers who use it sometimes.
OK, so all nuclear industry uses Zr purified of Hf. Indeed, get a piece of low Hf Zr and try to export it and you\’ll go to jail for many years. I\’ve had a license to do this at times and the warnings are blood curdling.
OK, back to Zr/Sn. That\’s what the western industry uses. The Soviets didn\’t, they used Zr/Nb. Just one of those things, metallurgy split there.
Which brings us to the Indian/Pakistani/Iranian thing. Or any other naughty people who have been breaching the Non-Proliferation stuff. I have no idea which way they went. \”Western\” or \”Soviet\”? Zr/Sn or Zr/Nb? If they went the Nb route I cannot see how a Froggie scientist or metallurgist can help them. If the Sn then I can conceivably (note that I\’m not saying there\’s anything to this story, just trying to work through whether it\’s even possible).
Or perhaps there is some possibility. If it\’s \”metal working\” then the major thing about Zr and its alloys is that when finely divided it\’s friable. Turnings for example, shavings, can near spontaneously catch fire, even explode. Indeed, that\’s how car airbags work. Finely divided Zr powder will go bang when given a sharp shock. So, mix it with carbon and make a little pellet. When this is shocked the Zr lights, the carbon burns, creates CO2 and the airbag inflates. Or use the same thing in an artillery shell. Or cluster bombs.
Fun stuff this. One US executive of a Zr producing company spent 3 years in jail. What he thought he\’d sold to go into airbags ended up in cluster bombs. Doesn\’t matter that he was lied to, this is a strict liability offense.
There are indeed certain risks in the metals trade.