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Monday, November 04, 2002

Physics != Politics
One of my coworkers, is, honestly, one of those people who stands for nothing, but is against everything. Not quite the black helicopters and UN troops under the bed kinda New World Order conspiracy theorist, but barely a breath away at times. He spends quite a bit of time slandering the sitting president, while he himself has admitted that his opponent was no better, and he had no alternative candidate (I wouldn't put Nader in office either, and I [worked for him] at one point).

This guy's latest crusade is centered around Iraq, of course, and the "war" he seems to think we're fighting there (I'm going to remind the reader that no, we are not at war with Iraq, we don't have any troops there, etc etc). So he's been trying to convince some of us that the United States tried to "poison" and "irradiate" Iraq in 1991 by using "320 tons" of depleted uranium ordinance in Operation Desert Storm.

He's got articles from various "alternative" news sources that list the supposed dangers of DU (depleted uranium), how it's radioactive waste, etc. Now much of these "facts" have a shred of truth. DU *is* a byproduct of the production of nuclear weapons.

Allow me to explain. When you pull natural uranium out of the ground, it is slightly radioactive. [Natural uranium is composed of]:
uranium 234: 0.0058%
uranium 235: 0.71%
uranium 238: 99.28%
Now uranium 235 (u-235) is what is used as the fissile material (boom-boom stuff) in atomic bombs. U-234 isn't all that useful. And U-238, which is the vast majority of natural uranium, is what gets used as DU. When you read about North Korea or Pakistan's "uranium enrichment program" in the news, what they are talking about is the process of taking thousands of tons of natural uranium and separating it into U-235 and U-238 (235 being what they actually want - since it's such a small percentage of natural uranium, you need thousands of tons of uranium processed to have enough for a bomb). U-238, and thus DU, is the "waste" of the uranium enrichment process.

So calling it "nuclear waste" is technically true, but very misleading. It's not a neutron source - in fact, in some atomic weapons it's used as a tamper, since it's a neutron *reflector*.

Is DU toxic? Yes, it's a heavy metal, and those [don't tend to be very good for you]. But it's not a public health risk because it came from an atomic weapons manufacturing process, in fact taking the U-235 out of natural uranium makes it *less* hazardous. Even the studies that the anti-DU people are citing as "proof" that DU is icky show this [pretty darn clearly] . They are just putting their own spin on things for whatever agenda they are trying to pursue. Didn't get enough attention from their parents growing up or something I suppose.

This coworker says the DU used in Iraq was to "poison" the Iraqi people. That's BS- DU is used almost exclusively for anti-armor ammunition. It's a hard, dense metal that's ideal for penetrating armor - armor that is sometimes *also* made of DU. It's not used against people, buildings, etc. just tanks. The idea that DU was used as a "poison" implies a level of malicious intent that's just not credible.

I don't know where the figure of "320 tons" of DU used in Desert Storm came from, but I find it very hard to swallow. While even a small DU round is very heavy, the idea of using that much when very little armor was actually engaged by Coalition forces is a bit difficult to beleive. M1 tanks and A-10 aircraft are probably the largest possible consumers of DU ammo in the Coalition inventory, and they saw some of the least shooting in that conflict.

And never mind the fact that the [Western Test Ranges] surrounding us ([Edwards], [China Lake], [29 Palms], [NTC], etc.) use far, far more than 320 tons of DU every year and you don't see Angelenos complaining that they were "poisoned".

The whole argument is stupid. The science doesn't support the agendas or politics of the people who are making noise about it, so they ignore it, or twist the facts to fit their case.

Sorry, that's not going to win me over to your little anti-war movement. Thanks for trying.

This same coworker asked if my parents were in the military (they weren't), and said I was "hawkish" and "militant". I went over and asked the other guy in his cube what I said would be the most effective way to topple Saddam. Lifting sanctions, of course! (sometime I'll explain that in more detail). Needless to say, Mr. Protest Everything was stunned at that.

If your life is worth living, be for *something*. Don't just be against everything. And at least make an effort to find the truth.

11/04/2002 02:31:00 PM ] [  0 comments  ]
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