Your Wine is Radioactive – Do You Know Why?

Did you know that alcohol made from petroleum is chemically identical to that made from natural substances such as grapes and grains? But the US Government regulations say that alcohol used for human consumption must be made only from the natural substances, although the taste and safety is matched by that from petroleum. So how does  the government enforce this regulation?

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has only one reliable test; check for radioactivity.

Natural alcohol gets its carbon from plants. The plants get carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide that has a small amount of radioactive carbon 14 caused by the continued bombardment of cosmic rays from space. The amount, one carbon 14 atom in about a trillion, can be detected by instruments.

Petroleum is also from plants, those living millions of years ago, but the carbon 14 it originally had fully decayed during the time it was isolated from cosmic rays.

So radioactivity is not a reason to abstain, and any oily taste you may get should not be caused by OPEC!

This interesting factoid was gotten from Richard A. Muller’s new book; “The Instant Physicist”, just out for sale. Professor Muller teaches at UC Berkeley and has had the “Best Class” on campus award for the last two years. I gave this book as a Christmas gift this year and last year I gave a copy of his book, “Physics for Future Presidents”. Visit his web site;, and checkout some of the lectures. They are all on line. The “ask me any question you want” time, the ten to fifteen minutes before class, I find most interesting.

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