Depleted Uranium Information

January 27th, 2008


Since I’ve gotten a lot of response and views on the latest post on depleted uranium, I have compiled some sources on depleted uranium in general and its health and enviornmental effects. These are basically reference sources which are intended to provide the vital data, as opposed to policy or advocacy links. However, the scientific data is quite compelling in general. The sources come from a vast spectrum ranging from chemical references to recent studies and major scientific bodies.

(In other words, there are no shocking attention-grabbing pictures or political cartoons of George W. Bush and the Grim Reaper here).

The data ranges from very easy to understand primers to a few indepth scientific reviews with very thoroughly cited data.

Data From Major Scientific Organizations:

Fact Sheet On Depleted Uranium (PDF) – This is a very good starting point for basic information on DU from the Health Physics Society, a very credible and well established source.
Expert Answers on Depleted Uranium - Questions on DU are answered by experts in radiation safety, health effects and toxicology.
World Health Organization DU Page – Contains information on depleted uranium and the results of numerous studies and scientific reviews.
WHO Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium – Basic information and explanations from the WHO.
WHO Guidance on Depleted Uranium Exposure- A comprehensive guide on depleted uranium’s potential health effects.
Depleted Uranium Health Effects – A comprehensive review and policy statement from the Royal Society on all avaliable data.
DOE Uranium Safety Guidelines – A rather long document on the DOE’s recommendations for safe handling, transportation and use of uranium.
SanDia Study on DU (PDF) - Dismissed by some because it is by a defense contractor for the US government, but this is the most comprehensive and wide ranging study to date.

Other information Sources:

The University Of Michigan Health Physics Page
A short course On Depleted Uranium
- Depends on your definition on “Short” from the DOD, so some might not trust it.
OSHA Uranium Information – Page on regulations and safety considerations from OSHA.

Review of Depleted Uranium Information - a 1999 review by a Checz physicist on the avaliable scientific data on DU. Very comprehensive.
Depleted Uranium Stories
- This yahoo group was emailed to me by another fan of good science who dislikes the current DU paranoia.
Regulations on DU Use
- From the Argonne National Laboratory.

Materials Data And Safety Sheets:
(summarize the basics of a material’s potential hazards and properties)

Uranium Metal – This applies to depleted uranium from a supplier
Uranium Oxide
( uranium metal will quickly oxidize when not protected thus remaining DU shrapnel likely would)
Another Uranium Oxide Sheet
(from a different source.)
Uranium Compounds - a number of sheets on different uranium-based compounds and chemicals

Safety information on Uranium Ceramic Materials

One final thought: While differing data is welcome here if it is scientifically valid and cited, I would caution those who go looking to avoid any websites which raise banter without giving direct sources and scientific rational behind their claims. The credibility of some sites can be difficult to assess. For example, the WISE Uranium Project appears to contain several documents based on good scientific studies, however the page is actually affiliated with a rather extremist anti-nuclear group and therefore is not a very good information source in general.

In the interest of completeness: I’m not going to insist that depleted uranium is absolutely free of hazard. For one thing it can be quite deadly when it comes at you at about three times the speed of sound. It is a toxic heavy metal and as such can have health effects if ingested in sufficient amounts. There have been studies which have reported a possible link between depleted uranium particles inhaled and lung cancer.

I would caution readers to take these studies in context. The study found that uranium particles could cause damage to lung cells; the kind of damage which increases cancer risk. This however was not a human study in real world conditions. All that it shows is something that was already known: Exposure to large amounts of uranium dust can be a respiratory hazard. This is not to say that it is an unusually potent respiratory hazard, because it is not. There’s no need for everyone in the middle east to wear a dust mask, but it is a good idea to wear one if you are machining uranium. The toxicity when inhaled is comperable to or less than that of many other materials like mercury vapors, cadmium and beryllium.

The hazards of depleted uranium are not non-existent. However, they are small and comparable to other materials.

Best advice for DU safety: Don’t eat it.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2008 at 4:34 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Depleted Cranium, Enviornment, Good Science, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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26 Responses to “Depleted Uranium Information”

  1. 1
    ellindsey Says:

    Very good. Yet I’m opposed to the use of depleted uranium as ammunition. Not because of any toxicity concerns, but because it’s a waste of perfectly good nuclear fuel. IMHO the energy content of that uranium when burned in a CANDU or similar reactor capable of burning depleted uranium vastly outweighs any value it has in weapons.

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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I do not think a CANDU can burn depleted uranium. It can burn natural uranium but depleted uranium has less than half as much fissile material than natural uranium (which is low to begin with). It can still be used as fuel though, just not burned directly. It’s fertile so it needs to go through a breed cycle, but that would work too.

    Personally, I’m not wholly opposed to it’s use in weapons. I think it should be used for fuel as much as possible (of course that’s not happening anyway) but failing that it has advantages in weapons. Don’t get me wrong: It should be conserved and used sparingly because it’s an important resource, but if it gives troops an edge on the battlefield it is a good thing to have incase it’s needed to take out some heavy armor.

    Of course, that’s not withstanding the issue of whether or not the military action it’s used in is really something I’d support to begin with, which is another issue entirely.

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  3. 3
    Dave G Says:

    Much as it is appreciated that you address the evidence on the other side of things (weak as it is) the study on the effects on lung cells is totally bogus and does nothing but generate misleading headlines. They took a cell culture and put a toxic heavy metal which emits alpha particles on it. The cells were negatively effected, big surprise. This means nothing other than confirming the obvious. It does not have anything to do with the real conditions.

    It’s only a small part of the equation. You have to inhale enough dust to cause the problem (which may or may not be likely because uranium dust is pretty heavy) then you have to figure that it gets into the lungs without being stuck in the mucus membrane and that it ends up in the lungs and is not expelled by breath or absorbed into the body and excreted. So how much uranium dust do you have to inhale for this to be a concern and how likely is it that that much dust will be suspended in the air where you can inahel it? This study doesn’t tell us. So it doesn’t mean a thing in reality.

    Sure though you want to wear a mask when you machine uranium. You don’t want to inhale uranium dust if you can avoid it. So what? How many other materials can produce dust which you would not want to inhale? I can think of many. So don’t snort or eat uranium. Geez.

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  4. 4
    DV82XL Says:

    DU can’t be burned in CANDUs but the idea that it can comes from the fact that some depleted uranium fuel bundles are used for flux flattening.

    Not only are CANDUs designed for on-power refueling but also on-power in-core fuel management. Fuel bundles are constantly being repositioned in the reactor (think of adjusting logs in a fire) to maximize burn up. The DU bundles are used to soak up high flux areas when they appear.

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  5. 5
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Interesting. I did not know that. Do they get any appreciable breeding from that?

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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

    How much DU could a CANDU do if a CANDU can do DU?

    Not much at the sort of flux levels used for power generation, and keep in mind they are using it as a neutron sink only as long as it is needed, so they are not really out to breed.

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  7. 7
    Finky Says:

    All these sources support the idea that depleted uranium is not causing rampant health problems in Iraq and everywhere else it’s used? I never knew so many organizations were part of the conspiracy!


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  8. 8
    ellindsey Says:

    You are correct, I was wrong; CANDU can burn natural uranium, not depleted. But fast neutron reactors can breed DU into usable fuel, so the point remains that DU can be used as a valuable fuel source.

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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Well, I agree with you in part ellindsey. Depleted uranium does have some value as a fuel in addition to a munition. But in addition to the fact that it’s unlikely to be used for breeding any time soon and that we have quite a bit lying around, there’s something else to consider: The real high-value fuel material which is being used for far far less progressive and helpful purposes is the tons and tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium sitting in warheads and in weapons stockpiles.

    The “Megatons to Megawatts” program has managed to get some of the HEU from retired weapons downblended to be used as reactor fuel. However this has not really been happening at nearly the same pace with plutonium. The US has thousands of plutonium weapons pits in reserve for potential future use.

    If it were up to me, I’d want to see the US have a modern, reasonably small but capable nuclear arsenal tucked away just incase we find we need it and also has a credible deterant. The vast arsenel of the cold war modernized and also reduced and the material used as fuel. Holding onto some amount of fissile material in a stratigic reserve makes sense, but just as much for fuel as for weapons. Right now the pits are in possession of DOD weapons programs and not avaliable as such.

    I can dream, right?

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  10. 10
    DV82XL Says:

    Burning Pu in as MOX appeals to the anti proliferation crowd but I would like to see it used for space exploration as a fuel for nuclear propulsion. Nuclear electric propulsion to be exact. The other thing it can be used for thermo-electric generators. Yes I know the Russians made a mess with theirs but I think the U.S. has established it can handle nuclear technology better those nit-wits. It’s also great for powering pacemakers too, and other small scale ‘atomic batteries’.

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  11. 11
    Larry Grimm Says:

    I downloaded the journal article on the cytotoxicity (ability to kill cells) of DU on lung cells. A reasonably well done study, but the results are not surprising. The authors used two chemical forms of uranium. They varied the quantity put in the cells. One chemical form killed cells with progressively higher cell death with increasing quantity. The other form did not particularly kill the cells. The inference I draw from this is that it is not the radiation killing the cells, but the chemical form of the material. This is consistent with heavy metal poisoning. You can inhale/eat certain chemical forms of any heavy metal, and it won’t hurt you, but other chemical forms will do you a number.

    Although I might disagree with Dave G that this is a bogus study, but other studies which the authors cite demonstrate the toxicity of uranium on other cell tissue types and which correlate reasonably well with this study. Therefore it is not an impressive study. I do agree with Dave G about the inhalation potential. I have serious doubts that a person in Iraq, or any war zone, could inhale the quantities that were used on the cells in this study. The study needs to be taken with the usual scientific grain of salt in that it only addresses cytotoxicity of the two chemical forms of uranium. The radiological issues are not addressed/studied. Additionally, the authors used uranium, not depleted uranium. This likely won’t make any difference for a chemical toxicity study, but would in a radiological study.

    I need to look up what the chemical form of the DU is after it has vaproized in a tank, but I think it converts to the oxidized form – U02. The authors of the study used UO3 and acetate.

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  12. 12
    DV82XL Says:

    It pretty well all ends up as UO2.

    As you can imagine the chemistry during the initial pyrophoric event and what little work has be done shows traces of all sorts of transitional compounds for that short moment in time. The DU fearmongers have forked through these results and claimed that these species are floating around as a vapor.

    Of course this is impossible but thats never held them back before.

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  13. 13
    drbuzz0 Says:

    DV82XL, on the comment: “Burning Pu in as MOX appeals to the anti proliferation crowd but I would like to see it used for space exploration as a fuel for nuclear propulsion. Nuclear electric propulsion to be exact. The other thing it can be used for thermo-electric generators.”

    Unless you are referring to a small reactor driving a thermoelectric generator, I don’t believe that the Pu-239 from nuclear weapons is going to be of much use (correct me if I am wrong.) The halflife and radiation are not going to result in all that much decay energy.

    All the previous deep space probes have used RTG’s which were based on plutonium-238, an isotope with a halflife of 87 years and emits high energy alpha particles, thus making it a good heat source. Plutonium-238 is rather difficult to make. It is made from the neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237 which in turn is made from uranium-236. Np-237 having a small neutron cross section and U-236 having an even smaller one, it is a rather intensive process to make and it requires several steps of bombardment, chemical separation and reirridatioin in the sequence.

    I suppose there might be a small amount of Pu-238 in the weapons plutonium, but I can’t imagine it would be any more than a trace.

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  14. 14
    DV82XL Says:

    Right. (note to self: put brain in gear before words to paper) These things use plutonium-238. I got carried away that time. Thanks for catching it.

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  15. 15
    Paully Says:

    Does anyone here know enough to vouch for this information being valid, accurate, complete and from credible sources?

    Looking at it it all looks pretty reasonable to me. Most of it looks like it comes from good sources. I also like how there is information that is simple and to the point and not buried in science but still appears to be true and valid. I appreciate the work that this blog author does in making it so easy to understand but also not totally loosing the science or making it dumbed down. It makes it very easy for me to show this information to others without having to explain it and without making it seem really childish or overly simple.

    I think it would be good if other people who are knowledgeable about this could comment though, because I know that you have to be careful about credibility with this. Has Larry Grimm looked at these links and can he attest to them being of reputable quality?

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  16. 16
    Larry Grimm Says:


    I can attest to the Health Physics Society, Sandia, World Health Organization, Royal Society, U of Michigan, OSHA and Argonne sites. These are sites I utilize when studying radiation stuff. They are very good sites, and there are more for which I’ll try to put together a list from my “favorites” url addresses. Some of the others on Dr. B’s list I haven’t studied, but a quick perusal indicated that they are the real deal.

    The Health Physics folks are the best at presenting a conservative safety approach to radiation issues. We’re the folks who make sure that radiation users are using radiation safely. We study how radiation affects us. We set the guidelines for regulations. We teach folks how to protect themselves. If it involves radiation affecting someone, we have our fingers in it. Therefore, when you read the health physics stuff on depleted uranium, you will be reading the latest, best and most conservative safety concepts. Most of us will admit that we are probably far, far too conservative, but that’s the way we are and our work definitely protects the public and radiation workers.

    Dr. B: You always impress me with the good lists you put together. This list was no exception. I also second the sentiment that you do a great job of presenting science simply, without dumbing it down. This is an art. I can do this with radiation things, but not other science concepts – thus my hat is off to you.

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  17. 17
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Oh put that hat back on! I’m just putting up the information that everyone else did the real work on. Hell, I never actually did a toxicology study on it. That’s where the real work is after all!

    The only one on this list which I had any real issue with the credibility of would be the one “Review of Depleted Uranium Information” from 1999. It’s on a free web server and it’s not from an organization I know or anything. I did not read the whole thing (it’s very long) but I took a look at several pages and found it very well cited and the citations are all to valid journal articles and other credable sources. So I went with “Message over Messenger” and added it. If anyone knows of the original source I’d appreciate it. I found it to be a dead link.

    I posted as many solid sources as I could find because the last thing I wanted to get was “Oh well yeah Sandia is the gobment and they do evil things so you can’t trust them.” Yes, there are US government and military sources on there. There are also other sources. They are all basically in agreement. That’s the point.

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  18. 18
    EarthIsMyHome2 Says:

    Hi everybody. I am glad to see that depleted uranium is such a concern to many and it is being investigated but I have a theory on why it is so bad and why there is so much trouble in Iraq. I think when you read the theory you will realize it is the reason why we see so many problems.

    Remember uranium comes from the ground. The ground, earth, is a base. It is from where we are grounded and it is always neutral in all things. The earth is a neutral solid and quiet and peace. To be neutral there must be balance. So when the uranium comes from the ground it is balanced with positive and negative energy. But then we want to use the uranium for making power or making a bomb. We need positive energy for this so we separate the good neutral and peaceful rock. We take out the kind of material which has positive energy because we can use this to make energy.

    But this is were we have the problem. All things are positive and negative energy. Negative energy is sickness, tiredness, death, dark. Positive energy is light, life, vigor, health. But positive energy is not always good, because evil is not dark energy. Evil is an imbalance of negative energy and positive energy. Negative energy has it’s place. There is a place for darkness and sleep and death needs to come, but positive energy is power and light. This is why you can make a bomb out of positive energy too.

    But the uranium left over is all the negative energy (because remember we were neutral to begin with and we took away the kind that gives us power and light and heat). So the negative energy uranium is what we have that we shoot at Iraq and other places and our soldiers touch. Here is the problem: iraq was neutral like all earth to begin with and this is good. But we put so much NEGATIVE URANIUM on the country that it has upset the balance. Now we have it being negative. Too much negative energy is bad health and tiredness. So people are sick (remember we need some negative energy because if you have too much positive you cannot sleep and you will not calm down). People are sick because the negative energy has soaked up their positive energy and they have poor health.

    Iraq is sick too but worse. Earth can tell there is too much negative energy there and she wants to rebalanced the negative and positive. But the imbalance means turmoil because she tries to bring back balance and gets unstable. A bad energy balance is what causes conflict and turmoil. People who live there are not in a good solid energy state but in an energy state which is always changing and is unstable and not in balance.

    They cannot help if there is conflict and war and hatred because you cannot have a life full of love and you are always angry and in bad spirit when you live in that. Plus our troops are sick from the negative energy which sops up their auras and leaves only blackness or parts of darkness to their spirit. It takes time for that to recover (if ever).

    So there is nobody at fault here. Not Bush or America or Iraq. The problem is nobody understood the energy problem of depleted uranium. But now we do and with my new theory we can start to ask how to heal the earth!

    Blessings to everyone who cares and for those who do not double blessings, because they need it the most!

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  19. 19
    Q Says:

    The phrase “Not Even Wrong” comes to mind. But if you study really hard and take a physics course you may very well some day be wrong. That would be a considerable improvement from this, which doesn’t even come close to the level of just wrong.

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  20. 20
    DV82XL Says:

    Wow, just wow

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  21. 21
    KLA Says:

    And I have this theory, which is mine:

    “The Brontosaurus is thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, and thin again at the other end.”

    - Monty Python

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  22. 22
    Q Says:

    Brontosaurus? Didn’t they find out that was actually the result of putting the wrong head on a dinosaur?

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  23. 23
    Malph Says:

    Dear EarthIsMyHome2 can you sight a scientific paper published in a peer review journal that backs up your theory? Because I would certainly like to read it.

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  24. 24
    Michael Ejercito Says:

    The main thing to remember about depleted uranium is, as far as chemical toxicity is concerned, it pretty much behaves the same way as lead.

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  25. 25
    Michael Ejercito Says:

    Not because of any toxicity concerns, but because it’s a waste of perfectly good nuclear fuel.

    DU is mostly U-238, which is a very poor nuclear fuel.

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  26. 26
    RingoDingo Says:

    There’s truely some weapons grade stupid here. Not in the post, but in a couple of the comments.

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