Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

"Metal of Dishonor" - munitions from depleted Uranium (DU) contaminates soils in crisis areas

11.08.2005


They are called "hellfire", "smart bombs", "advanced penetrators" or "bunker-busters". They all have the component of depleted Uranium (DU) in common. DU remains after the fissile isotope 235U has been extracted from natural Uranium for the production of nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. However 235U only comes to 5% of the total Uranium content, so that DU consists of the isotope 238U almost entirely. Between DU and natural Uranium there are no chemical and toxicological differences, merely the radioactivity is approximately 40 % less. DU is a waste product of the nuclear industry, for which there is no further use. Worldwide over 1.1 million tons of DU lie on dumpsites, a minimum of 46 thousand tons are added to this every year. The frontrunners of the DU production are the US and Russia, Great Britain and China are ranking after them by a wide margin.

The military has become a grateful purchaser of DU because DU has special advantages for the production of missiles (picture 1) compared with conventional materials. With a specific weight of 19 kg/L DU is 70 % more heavy than lead, almost as heavy as gold or wolfram, but simply incomparably cheaper than those. The heavy missiles go through armour plating of vehicles and buildings better than any other material. Furthermore DU is "pyrophor" i.e. it burns when mechanically stressed and therefore increases the destructive effect of the munitions. In wars of the past 14 years (Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Afghanistan) approximately 1.4 million DU missiles were used up, according to a mass of 400,000 kg DU.

Besides the US France, Great Britain, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Turkey possess or develop DU munitions. The UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program in Nairobi) depicts the typical attack of an A10 bomber on an aim on the ground as "a burst of fire of approximately 2 seconds, during which approximately 200 projectiles in straight line in a distance of 1-3 metres cover an area of approximately 500 m2". However hardly more than 10 of these 200 missiles hit their aims the rest disappears in the soil. UNEP assumes 30.000 DU-projectiles used up in Kosovo. However the search expedition of the "Balkan Task Force" sent by UNEP in November 2000 only found seven and a half projectiles. Herein lies a problem: Up to now one has been concerned toxicologically and ecologically only with DU of the few hit-missiles, burning to Uranium oxide dust during the impact, which pollutes the air or contaminates objects. The DU’s destiny from the far larger number of missiles, which get into the soil without hitting any aim, is unknown to a great extent. Besides its dangerousness as a radionuclide Uranium is a toxic heavy metal, which mainly accumulates in bones and causes several diseases, ranging from functional disturbances of the kidneys, the lungs and the liver to cancer and has mutagenic properties. Uranium pollution is connected especially with the so-called "Gulf-war" syndrome among soldiers who saw action in these areas; a fact which DU brings in the name "Metal of Dishonor" among veterans. In extensive tests scientists of the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science of the Federal Agricultural Research Center in Braunschweig, Germany have been investigating factors for five years, which are responsible for the dissolution of Uranium and its oxides in the soil (foto right). The Uranium concentrations put in the soil correspond to the pollution of a "standard attack" with DU munitions as descrobed by UNEP. The results showed that Uranium, applied to the soil as Uranium oxide, is dissolved and can be absorbed by plants by physicochemical and biological processes. After three years up to 40% of the supplied Uranium was converted into mobile species. Such mobile Uranium species can either be absorbed by plants or leached from the soil to water bodies. In the tests of FAL the Uranium contents supplied by the plants directly depended on the Uranium concentrations in the soils. In respect to the total Uranium content of the soil 0.4 - 0.6 %, or in respect to the available Uranium share 5-6 % went over to above ground of plants from the soil. The Uranium concentrations of the plants were thousand times higher up even in the lowest levels of contamination. Furthermore the scientists found out that the mobilisation of Uranium grows with a decreasing fertility of the soil (minor pH value, less content of mineral plant nutrients, especially phosphorus). But soils with low levels of fertility are typical for crisis areas and the population has to rely on self-sufficiency on the own soil. Both of them are aspects, which increase the tragic of the consequences of the DU-munitions severely, just a "metal of dishonor".



More information are available at the website of the workshop "Uran-Umwelt-Unbehagen" held at FAL on November 25, 2004; see in "workshops" at: http://www.pb.fal.de/index.htm?page=/home.htm

Or contact: Prof. Dr. Dr. Ewald Schnug, Bundesforschungsanstalt für Landwirtschaft (FAL), Institut für Pflanzenernährung und Bodenkunde, Bundesallee 50, 38116 Braunschweig, E-mail: pb@fal.de

Margit Fink | idw
Further information:
http://www.pb.fal.de/index.htm?page=/home.htm

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>