What are the Dangers of:
DEPLETED URANIUM

The following is a conversation among The Think Tank and members of the audience.

We were approached to publish information on depleted uranium. Before we publish anything, we try to research the it's validity. Following are our findings.

Click here for the MP3 soundtrack to this article.


My poster/page on DEPLETED URANIUM: http://www.sonic.net/~avatar/goodnews.html (Be prepared for unpleasant sights).

NO rights reserved.... I just want to get it out there in as many venues as possible. I'm sure, sad to say, it will be even more relevant once the war starts, & they deploy D.U. weapons again.

For your reference, my main sites:

SAURHEADS (proposed animated dinosaur series)
http://www.saurheads.com/

My general portfolio (Marvel Comics, etc.)
http://www.sonic.net/~avatar/

Thanks a lot,
Joe


the help desk was asked:
eeeh gaads, is this true??


Sidd's Science Center responded:

depleted uranium is no more dangerous than lead .... less radioactive than human flesh (depleted means the radioactives have been taken out ...)

heavy metal poisoning is the main threat ...
just like lead ...


response:

I guess the main issue then, among others, is the veracity of this statement:
Don't be misled by the term 'depleted uranium'. Like spent fuel' from civilian reactors, depleted uranium is highly toxic and carcinogenic and has a half life of some 4.4 billion years. -- Alice Slater

There are manyD.U. links, but the most "scientific" (with diagrams and numbers and charts and circles and arrows...) seem to be:

http://www.benjaminforiraq.org/contaminazione/INA-Depleted%20Uranium%20.htm http://www.ngwrc.org/Dulink/IOM_DU.html
http://www.ngwrc.org/Dulink/du_link.htm

Here's another opinion/more info from a scientist friend~

Dear Joe,

I'm not really sure about the danger level of "depleted" uranium.

There are two main isotopes of uranium, U235 and U238. I think U238 is the kind used to make bombs: more neutrons. I think it appears as a tiny fraction of the uranium extracted from ore. Being an isotope, it has to be separated from U235 by non-chemical means: gas centrifuges a la Oak Ridge National Lab, or "calutrons" a la Saddam. I think a calutron is a funky cyclotron (a primitive kind of particle accelerator) refitted to do the separation job. I think U238 is much more radioactive than U235, and I always assumed that "depleted uranium" was just U235. I think U238 decays to U235, possibly among other elements, say lead.

Uranium oxide (which I think is the main ore?) was used since whenever to make glazes for ceramics; I remember a big bag of it in my father's studio. Seems like it was a bright green or red color after being fired.

There was a scare about tourists going to Mexico and coming back with uranium-glazed pots, which somebody decided were dangerous. Whether the supposed danger was radiation danger or heavy metal danger, I don't remember. My recollection is that the danger was thought to be and publicly declared to be insignificant, but that uranium-glazed ceramics (including some "Fiesta-Ware") went off the mass market because of the scare. The mercury in fillings in your teeth is said to be harmless, since it's sequestered in a mercury-silver amalgam. Similarly, the uranium in these glazes is imbedded in, well, glass, so that it's not chemically accessible.

My guess is that the heavy-metal danger really might be greater than the radiation danger, but I don't actually know. It wouldn't really matter if it weren't: heavy metals can be exceedingly dangerous in biologically available forms, as with some kinds of lead, mercury, cadmium, etc.

I wouldn't assume that it's dangerously radioactive just because it's uranium. On the other hand, there are other very dense metals available: tungsten (aka wolfram) comes to mind; it's considerably denser than lead. Inquiring minds might ask why uranium was selected for this job. I just supposed that the Pentagon had a lot of it lying around from decaying nuclear bombs. Our doughboys are handling these shells, are out in the field where they are striking, etc. and this makes me disbelieve that there was any intention of these shells being highly radioactive or poisonous.

Of course, your mileage may vary. If Osama Bin Laden dropped one on Tel Aviv, do you think Rummy would call it a "dirty bomb," a "radiological device of mass destruction?" You betcha!

'til later,
Larry

Larry Xxxxx, Research Fellow The Molecular Sciences Institute Berkeley,


Sidd's Science Center responded:

did u sent me email today about that .. i seem to have deleted can u resend ..?

i think u had sent me a longer email .. with an extract from someone's conjectures about depleted uranium about u238 and u235 ...

those conjectures were incorrect .. i think it was from a chemist .. a physical chemist ..

but he got things wrong almost from the first sentence

lets put it this way .. i would not mind sleeping on a big pile of depleted uranium ..

[we resent him the email... and the response:]

"Don't be misled by the term 'depleted uranium'. Like spent fuel' from civilian reactors, depleted uranium is highly toxic and carcinogenic and has a half life of some 4.4 billion years. -- Alice Slater"

lead is also toxic and carcinogenic...

one ting u want to know about half life .. the shorter the half life, the more radioactive the substance so.. with a half life of 4.4 BILLION years .. means not much radioactivity at all..

"I'm not really sure about the danger level of "depleted" uranium."

i can tell...

"There are two main isotopes of uranium, U235 and U238. I think U238 is the kind used to make bombs: more neutrons.

wrong ... u235 is the one ... there is also u233 but we will ignore that for now ...

"I think it appears as a tiny fraction of the uranium extracted from ore."

he has it eggzackly reversed .. there is very little u235 in natural ore ...

"Being an isotope, it has to be separated from U235 by non-chemical means: gas centrifuges a la Oak Ridge National Lab, or "calutrons" a la Saddam. I think a calutron is a funky cyclotron (a primitive kind of particle accelerator) refitted to do the separation job."

correct ... there is also a couple non centrifuge processes

"I think U238 is much more radioactive than U235, and I always assumed that "depleted uranium" was just U235. I think U238 decays to U235, possibly among other elements, say lead."

very very incorrect....

"Uranium oxide (which I think is the main ore?) was used since whenever to make glazes for ceramics; I remember a big bag of it in my father's studio. Seems like it was a bright green or red color after being fired."

orange glaze ...

"There was a scare about tourists going to Mexico and coming back with uranium-glazed pots, which somebody decided were dangerous. Whether the supposed danger was radiation danger or heavy metal danger, I don't remember. My recollection is that the danger was thought to be and publicly declared to be insignificant, but that uranium-glazed ceramics (including some "Fiesta-Ware") went off the mass market because of the scare. The mercury in fillings in your teeth is said to be harmless, since it's sequestered in a mercury-silver amalgam. Similarly, the uranium in these glazes is imbedded in, well, glass, so that it's not chemically accessible.

My guess is that the heavy-metal danger really might be greater than the radiation danger, but I don't actually know."

i do know, and the sentence above is correct

"It wouldn't really matter if it weren't: heavy metals can be exceedingly dangerous in biologically available forms, as with some kinds of lead, mercury, cadmium, etc."

I wouldn't assume that it's dangerously radioactive just because it's uranium. On the other hand, there are other very dense metals available: tungsten (aka wolfram) comes to mind; it's considerably denser than lead. Inquiring minds might ask why uranium was selected for this job. I just supposed that the Pentagon had a lot of it lying around from decaying nuclear bombs. Our doughboys are handling these shells, are out in the field where they are striking, etc. and this makes me disbelieve that there was any intention of these shells being highly radioactive or poisonous.

Of course, your mileage may vary. If Osama Bin Laden dropped one on Tel Aviv, do you think Rummy would call it a "dirty bomb," a "radiological device of mass destruction?" You betcha!"

heehee .. and the previous sentence is also correct


another question comes in... about why the military would want to use depleted uranium:

common to assume radiation quality gives added armor penetration capability to uranium enhanced munitions

especially when even mil talks about after-action battle- field contamination

though i do not know what real characteristic of uranium actually makes it punch through similarly enhanced tank armor


Sidd's Science Center responded:

density and cheapness .. tungsten is better but more expensive ... contamination problems are just like lead effects.

Sidd's Science Center

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