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 International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht World Water Day 2017: It doesn’t Always Have to Be Drinking Water – Using Wastewater as a Resource
17.03.2017 | ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>