Alaska man plans 20-ton domestic cyclotron

Locals none too happy

A 55-year-old Alaska man has met determined local resistance to his plan to assemble a 20-ton nuclear particle accelerator in his Anchorage home, Wired reports.

Albert Swank Jr - who runs an engineering firm from his house - built his first domestic cyclotron when he was 17. He now wants to upgrade to a meatier Scandiatronix MC16, donated by Johns Hopkins University. Lawmakers, however, have moved swiftly to ban the use of cyclotrons in domestic businesses. Health officials have also suspended Swank's permit to operate nuclear particle accelerators.

The Scandiatronix MC16 is used to brew up radioactive material which is injected into people prior to cancer-seeking positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Swanks says he wants the cyclotron as a "community medical resource". He added that his father died of cancer and his planned facility comes from a desire to "not see other cancer patients suffer".

Most locals are not impressed. Their concerns range from potential radioactive leaks, to the beast draining all of the electricity supply. Attorney Alan Tesche said: "We in Alaska embrace technology, and we love it - but we would like to see this in a hospital or industrial area, where it belongs. We don't need cyclotrons operating out of back alleys, or in someone's garage."

Swank says the cyclotron is completely safe, a view endorsed by Roger Dixon of the Fermi National Accelerator laboratory: "Cyclotrons are not nuclear reactors. Probably the worst thing that could happen with small cyclotrons is that the operator might electrocute themselves."

Swank says he will dismantle the cyclotron at its current home, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, on 23 January, then ship it to Alaska by lorry and barge - whether he has a permit or not. The powers that be plan an emergency public meeting on 20 December to decide the matter.

And Swank does have some support. His next-door neighbour of 36 years, Veronica Martinson, told Wired: "Albert was a star science student when he was a child. He wants schoolchildren to be around this, so they'll learn how this works, and be curious about physics. One of them might turn out to be our next big scientist." ®

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