Seeing pictures of deformed kids on various websites related to “depleted uranium” is honestly getting to the point of making me sick. Do a search on youtube or images.google.com for “depleted uranium” and you’ll find that these show up a lot. They’re from a lot of “activist” groups who’ve latched onto depleted uranium recently. It’s blamed for everything from birth defects to “Gulf War Syndrome” to cancer. It’s called a “nuclear weapon” to being a violation of the Geneva convention to being a backdoor method of genocide. According to this acivitist, it’s a crime by George W Bush and a genocidal “nuclear war.”
Pardon my language but: bullshit.
The EU paralament has passed legislation against it. Countries have banned it’s importing. Numerous medical studies have been issued against it. The bitch Caldicott has made it one of her key issues as books full of bullshit have even been written on it. It’s been a rallying cry for the anti-nuclear side who have found a way to cash in on the anti-war movement and at the same time bash science and reason. Depleted uranium, of course, has nothing to do with George W Bush’s policies. It has been used in munitions since the 1970′s.
So is it a horribly toxic substance? Poisoning the planet? The science says otherwise. Actually the health and environmental effects of the stuff are pretty well established. There’s not much mystery. Depleted uranium is not much different than natural uranium, a substance found all over the world. Depleted uranium isn’t nuclear waste. It’s a byproduct of the extraction of U-235 for nuclear energy from uranium ore, leaving U-238 or “depleted” uranium.”
A little history:
Uranium has been known about for some time. It’s a heavy metal which has long been used in such things as green “vaseline” glass, in orange ceramic glazes, in counterweights, dental fillings and numerous other things. This was even before it was known to be radioactive or before radioactivity was even understood. Uranium is actually only mildly radioactive. U-238 has a halflife of 4.46 billion years. This has been exploited by the anti-nuclear crowd, but the reality is that since the halflife is so long the stuff decays very slowly. In the process it emits mostly low-energy alpha particles. Because of this it’s considered to be very low in terms of radioactivity. The most common uranium product people are familiar with is “Fiestaware” orange dinnerware. It was manufactured form the 1930′s until the line was discontinued in the 1970′s.
In the beginning, these products all used “natural” uranium, but in the 1950′s, most switched to “depleted” uranium. They’re basically the same except depleted uranium has a different isotopic concentration. Also, it’s cheaper and more avaliable because the material has most of the U-235 removed for nuclear energy use.
Depleted Uranium is used in armor-penetrating rounds and in tank armor not because it’s radioactive, but because it just has some really good physical properties for this. It’s extremely dense, much more so than even lead. That’s great because it means it carries a lot of energy and can punch through other materials. It’s also very hard and it is “pyromatic” which basically means when it hits armor it will begin to peel away the outer surfaces of the round. These will begin to heat and burn. It’s also “self-sharpening” so this process makes it sharper, not duller. This comes down to a round which is second to none in destroying tanks and other heavy armor. It cuts through it like a hot knife through butter.
(Source: BBC News)
And in armor it’s used in layers with other material. The high density means that it helps dissipate energy and requires more energy to push aside than other materials. The armor on the M-1 battle tank is considered some of the most effective in the world. So really, depleted uranium is just used because it’s physically superb for the task. The fact that it’s slightly radioactive neither here nor there.
This isn’t unique. Thorium is slightly radioactive, but it’s used in lantern mantles because it gives a nice bright glow when heated. It’s also used in welding rods because its heat resistant and improves their durability. Thorium is used in high quality optics and specialty alloys too. And uranium, as mentioned, is used in everything from ceramic glazes (because it’s oxides make a nice bright orange) to glass (because other compounds make a nice green) as well as in laboratory chemicals, semiconductors, alloys and other products. In these cases, the fact that the material is slightly radioactive is neither hear nor there. Even granite counter tops and substitute salt may give a strong reaction on a radiation detector, due to the presence of radioactive materials. (thorium, uranium and potassium-40 respectively)
Now, it’s certainly true that depleted uranium rounds kill people in structures or vehicles they’re fired. That is, afterall, the whole point of weapons. And the war that is currently going on may or may not be justified. That’s another issue onto itself. However, these rounds have been used way before W. started playing around in world affairs, and no matter what, I know that I want my military to have the best damn rounds they can, because even if I don’t think they should be in Iraq to begin with, I sure as hell don’t want them to loose anyone because they don’t have the best firepower and armor we can give them.
The dangers of Uranium (depleted and non):
Uranium is radioactive, but as mentioned, only mildly so. Uranium ore is found all over the world and most of the radioactivity comes from “daughter products” like radium. These exist due to the decay of uranium. They’re not present in the refined metal and would take thousands of years to build up again. You can pick up uranium, and certainly depleted uranium. It won’t hurt you. You can hold it in your hand no problem. It will light up a Geiger counter if you bring it close enough, but the levels turn out to be very low.
Uranium is TOXIC, chemically toxic. It’s often compared to lead in it’s toxicity. It’s a heavy metal and does relatively the same things to the body as lead or cadmium would. It’s a slightly more toxic than lead by volume, though slightly less by mass. Now lets get something straight: Lead and uranium might be toxic but they ain’t that bad. You probably have lead in many electronics in the form of solder. It’s in your car battery, probably in your tackle box. Bullets are made of lead and so are numerous other things. So should you panic? No. Just don’t eat it. Actually, ingesting lead is unlikely to make you ill, because it’s hard to absorbe it fast enough. Cases of acute poisoning are rare. But you don’t want your kids playing with lead-contaminated toys or eating lead paint chips, because chronic exposure can cause it to build up in your body. Kids are especially susceptible to it’s effects. It can cause neurological damage if present in large doses. The Romans all walked around with lead poisoning, having used lead pipes for years. Did it kill many of them? No. But it may have made them go a bit nutty from the neurological damage.
And this is basically the same deal with uranium. Just having the stuff lying around won’t harm you. And a few micrograms ingested isn’t going to cause measurable damage to anyone. If you do ingest a large amount, it can cause kidney problems, neurological issues and eventually tissue development problems. But you have to eat a LOT of it. And it’s not even easily absorbed in it’s metallic or oxide form. For kids, you probably don’t want them playing with uranium and putting it in their mouth, but having some in the general area does little harm. Inhaling it can cause lung problems, so you should wear a mask if grinding or machining it.
The radiotoxicity of it is so low that by the time you might get radiation poisoning from it you’d probably be dead from the chemical toxicity. But you’d also have to ingest a REAL LOT for that.
On the whole the stuff isn’t much worse than all sorts of things we have around us. Uranium bullets can leach into the water supply just as lead ones can. In truly massive quantities they could even cause mild toxicity, but no more so than numerous other materials. Uranium is NOT plutonium. It’s not anthrax and it’s not dioxin. It’s a natural mineral that you just don’t want to inhale or ingest a real real lot of. And that’s all there is to it. Numerous studies and all current understanding of toxicology bares this out.
The spin: Because attacking a substance like DU while pretending it somehow relates to the current conflict and Bush’s policy is a great way to try to look noble, like you’re fighting for the little guy, while garnering all the dramatic attention you so desperately seek…
For a while “Gulf War Syndrome” was said to be caused by chemical weapons. Then it was the anthrax vaccine. Now DU is in vogue as the proverbial whipping boy for every anti-war movement, anti-nuclear movement and general bad-science and idiotic movement. To this end states have enacted funds to test veterans for it. Nations have condemed it and idiots have made scenes about it to get on TV and look special. Even the EU passed a resolution against it, despite no evidence. Considering the fact that science has established the toxicology of uranium for decades, you might think they’d need some major scientific data to back this up.
Thus far, this is what they got. The rates of birth defects in the Basra region of Iraq:
Damn that’s quite a conclusion, considering the actual major upswing happened years after Gulf War I and long before the invasion.
So why is it evil to perpetuate these unfounded assertions?
The fact is that these people are indeed suffering from horrible health problems. The conditions which children and adults live in places like Iraq are beyond description. There are indeed high birth defect rates and other extreme health problems, including cancer. And we as a nation and as members of the industrialized world really do owe it to civilians to help in any way possible. But this is not being caused by depleted uranium. I’m willing to say that because the whole of modern toxicology, health physics, chemistry and environmental sciences falls squarely on that side.
And is it that surprising that this has happened? Is depleted uranium the only possible cause. It’s not. And on the list of potential reasons for such degraded health, it falls pretty damn close to the bottom. In the past few years, these populations have been exposed to:
Extreme stress and psycological trauma, both from fearing for their own lives and seeing those around them killed or injured
Degraded medical care, due both to the long-standing trade sanctions on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and elsewhere as well as more recent collapses of medical systems in the face of extreme patient loads from trauma.
Pollution from oil wells set ablaze, pipelines sabotaged, petro-chemical spills and other hazards.
A general economic collapse which has lead to the reduction in standards of living, health care availability, nutrition.
Degraded infrastructure, sanitation, water and other vital services.
Possible exposure to chemical weapons, both from the use of chemicals by Saddam’s forces in the late 1980′s, as well as residue since then. Saddam had stock piles of chemical weapons, there is no doubt of that. He used them on the Kurds and against Iran. Since the 1990′s, those weapons have gone MIA. It’s believed Saddam may have gotten rid of them because of both the expense and liability. Chemical shells have been found in the Iraqi desert. Did Saddam’s armies dump the weapons somewhere or burn them in open pits? There’s evidence to indicate this may be the case. And this could certainly have had some dire health effects on local populations.
There should be zero surprise to anyone that such populations would suffer terrible health issues. They have been living under a brutal regime, in a war zone and in anarchic conditions of total social collapse.
But such suffering will not be relieved by a red hearing like depleted uranium. It doesn’t have anything to do with this; there’s no evidence that it does and there’s no scientific basis for presuming it would. Every effort to oppose depleted uranium, every dollar spent on cleaning up a non-existent threat or doing repeated studies, hoping to prove something that isn’t happening is one more dollar that isn’t going to address the real problems.
The same goes for our veterans. They deserve better than being used as pawns in this game. Some have medical symptoms which are persistent and destroy quality of life. Whether or not these and such things as “Gulf War Syndrome” are even one condition or numerous problems is unknown. However, I doubt there is any single cause. The trauma of battle can be rough for the most seasoned soldiers. The environment they fought in has numerous possible factors. But depleted uranium? That’s been debunked dozens of times.
The longer these “activists” keep barking up the wrong tree and getting attention focused on a non-issue the worst things can get. When a bill is passed offering uranium tests for all veterans, that is not a victory for our fighting men and women, because this misleading means that there is less money for legitimate medical concerns. Every idiotic meeting of a legislative body over whether they should pass a resolution against depleted uranium is one more session that could have been used to pass a resolution for actual useful foreign aid.
Outraged? You bet I am. This disgusts me.
Those like Caldicott and others in the anit-nuke pro-stupid movement will tell you that Bush is a horrible person because he invaded Iraq on false pretense. He sold the idea to the US and the world by cherrypicking and misrepresenting data and outright lies. He used the suffering Iraqis as pawns to justify his policies. He used scare tactics and appealed to our fears. He did this because his policy could not stand on it’s own without resorting to misleading. Caldicott, you’re no better. Before you call Bush evil for lying to further his cause, take a look in the mirror.
ORAU Radioactive Consumer Products Collection
Uranium-Containing Dentures (Circa 1970′s-80′s)
Health Physics Society Fact Sheet on DU
HPS “Ask the Experts” on Depleted Uranium
You can buy depleted uranium here (no licenses required)
Depleted Uranium MSDS
This entry was posted on Friday, November 9th, 2007 at 10:34 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, 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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