Fingerprints were the answer?

A reporting team wrote an article in the UK Sunday Times, on the satisfyingly weird date of 10/10/10, that ventured into the murky world of realpolitik and espionage. The team and those of us, like The Lad, who were brought up in the world of John Le Carre know that it is a world of uncertainties. However engineering for this team, and many others, is equally uncertain though they may not realise it.

Reporting on the nuclear programme of Iran, they describe damage to a number of the enrichment centrifuges as follows. ” … those assembling the centrifuges did not wear cloth gloves. Beads of sweat were transferred to the rotors that spin inside the centrifuges and put them off balance, causing some to explode.”

Now, it’s true that the rotors rotate at enormously fast rates and they need to be well balanced to run smoothly, but I feel that the unbalancing effect of of the minute mass of beads of sweat will be as likely an effect and as true as the fable of the Princess feeling the pea under the 15 mattresses.

The Lad suggests that acid fingerprints from ungloved hands, yes, was a problem but with a different, less direct outcome. The acidic prints would have started corrosion and cracks in the exquisitely controlled material of the rotor walls. The resultant stresses from the cracks at the high rotation speeds would soon make the rotors explode or distort or leak. The only recourse would be to take them out of service as reported.

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