Review by Greg Neyman
© Old Earth Ministries
Published May 2006
In this chapter, DeYoung summarizes the work of Andrew Snelling concerning fission tracks in zircons.
FORMATION OF FISSION TRACKS
DeYoung adequately describes the conditions under which fission tracks form. The most common fission track is from uranium-238, which splits into two palladium atoms through fission. As DeYoung notes, for every two million U-238 atoms which undergo normal alpha decay, only one atom undergoes fission.
When this fission happens, the two palladium atoms leave a track in the zircon. As with radiohalos, the fission tracks can be repaired if the mineral is heated above the annealing temperature.
FISSION TRACK DATING
When dating a sample using fission tracks, the scientist will count the number of fission tracks in a particular surface area. Next, the number of remaining undecayed U-238 atoms is counted, giving you the number of parent isotope left in the sample. This is usually done via the external detector method. The sample is bombarded with neutrons, inducing fission of the remaining U-238 atoms. Sometimes this causes tens of millions of tracks in a single square centimeter. With this data, scientists can calculate how many U-238 atoms remained in the sample, and thus they can calculate the age of the sample.
RATE FISSION TRACK RESEARCH
The RATE group examined rocks, but again they based their research on the breakdown of pre-Flood, Flood, and post-Flood rocks, just as they did in the previous chapter for radiohalos. Please refer back to Chapter 5 of this review for an explanation of why this breakdown is unworkable.
Twelve rock samples were obtained that were considered Flood and Late-Flood to Post-Flood in origin. All samples were from volcanic tuff from the Grand Canyon region. It is interesting to note that the tuff samples ranged in size from 6 to 11 pounds. It is also interesting to note that removing a rock from a national park is a crime. There is a process by which scientific research can be conducted in the park, but it is unclear if they followed these regulations. Since the rocks could have possibly come from outside the Canyon, we cannot jump to any conclusions.
The RATE group contracted out the fission track dating to a known laboratory in Australia.
RATE FISSION TRACK RESULTS
Interestingly, the fission track dates for nine of the twelve samples are not disputed, as they fall within the range published by old earth geologists. DeYoung focuses on the three samples from the Middle Cambrian period, which are thought to be about 535 million years old. The dates obtained by RATE for these samples indicate an age that is significantly less. They are dated at 34.9, 68.4, and 48 million years. As DeYoung points out, fission track dating can give not the absolute age, but the cooling age, or time since the crystal was last above the annealing temperature (for zircons, this is about 150 degrees centigrade). Above this temperature, and the fission tracks could be repaired (think of it as melting back together).
From this point DeYoung boldly claims that this confirms that "substantial spontaneous decay of uranium-238 has occurred in these rocks." By spontaneous he is referring to the young earth theory of accelerated nuclear decay. However, there is no way to justify such a claim. We can only say that there may have been heating of the rock above the annealing temperature, therefore ruining the possibility of obtaining an absolute date for the rock.
As previously noted, putting billions of years worth of radioactive decay, especially fission, into a short period of time such as the year of the flood, would essentially melt the earth. Let's suppose that this spontaneous decay occurred. With such heat, there would be absolutely no record of it in fission tracks, as a temperature high enough to melt the entire earth would certainly be above the annealing temperature of 150 degrees centigrade! This young earth argument easily defeats itself!
Think of it this way. The United States has about 892 million pounds of uranium reserves, in the form of uranium oxide (85% by weight of which is uranium).1 The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima contained 132 pounds of radioactive material. Normally, the uranium must be processed, but the young earth creationists claim that this uranium "spontaneously" fissioned. If you consider only what is in the United States, that is enough to equal more than 6,700,000 nuclear bombs exploding at once. And that is only a small fraction of world uranium reserves. Fortunately for us, this did not happen as the young earth creationist claims!
FISSION TRACK SUMMARY
DeYoung concludes that these fission tracks give evidence of accelerated decay. If accelerated decay had occurred, the temperature would have been far above the annealing temperature, and there would be no tracks...nor any minerals...nor an earth, for that matter.
1 From US Uranium Reserves Estimates (2003). Uranium ore contains less than .2% U3O8. There are 498 million tons of ore, yielding 1,155 million pounds of uranium oxide. Adding the mass of three U-238's and eight O-16, 85 percent of the weight is from uranium, yielding 892 million pounds pure uranium.
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