I’m really getting sick and tired of all the crap out there about how depleted uranium is poisoning everyone from US soldiers to Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Just searching for it on youtube, for example, shows a real lot of bull that lacks any basis in science. There are not enough websites or other information sources out there which are actually providing an accurate message about the toxicity of this material, which is pretty well established in science and has been for some time.
I’d like to point out that depleted uranium is not exactly limited to weapons of war and thus I’ve created a list of civilian and consumer products which make use of the same material which many claim is so deadly. Many of these products contain only small amounts of DU, but remember: According to the critics, just living in an area downwind from where DU has been used can have major health effects. Thus, if these claims are to believe, then one must consider depleted uranium so dangerous that even exposure to micrograms quantities is highly dangerous.
Depleted uranium is really not much different than “natural” uranium. The only difference is that it is nearly 100% uranium-238, while naturally occurring uranium is about 99.2% U-238, .7% U-235 and about .1% U-233, U-234 and other isotopes. It’s chemically identical and slightly less radioactive than natural uranium. Depleted uranium has replaced natural uranium in most non-nuclear applications. It’s a byproduct material but not really “waste.”
It would be fair to include natural uranium sources which someone is likely to encounter on a regular basis. These include numerous minerals as well as products ranging from kitty litter to other mineral-based products, which contain small, but significant amounts of uranium. However, since it’s “Depleted Uranium” that seems to get everyone up in arms, this list is limited to items which contain depleted uranium which was intentionally added to the product.
Non-Military Items Which Contain Depleted Uranium:
Most well known is “Fiestaware” which used uranium-based (depleted after the 1940’s) pigments in the orange/red glaze on the popular dinnerware until the line ended production in 1973. However, depleted uranium pigments were common in many ceramic glazes and are still occasionally used in ceramics, although other, synthetic glazes are now more common. It is estimated there are up to two million uranium-glazed plates, cups and bowls still in the cupboards of Americans. There is no need for concern, as the possible leaching of uranium into foods is insignificant. More info…
Uranium compounds have been used in colored glass since at least the 1830’s and continue to be used to produce a fluorescent green color which cannot be achieved by other means. It is commonly known as “Vaseline glass” and was extremely popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It can be found in vases, lamp bases and other decorative items. It also is common in marbles, which continues to be a popular application of the glass. Since 1959 production of vaseline glass has used depleted uranium. Antique uranium glass is prized by collectors, but the product continues to be manufactured by a few companies. Uranium glass is commonly used for decorative purposes, stained glass sculptures and neon light tubes. The bright green color and florescent qualities make this glass especially unique. You may have a few uranium marbles in your old toybox and not even realize it. More info…
Uranium dioxide is a semiconductor which has a “band gap” between silicon and germanium. Although it is not as common as other materials in electronic components, it is not unusual to find depleted uranium oxide used in specialty diodes, transistors and other components. It is less commonly used in integrated circuits and is not generally used in memory chips, because the mild radioactivity of the material can contribute to errors and data corruption. It has been investigated as a possible component of new high effeciency solar cells. High concentrations of depleted uranium may be found in some zener diodes, high power transistors and solid state voltage regulators.
Since the 1940’s, uranium and later depleted uranium was used in producing the glazes and pigments for porcelain dentures. The actual amount added is relatively small and is only one component of the coloring of the dentures. Uranium was chosen because it has a subtle fluorescent quality and aids in creating a natural looking “glow” and color to the false teeth. Thousands of such dentures were made in the United States and elsewhere during the 20th century. Most manufacturers discontinued the use of depleted uranium in glazes, in favor of cheaper standardized compounds in the mid to late 1980s. There may be some who still use depleted uranium compounds and there are likely still depleted-uranium containing dentures being worn. Although the amount contained is relatively small it is certainly larger than one might expect come in contact with while living in an area where depleted uranium munitions had been used in the past. More info…
In addition to being slightly radioactive, depleted uranium is an excellent radiation shielding material, due primary to it’s high density. For this reason it may be found in radioactive waste and source storages casks, such as those which may be used in research or medical applications. The application where citizens are most likely to encounter depleted uranium is in shielding for x-ray equipment. Most x-ray equipment found in dentists and other low-power x-ray sources are likely to use lead or tungsten for shielding, but for CT scans and other high power x-ray or specialty imaging applications, depleted uranium is a common material used for shielding. It may also be found in the mechanism used to focus narrow beams of x-rays for high resolution imaging. Reportedly, some airport and security x-ray machines contain depleted uranium both to focus the x-ray beam and provide general purpose shielding.
In the early 1800’s, uranium nitrate was a commonly used chemical for producing photographs. The chemical is photosensative and can be used in creating both negative plates and the final prints of photographs. It was a very common ingredient in many photographic emulsions for much of the 1800’s. Photographs which rely primary on uranium nitrate or other uranium salts are commonly known as “Uranotype.” Although silver compounds largely began to replace uranium for photographic use by the 1880’s, the use of uranyl nitrate in photographic chemicals continued due to it’s ability to enhance contrast and provide a rich red or brown color to the print. Today, uranotype photographs are still made as collectibles and to recreate the look and feel of old photographs. The material used in modern uranotypes is made from depleted uranium. Natural uranium would have been the basis for uranium nitrate prior to World War II. More info…
Depleted uranium can be found in a number of chemicals which are commonly used in chemistry, biology and analytical laboratories. Uranyl acetate is the most common “staining” chemical used for imaging of organic structures with an electron microscope. It is also used as an indicator in some analytical tests. Uranyl nitrate and uranium oxide are also common in both biological and chemistry laboratories where they may be used as a catalyst for decomposing organic compounds or as a means of binding sulfur or other materials from hydrocarbons. It is also used to destroy volitile organic compounds and in the process of partial oxidation of chemicals. If you ever took a chemistry class, it’s likely there were a few uranium-based chemicals in the back cabinet. Modern uranium chemicals are all made with depleted uranium.
Due to it’s high density, depleted uranium has been used for counterweights, especially in the aerospace industry. Adding small amounts of depleted uranium to parts of an aircraft can help keep it properly balanced. It has been used in a variety of military and civilian aviation applications, including many airliners. In recent years, depleted uranium counterweights have become less common in new aircraft in favor of tungsten, which is easier to machine, less prone to corrosion and often less expensive. However, depleted uranium does continue to be used on some occasions and thousands of passenger and military aircraft remain flying with depleted uranium counterweights on board.
Future uses: Uranium (generally depleted) has been researched as a possible material for use in rechargeable batteries, as a catalyst in destroying certain chemical waste, as a component of solar panels and as chemical in various hydrogen-production methods. Rechargeable batteries are probably the most likely candidate for depleted uranium in a consumer product in the immediate future. When combined with other chemicals, uranium oxides can produce batteries with a high energy density and a relatively long lifespan.
Buy Depleted Uranium: Yes, you can buy it. It’s not illegal to own a relatively small amount of DU (under several kilos). At least it’s not in the United States where it’s considered an “insignificant source”in most circumstances. Radioactive substances are often measured in “Curies” which denotes the activity of a quantity of material. Radium 226 is about one gram per curie. Strontium-90 is a several milligrams as is cesium-137. Uranium-238 is close to three tons per curie.
DU metal can be acquired from:
United Nuclear in small quantities
As a larger “slab” from Eberline Services (note: it’s rather expensive because it’s intended as a calibration and check standard)
Occasionally on ebay a good sized sample shows up
Uranyl Acetate from the Lab Depot (expensive because it’s analytical grade)
Uranyl Acetate from Gallad Chemical
Uranyl Acetate from Spi-Chem (cheaper)
Uranyl Nitrate from Spi-Chem
Uranium Oxides from Reade
And of course, uranium-containing photographs, ceramics, glassware and other items are avaliable from eBay, collectibles and antiques shops, flea markets and elsewhere.
This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008 at 10:45 am and is filed under Bad Science, Depleted Cranium, Good Science, History, Nuclear, 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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