Home-cooked fission

The Swede who tried for nuclear fission in his kitchen should, in the proud tradition of amateur science, be given a research grant, not jail time.

Everybody needs a hobby, but we're hoping that Richard Handl's little pastime does not become widely popular.

The Swedish man was arrested late last month for trying to split atoms in his kitchen. On the premises, police found the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium, all of which are supposed to be carefully controlled substances.

Apparently Mr Handl had some suspicion himself that his experiments were imprudent: he wrote to the Swedish Radiation Authority to make sure he was on the right side of the law after causing, he said, a "small meltdown" in his kitchen. Police arrived promptly.

He told them he had "always been interested in physics and chemistry" and wanted to "see if it's possible to split atoms at home".

About the "small meltdown" Mr Handl may have been exaggerating; even if he did find a new way to overcook the carrots, police did not find dangerous levels of radiation at his home.

The penalty for possessing those elements can be two years in jail, but we hope the authorities will not throw the book at him. Perhaps a research grant and a laboratory would be more appropriate. There is, after all, a long tradition of important amateur discoveries in science.

Maybe Sweden should put him to work on a new project: almost anyone can cause fission these days; let's see if Mr Handl can cook up some fusion.

Published: August 5, 2011 04:00 AM