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Hypothetical Nanotechnology Question

  1. Sep 29, 2008 #1
    A couple of questions in the context of constructing nuclear weapons:
    1. Would it be feasible to refine uranium nanotechnologically? It seems to me that a large number of nano-scale robots or other machines could directly, mechanically sort the atoms of uranium ore (or any other source) - the way that macro-scale machinery sorts postal mail, for example - to produce enriched uranium.
    2. Does this seem like something that could become possible within the next century?
    I ask because I would think that nanotechnology and other technological developments will continuously lower the industrial barriers to producing nukes. I'm wondering if at some point it simply won't be possible to prevent most nations from becoming nuclear-armed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 30, 2008 #2


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    No, but 99% of it is. I am actually somewhat involved in work on MEMS/NEMS and I can tell you that not even the most enthusiastic people in the field really believe that advanced autonomous nanobots that can manipulate matter at the molecular level will ever be possible (i.e. there is no risk of "nanogoo"), there are several fundamental problems; most of them related to basic thermodynamics.
  4. Sep 30, 2008 #3
    Cool! I was hoping this would be the right forum to run into someone like you. So then, definitely forget advanced autonomous robots, I've really only barely mentioned robots at all in passing. What about the analogs of simple machines related to mechanical processing of ore - drills, rotary mills, ball mills (though I suppose that might not work well nano-scale), something like a conveyor belt or sluice for moving around material. That could all be fixed in place like in a modern macro-scale mining complex, no advanced autonomous robots needed at all. And I realize nothing will work the same as it does at nano-scale and that there are issues like the reduced thermal conductance of phonon nodes in structures at that size.

    No need to bring up advanced autonomous robots or nanogoo or the other sci fi technobabble, since I didn't in my question. All I'm really asking is if a few crude machines that might permit mechanical processing of ore might be possible one hundred years in the future. (If that's even the best way of approaching refining uranium with nanotech - that's just an example I was giving) Is that a 99% science fiction scenario?
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2008
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