Dangerous yet Effective
English 1A Dixon
III. Why we used it
IV. Health Risks
V. Environmental Effects
A. Bi product
C. Radiation Shielding
2. What it stops
3. What penetrates
VII. DU vs. Tungsten
What metal is said to cause health and environmental problems but it is extremely effective? It is called depleted uranium. Many people ask why we still use it and haven’t tried to replace it. The military actually has done research on alternative alloys, but have not found anything comparable. It may have health risks and cause environmental problems. These are counter acted though by its multiple uses that it fills. These uses are found in airplanes, ammunition, and armor. Depleted uranium, also known as DU, is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process. Natural uranium is composed of three isotopes: uranium-238, uranium-235, and uranium-234. The proportions of each in natural uranium are: uranium-238 99.28 percent, uranium-235 0.71 percent, and uranium-234 0.0058 percent by mass. The difference in each isotope comes from the number of neutrons. All the isotopes have number of protons which is 92. Uranium-238, 235, and 234 have 146, 143, and 142 neutrons respectively. All isotopes of uranium are radioactive. DU is considerably less radioactive then both natural uranium and enriched uranium. During the uranium enrichment process most of the U-235 and U-234 are condensed into a specific part of the ore. Once this part is removed the part remaining becomes depleted uranium. DU has a concentration of 99.8 percent U-238, 0.2 percent U-235, and only 0.001 percent U-234. We use depleted uranium for many reasons. DU is very cost effective and is readily available. It has a density of 19.05 g/cm3, which makes it 70 percent denser than lead. The high density of this alloy makes it ideal for airplane counter-weights. Also its low cost and high density makes it an excellent choice for military armor and anti-armor munitions. DU has a unique quality called adiabatic shear banding, which generally means it crumbles instead of squishes when it hits a hard object. According to a study at the University of Albany, DU is both a radioactive and chemically toxic metal. It is actually 40% less radioactive then natural uranium. If DU enters one’s body through ingestion, inhalation or breaks in the skin it can be hazardous. When ingested it is excreted quickly which can adversely affect the kidneys. When inhaled it has a chance to get lodged in the lungs where it could remain for years causing radiation damage to nearby cells. As it gets worked out of the body’s systems it can damage lymph tissues, kidneys, developing fetuses, the brain and neurological system, the bones, and reproductive organs. Risk of damage to these functions and body parts are actually very low according to the Royal Society book “Depleted Uranium Munitions: Part II”. But it also states that if extreme exposure does happen people can develop lung and/or kidney problems. The Royal Society book also says that even if a vehicle was struck by a DU penetrator, then the risk of death from lung cancer is not likely to exceed double of the normal population. Many soldiers are exposed to small amounts of DU and the risk of cancer from exposure is predicted to be very low. Even if the estimates are a hundred times too low it is unlikely an excess of fatal cancer would be found in a group of 10,000 soldiers followed over 50 years. Uranium is commonly found in the environment according to Lentech Water Treatment Solutions. In air uranium concentrations are low, even in higher than usual concentrations there is less than one atom transfer per cubic meter. There are...
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