Reply To: Nuclear Energy – remembering Chernobyl

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Bhante, I agree entirely that depleted uranium (DU) weapons should be banned, but not for the reasons given in your comment. There is much misunderstanding about DU, including just how much of the stuff there is:

Zoom in for detail. That’s just one of three such yards in the USA alone. Each of those little blobs is a metal cylinder of depleted uranium hexafluoride about the size of a van, stacked two or three high. You can see that they’re slowly turning black as they corrode away from both inside and out like this:

I suppose it’s cheaper to stockpile DU than to dispose of it properly; there may also be misguided objections from various environmentalist groups which are hindering disposal. Such DUF6 is the inevitable tailings from the uranium enrichment process, primarily for nuclear electricity generation. To increase the proportion of U235 above that in natural uranium, excess U238 has to be removed, and that’s what is in those yards. Let’s hope the economic system doesn’t collapse since staff are required to constantly patch up the cylinders. Hexafluoride is a very water soluble form of uranium, making the uranium very easy to ingest. It HAS to be kept out of the groundwater.

Uranium is a potent poison chemically; it’s a toxic metal most affecting the kidneys, but also the rest of the renal system, the brain and central nervous system, DNA, bone and muscle, reproduction, the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, the liver, skin, eyes, and the immune system. It really is very nasty, without considering its nuclear properties at all. Radioactive effects proceed mostly from its breakdown product radon, which is radioactive but also gaseous making it very mobile. Chemical toxicity must not be underestimated as to do so trivialises its effects, which would let the entire chemical industry off the hook.

I hope that the above convinces you that I take DU very seriously indeed, and I hope you’ll forgive me for questioning some of the claims you refer to in your comment. The debate has become polarised, with cover-up on the establishment side but also exaggerated and sensationalist claims from some anti-nuclear activists. I oppose this because false claims are easily discredited and alienate the scientific community, who we need to take the matter seriously when they advise governments.

Please therefore link to references to support the claim: “The range of isotopes found in samples taken from sites hit by depleted uranium weapons in the Iraq war has been shown to be incompatible with any description of the action of the weapons not involving some kind of thermonuclear reaction, and most consistent with a thermonuclear fission reaction”. The thermonuclear reaction is the fusion reaction, not fission, though a fission explosion is employed to ignite fusion. Uranium and plutonium can’t be fused since the reaction products would have atomic number and atomic weight about twice as high as the highest in the table of elements. The evidence you refer to, if accurate, would more likely indicate either that an H-bomb had been exploded (which would be impossible to conceal), or that the isotopes had come from some other source…

…see, I have encountered tentative indications of a cover-up, probably corporate, that some weapons sold as being DU are not made from DU at all, but from reactor waste – try searching “dirty DU”. Why the hell this was done I haven’t a clue but I think it is being concealed (played down to the max, and muddying of the water) because some company (probably a major armaments manufacturer) would get sued out of existence, and the US etc. governments could never permit that. So please post those links as they may lead me to another piece of the jigsaw.