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Depleted uranium

  1. May 18, 2004 #1
    if the army make rounds with depleted uranium, wouldt the radioactivity emmited be enough to cause cancer after a while?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2004 #2


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    As one poster to this forum was so fond of noting, one single particle of radiation can cause a fatal cancer. It is not a question of whether DU ammunition is dangerous, it is a question of whether it is better or worse than the alternatives. The alternative to DU ammunition is not peace. The alternative is lead. Lead is so toxic, that without even being radioactive it is a far greater environmental hazard than DU. However, depleted uranium has a much scarier sound to it, and that mobilizes the howlers. Granted, we'd all be better off not shooting any high-velocity, heavy, metal objects around, but if we're going to be doing it anyway, we're better off with DU than lead.

  4. May 18, 2004 #3
    Since U-238 is primarily an alpha emitter, cancer would most likely come if it was inhaled or otherwise injested, so gnawing on your magazine isn't terribly suggested. As Njorl said, yeah, one particle can do the trick, but the average person can withstand far more than that (which is good, considering we get a dose just by sitting here).
  5. May 18, 2004 #4
    thanks guys, i didnt know the ins and out of it, i knew lead was toxic (lead poisoning) but i thought it was only through ingestion
  6. May 18, 2004 #5


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    "Depleted" means 'no longer significantly radioactive.' For some reason the hippies can say that word without even noticing they said it.

    That said, Urainium has chemical properties that are worse than lead (which is itself pretty bad, as Njorl said).
  7. May 18, 2004 #6
    i know what depleted means, it still has some radioactive properties left in it, so i was wondering how harmfull they were
  8. May 19, 2004 #7
    I don't know if I'd go so far as to say significant. DU weapons and armor are made of alloyed U238 which is an alpha emitter. Granted alphas are easily blocked; however they are much more detrimental to one's health when ingested or inhaled. Is it as bad as cobalt-60 (that lovely deep blue found on china plates contains trace amounts of Co-60)--no. Is it dangerous (yellow/orange hand glazed playes from Mexico can contain quite a bit of natural U)--yes.

    My 2 cents
  9. May 19, 2004 #8
    Depleted means depleted of significant amounts of U-235. If it's uranium it's radioactive, with the corresponding half-life. You can't "deplete" the radioactivity of a substance other than turning it into a stable substance - in that sense, you'd have to call it "Lead."

    And on the topic of lead, I don't think lead is the alternative to DU in artillery shells, because lead doesn't have the mechanical properties you want.
  10. May 19, 2004 #9


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    DU isn't used in explosive rounds. The destruction comes from kinetic energy. It is used for it's density. The round is fired at an ultra-high velocity. Light metals, like steel, would lose too much kinetic energy to be effective. The alternatives are tungsten, for heavily armored targets, and lead for softer targets. Tungsten is really just for use against main battle tanks, though.

  11. May 19, 2004 #10
    There is a ton of misinformation deliberately diseminated by the users of this substance. This very hard metal, is used on the tips of cruise missles, and armour piercing shells, on the exterior of tanks. Yes it is used on explosive rounds. It is highly toxic, and these missles vaporize on contact, and the DU is thrown into the air, and carried on high winds. I have read that Greek soldiers in Kosovo went home and died from sudden kidney failure associated with DU use. Iraqi doctors have stated that there is a 48% cancer rate in areas that were bombed with DU weapons in the first gulf war, and there is a strong association between the use of DU and gulf war syndrome. Inhaled it is causative in lung cancer, ingested in every form of cancer of the digestive tract. Aside from the radiation, it is toxic.

    I recently had a long winded discussion with a Nuclear Physicist in real time, who works with this stuff, and with underground testing. He just can't get over the idea that DU is indepensible. My thoughts on this are considerably more cynical. My thoughts are that instead of disposing of this nuclear waste, they actually sold it to the military instead with claims of its wonderous properties. There is considerable solid science to prove that this form of nuclear war is deadly, and spreading indiscriminately. Now the local nuclear waste storage people are boasting about how they will build a dump in Iraq, for the leavings from this technology. Well, if they used bunker busters in downtown Bagdad, there will be no removing this from that environment. They should be more concerned with the DU all over the area just 30 miles north of them.

    I live 75 miles east of a bombing range where this stuff has been repeatedly used. You can be sure that the wind blows that stuff around. Toole, Utah, home of the big chemical weapons burner, has the highest rate of cancer in the nation. They do 3 things there, that put them at risk.

    1. They are near Dugway Proving Ground.
    2. They spray endlessly for locusts.
    3. they are directly downwind from that bombing range.

    It is obvious that no one is behaving sensibly in regards to this technology.

    When the "scientist" first walked up with this hideous plan to utilize nuclear waste as weaponry, radioactive pollution be damned; he should have been blacklisted and fired. This was supremely shoddy thinking and extremely cynical marketing. I know there were radiation tests over the Salt Lake Valley, just before the start of the 2002 Olympics, well at that time I couldn't figure out what they were testing for. Now it is very clear. Again, the powers that be have determined just how much poison Utahans will take. They work day and night to discredit the danger of this substance, and take minds off of this questionable use of nuclear weaponry.
  12. May 19, 2004 #11


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    There are designs, and there are possibly tested prototypes, but no weapon system using DU with an explosive warhead has ever been aknowledged to be in use, or found to have been used.
    It is not correct to say the missiles vaporize on contact. It is actually a bit worse, environmentally speaking. High velocity shells, on contact, generate sufficient heat to support cumbustion of the metal, causing it to oxidise. However, it requires a hard target for this to occur, so misses do not lead to this process. Even hits burn away only about 1/3 of the material. If someone is near a hit, and manages to survive, they might receive a large dose of uranium. Others, receiving doses dispersed by high winds receive a less severe dose.

    Typical humans are one part per billion uranium by weight naturally. In some parts of the world, natural levels are 30 times as high. Before insulin was invented, uranium was used to control diabetes. Doses of a few milligrams a day for prolonged periods resulted in no problems. No deaths from uranium poisoning have ever been reported.
    You can read a lot of things. It doesn't mean they happened. While gulf war syndrome, unlike the other things you mentioned, is a prevalent reality, its cause is unknown. I find it much more likely that it is related to the toxins from the oil well fires than DU. The smoke from the oil well fires is known to be much more toxic, much more easily incorporated into the body, and was more abundant by many orders of magnitude.
    After all, it is important to avoid thinking. One must always react from emotion and never think. We should blacklist and fire people, and not do any research to see if they are right.
    This is a very good example of irrational fear-mongering. It shows how many people think. Because it is uranium, all rational thought goes out the window, and all bad things that happen in its vicinity are blamed on it. Because there is a convenient boogeyman, all sorts of obviously false stories pop up around it (the 48% cancer claims are just made up stories). It may very well be the case that DU is not fit to be used in weaponry, but it should be subject to no more prohibition or fear than any other ordnance. It is actually less toxic than lead, and its greater effectiveness means less of it gets used. Its environmental effects are probably less deleterious than the diesel fuel exhaust of the many large vehicles used in any army.

    Over 150 million dollars have been spent on almost 200 research projects investigating the effects of depleted uranium weapons. You want to guess how much has been spent on research into the environmental effects of tungsten weapons? Nothing.

    edited to add - MY mistake. The $150 million for almost 200 projects were not all about DU, they were about health issues in from the first gulf war. Many of them considered DU, but none considered tungsten.

    Last edited: May 19, 2004
  13. May 19, 2004 #12
    So I am being granted a certain dose of U-238 as we sit here typing on my keyboard?
  14. May 19, 2004 #13
    The dose of U-238 isn't the problem. The large moving charged particle resulting from a decay of U-238 is. If you have paint on your walls then chances are you are breathing in a little bit of alpha radiation. If you are below ground level then chances are you are breathing in a little alpha radiation. Are you subjected to U right now? That all depends on where in the world (your location says Norway) you are. Certain parts of the world have higher concentrations of U than others (just like any other mined resource) so the levels of exposure depend on the concentrations of U at your location. Can I find U anywhere in the world--yes, but the levels of natural U in here in Michigan would require a lot more sample concentration that if I were in Nevada, or Niger.

    Personally, I'd be more concerned with the radiation from the screen of your computer than from the alpha decay of natural U. I'd be more concerned with pesticide use than natural U or DU for that matter. I'd be more concerned about K-40 because most people eat Banana's or use potassium salt (BTW Morton season salt really makes a gamma detector click a lot-- if I recall we saw about 10 or 20 cps above baseline from common season salt).
  15. May 19, 2004 #14
    When the defense industry wants to use something, they have all the funding they could want to make research turn in their favor. Common sense, would have said no to the use of Uranium, for any new weapons. Common sense. Now the government wants to resume nuclear testing in Nevada, because they want to make bunker buster nukes, regardless of the tactical necessity of such weapons. They say it is just fine to do this.

    The Iraqi cancer figures, came from Iraqi doctors. New troops in Iraq are being sickened with this DU dust, causing pneumonias. This is just one more thing. I think all the time, not just sometimes, and emotionally I am somewhat flat, the truth be known.

    However it is characteristic to call women, or naysayers, emotional.

    Bunker busting bombs, or DU tipped cruise missiles, they all carry an explosive charge. They do not send a DU tipped dud to make holes in tanks. The DU penetrates armor, and then the weapon explodes. Please this is how this works. Let me google up some DU Toxicity.
  16. May 19, 2004 #15
    The Royal Society of England published data showing that battlefield
    soldiers who inhale or swallow high levels of DU can suffer kidney
    failure within days.(8) Any soldier now in Iraq who has not inhaled
    lethal radioactive dust is not breathing. In the first two weeks of
    combat, 700 Tomahawks, at a cost of $1.3 million each, blasted Iraqi
    real estate into radioactive mushroom clouds.(9) Millions of DU tank
    rounds liter the terrain. Cleanup is impossible because there is no
    place on the planet to put so much contaminated debris.

    There are a lot of entries for DU, and apparently the explosion creates heat that aerosolizes materials that are not usually melted, and inhalation of those nano particles does a great deal of damage.

    Again, there are a lot of injured personel, and civilians, and all the science that created the war, will not explain how this damage was done, nor will it take responsibility.
  17. May 19, 2004 #16
    The Rand Corp said there is no credible evidence linking DU to injury, Ronald Baily said so too, Ronald also says that global warming is a myth.
  18. May 19, 2004 #17
    Sorry, slightly unclear terminology, by dose, I meant dose of radiation from any source, not just Uranium. We get doses from a variety of sources naturally. Dose is measured in energy absorbed per mass (1 J/kg = 1 Gray = 100 rad), and on average per year, we recieve about 360 millirad (3.6 mGy)* from sources such as radon, diagnostic x-rays, cosmic rays, and food as well (Bananas, for example are high in Potassium (K). And 0.017 per cent of K is K-40, and is radioactive with a half life of 1.27 billion years, so if you have a banana, you have K-40.).

    I was just saying that compared to what we already recieve just by sitting here, the dose from a single particle is virtually nothing. (The energy of an alpha particle emitted from a U-238 atom is on the order of 5 MeV, which is about 8 * 10^-13 J.) So while yes, all it takes is one particle to get a good cancer going, not nearly every particle is going to do that, and it's only once you start to get good doses over time I would start to get worried.

    *Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Regulatory Guide 8.29, p. 11
    If you Google for NUREG 8.29 you can get it in .pdf format.
  19. May 20, 2004 #18
    Terrestrial living things tend to have C-14 in them, which is radioactive. So just being around people will give you a dose.
  20. May 20, 2004 #19
    Well I do understand much of this, and people do vary tremendously in their radiant qualities, and their ability to withstand radiation. The children who handle DU, (leftover shells, bullets, who play in the dust) do get leukemia. People really vary on very fundamental levels. I got some neodymium magnets yesterday, they are attracted to my daughter, but not to me. There are some really big shoulds here, we are still trying to get the lead out and away from our children, meanwhile we are creating other monsters. I am so idealistic, I thought we all knew better than to engage in nuclear warfare of any type, silly me. I am fresh back from hearing the downwinders speak, and limp about and discuss how they are the last living members of families who all died of radiation caused cancers.
  21. May 20, 2004 #20
    As has been said already, depleted uranium is not only a radiological threat, but also a chemical one. It is a heavy metal and just like most of them isn't exactly very healthy. The kidney damage the Royal Society of England spoke of, is such a chemical effect, not a radiological one as seems insinuated judging from an above post. Depleted uranium is mainly an alfa emitter, and produces low levels of it, yet that doesn't mean it is "no longer radioactive" judging from the BS post emitter russ_watters. Alfa particles are stopped by the upper layer of skin, which is dead material, so you have to sit many many years in a DU tank in order to get an increased risk of skin cancer, in bulk the material is pretty much harmless. However, when a DU impacts, some of it vaporizes and some of it burns producing a very fine aerosol that can be carried by the wind. When inhaling it directly or ingesting it as the dust settles on crops, there is no dead skincells to protect you but the alfa radiation will kill and/or damage the cells near the inhaled particle.

    Another thing is that depleted uranium isn't just a byproduct of the enrichment process, there have been found isotopes in DU rounds that couldn't have been there naturally but are found in nuclear reactors. I very much wonder what the legal regulations are in the United States concerning DU. I have been thinking whether perhaps there are legal restrictions to the amount of radioactivity and the amount of U-235 that DU should contain and if the DU uranium that is a waste product of the enrichment process is below these limits, they might mix some spent fuel rods in them as it is much, much cheaper to get rid of it that way. It would explain some of the finds and would make it as well a beta and gamma emitter.
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