“RED MERCURY,” an exceptionally powerful chemical explosive that many experts have dismissed as a myth, could be real and pose a serious threat to global attempts to control the spread of nuclear weapons. New information from South Africa, Russia and the United States has convinced leading nuclear scientists that the chemical’s potential risks must now be taken seriously.

scientists, including Sam Cohen, the American nuclear physicist who invented the neutron bomb, and Frank Barnaby, former director of the International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, fear that red mercury could allow nations or terrorist groups to build small but deadly atomic bombs much more easily thermonuclear weapons.

They are calling for a 178-country conference on the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, scheduled to end in two weeks in New York, to imposestricter controls on international trade in tritium, one of the raw materials of the fusion bomb.“I don’t want to sound melodramatic,” says Cohen, who worked on the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb in the 1940s and was a U.S.government nuclear weapons adviser at the Rand Corporation for 20 years.

“But red mercury is real and frightening. “I think this is part of a terrorist weapon that could potentially spell the end of organized society.” He claims that it could be used to create a neutron bomb the size of a baseball thatwould strike anyone within about 600 meters of the explosion could kill.,Barnaby, a respected nuclear weapons analyst who has studied red mercury for six years, is more cautious. He admits that offers to sell red mercury at huge prices have in many cases turned out to be hoaxes. However, he believes that the former Soviet Union, “taking all odds into account,” has developed a highly effective mercury-based explosive that could revolutionize the development of nuclear weapons.

The last evidence Barnaby saw were two documents leaked to Greenpeace, apparently from a former mercury factory in South Africa. The documents detailed the chemical specifications of a substance called “red mercury 20:20.” a compound of pure mercury and mercury antimony oxide (Hg2Sb2O7) called “cherry” and “slurry.” The documents appear to be part of a request from an unknown buyer to supply “4 to 10 bottles per month” of the substance.

One of the documents from April 2, 1990 is addressed to Wolfgang Dolich,who works for the British company Thor Chemical in Speyer near Mannheim. Dolich, then sales manager and current head of the company in Germany, couldn’t remember who sent him the document and couldn’t even decipher who the illegible signature came from. However, he expects this document will likely be one of many inquiries he has received regarding mercury-containing products. He says he probably gave the
to his company’s sister plant in Cato Ridge, Natal, South Africa, where mercury compounds were manufactured until a few years ago.
, Dolich told New Scientist that this claim had nothing to do with her car.Thor manages chemical operations in the seven Pays depuis son siège social à Margate in Kent, and was also involved in the production of Mercury Red.

The document also contains a handwritten note “Reporting everything we have on red mercury” and signed “Alan”. Dolich believes it is most likely Alan Kidger, the Johannesburg-based managing director of Thor, who was mysteriously murdered in November 1991. South African police investigators believe Kidger’s murder was linked to a secret red mercury trade, although the company denies this.

Barnaby believes the information contained in the documents is scientifically reliable, even if it is not always easy to understand. They are similar to others he has seen in Russia, Germany and Austria and support his view that there is a significant international trade in red mercury.

Along with two other prominent Italian and U.S. scientists, whose names he declined to name, he is actively trying to obtain a small sample of red mercury so that its alleged properties can be properly tested in the laboratory.In, Barnaby’s group spoke to four anonymous scientists in Russia. Barnaby says all four provided detailed information about red mercury.

From this, Barnaby concluded that it was a gelatinous polymer in which mercury and antimony were bound together after up to 20 days of irradiation in a nuclear reactor.It states that mercury and antimony oxide were produced in “relatively large quantities” in a chemical factory in Yekaterinburg.

It is claimed that red mercury itself was first produced in 1965 in a cyclotron at the Dubna Nuclear Research Center near Moscow and is now produced at “many” Russian military facilities, including Krasnoyarsk in Siberia and Penza, 300 miles southeast of Moscow. A Russian scientist estimates that Russia produces about 60 kilograms of red mercury per year.Barnaby claims that not only could the gel be used in a fission weapon, butwhen compressed it could produce enough chemical energy to dissolve tritium atoms and cause a thermonuclear explosion.

The gel could already be used in Russian neutron weapons such as the 240-millimeter M-1975 mortar, he says.If true, red mercury would be an extraordinary material that could have dramatic consequences for energy production and weapons technology. However, its existence is being questioned not only by the British, American and German governments (This Week, June 6, 1992), but also by independent critics.

Two of the most notable were Joseph Rotblat, professor emeritus of physics at the University of London, and Ted Taylor, a leading bomb designer at the US nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in the 1990s.Taylor points out that the only way to obtain the high chemical energy required for red mercury is to displace the internal electrons of mercury and antimony. But he says it’s hard to imagine how anyone could make a substance that would be stable long enough to be used as an explosive. “I bet there aren’t any,” he said.

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