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Beryl the Peril
By Bowser
22, Dec 2001 - 13:46

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Beryllium the Peril - no laughing matter
In the three columns so far in this series it's been nothing but death and destruction - the Hindenberg, collapsed lungs and manic depression. Surely Beryllium a light grey metal can provide more cheerful fare coming up to Christmas? Well it's certainly useful in electronics components, fiber optics components, nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, aircraft-satellite-space vehicle structures, X-ray transmission windows, mirrors, ceramics, bicycle frames, golf club heads, and as an additive in solid propellant rocket fuels. But apart from bicycles and golf clubs very little of this stuff existed before 50 years ago so it can't be regarded as 'essential'?

Some people get very excited by golf though so they may be interested in the new so-called "liquid metal" - not the stuff from the Terminator movies but a new wonder alloy for golf clubs made of two-thirds zirconium with a mixture of copper, nickel, titanium and beryllium thrown in for good measure. This has been developed to add yards to tee shots — and it’s all legal according to the golf experts. Between this and beryllium-copper clubheads
Beryllium-Copper Clubheads
all the fun will be gone out of golf because the ordinary punter out at Milebush will be able to hit with the distance and accuracy of a Tiger Woods. Yeah .. Right! (is it only in Ireland that we can we take two positives and make them into a negative?) Apparently the weather is so mild they are cutting the greens on a weekly basis out there at Milebush and the new course is playing a storm. I am reliably informed they have a good deal for new members - you can pay your entrance fee over something like a 5-year period so that the 'ouch' factor is reduced. The annual membership is £450 or so after that. They do have to pay back the £1M investment in the course over the next 20 years!

In the week when the MOX plant at Sellafield started up production it's a bit eerie to look back at beryllium use in the nuclear weapons industry. A major problem health arose for staff of about 30 companies in the USA manufacturing new beryllium-based materials for the nuclear weapons programme in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1948 a fatal, incurable, lung disease caused by exposure to beryllium compounds (and just the ordinary non-radioactive ones) led medical officials of the Atomic Energy Industry to suggest that the whole beryllium weapons industry should be shut down due to the serious health problems that were apparent even then. Lightweight beryllium alloys were crucial for the weapons programme, however, so a shutdown was never seriously countenanced (doesn't this sound familiar?). Problems increased right into the 1950s as production increased steadily with lax environmental controls. It took until the Clinton administration for a government programme to issue a bill aimed at compensating nuclear weapons workers in private companies for their illness. It's a cut and dried case because there is no other way to get beryllium disease apart from direct contact with beryllium. But it took 50 years to acknowledge the problem seriously.
Atomic Beryllium
It's still a
live issue in late 2001.
Beryllium - Basically Exposure Resistant Yes? Lasts a Longtime. It's Used More-and-more - the facetious acronym sums it all up neatly.

What's next?
Have a Boron Christmas- and that probably sums the next one up neatly too!

Previous element:
Lighten up with lithium

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The Elements
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