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Space Shots : Canadian Atomic Energy Lab Applies Radiation to Golf Balls for Distance

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Golfers all over the world are getting explosive drives with Canada’s “atomic golf balls.”

Atomic golf balls, the brainchild of scientists at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., are said to travel 20 to 30 yards farther than conventional balls, thanks to changes in molecular structure.

For the last four or five years, golf-loving scientists at AECL’s radiation application center in Pinawa, Canada, have been sending trays of golf balls through their electron beam accelerator, then blasting off to the nearest golf course.

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AECL spokesman Larry Shewchuk said that when the 10-million volt electron beam hits the golf balls, “it alters the (balls’) molecular core. The upshot is, if you’re a heavy hitter off the tee and you use a driver, it seems to add 20 to 30 yards to your drive.”

Shewchuk added a disclaimer, though.

“We make no claims it will work,” he said. “That would take study, and we don’t intend to study it.”

Stu Iverson, manager of AECL’s radiation application, said that although the scientists call their golf balls atomic, there is nothing radioactive about them.

“The electron beam accelerator is like a powerful version of the color picture tube in a TV,” he said. “In back is a place where electrons are emitted into the tube, where they are controlled by a magnet to paint pictures.”

Iverson said that when the golf balls are bathed in electrons, “instead of having long strands of spaghetti-like molecules” at the core of the golf ball, “electron beam processing forms links between the strands. This makes the core harder and tougher and that lets the ball store more energy and fly a little farther.”

In an unscientific test for the media, AECL officials in Saskatoon, Canada, gathered three local golf pros and gave them 12 atomic and 12 conventional balls to hit in a blind test.

The pros hit the atomic balls farthest.

Peter Mansbridge, an avid golfer and anchor for one of Canada’s national TV newscasts, said that he had tried one of the atomic balls.

“It went 240 to 250 yards, which is about 10% farther than I normally get,” he said.

Of course, he added, “it doesn’t help me putt any better or stop me from slicing.”

AECL will turn any golf balls sent to them into the atomic version for the price of return postage. For $30 Canadian, they will mail off a dozen treated balls with a special stamp that reads: “Atomic Golf Ball.”

“We have nuked as many as 7,000 dozen balls a year,” Shewchuk said.

“We have had balls sent to us from all over North America, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the Middle East.”

One golfer, however, remains unconvinced.

Said Toshi Yonehara, a member of the culture and information branch of the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa: “I used them twice and I didn’t find any difference.”

But, after his test of the atomic balls, Canadian golf pro Roger Hogel said: “Golfers are a different type of people. If they think the golf balls will work better--they will.”


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