by Andrew Walden (originally published 7/21/2007)
Anti-depleted uranium activists have enlisted the assistance of all of Hawaii’s leftist alternative weeklies in a campaign against depleted uranium. The Hawaii Island Journal June 30 caries a front page cartoon skeleton in an aloha shirt and the headline “Radioactive us -- danger depleted uranium.” Articles on the alleged risks of depleted uranium appeared in quick succession in Honolulu Weekly, June 13, Maui Time, June 21, and Big Island Weekly, June 27 as well as the Journal.
Big Island Weekly points out that the latest anti-DU hype is based on observations in South Kona by an activist armed with a $399.00 “Gamma Scout,” Geiger counter. Allegedly the readings of “63 counts per minute” cited by Big Island Weekly indicate that “we might have a Gulf War in our backyards” and underlines “suspicion that DU is being used on Hawaii.”
As usual, the truth lies elsewhere. According to its manufacturer, the “Gamma Scout” cannot detect beta radiation below 0.2MeV (mega electron volts). It cannot detect gamma radiation below 0.02 MeV. Depleted uranium emits beta at 0.01MeV and gamma radiation at 0.001 MeV—one-twentieth the “Gamma Scout” thresholds. Thus none of the beta or gamma radiation the activists read can possibly come from depleted uranium. A third type, known as alpha radiation, is so weak that it is stopped by a single sheet of paper or a few inches of atmosphere.
In attempting to prove DU is dangerous, the activists have in fact proved the opposite. They have discovered what any junior high school physics student already knows -- the world is naturally bathed in background radiation. This background radiation is far stronger than anything depleted uranium could ever emit. DU radiation is literally too weak for them to measure.
Leftist alternative papers are not the only ones climbing on the anti--DU bandwagon. In a failed effort to win passage of a DU soil testing bill, Marti Townsend of the pseudo-environmentalist group “KAHEA” wrote March 19 in Legislative committee testimony, “According to the International Atomic Energy Agency exposure to DU -- especially when inhaled -- triggers mutation of genes is linked to extreme and debilitating birth defects, nervous system disorders, terminal kidney disease, and many types of cancer. The DU at Schofield Barracks poses a threat to the majority of Oahu residents.”
Wrong. The IAEA, explains, “The most detailed ongoing study on the health effects of DU exposure is of 33 friendly fire veterans of the Gulf War, most of whom have embedded DU shrapnel in their bodies that cannot be removed. To date none has developed any abnormalities due to uranium chemical toxicity or radio toxicity, despite showing greatly increased levels of uranium in their urine.”
“Gulf War Syndrome” afflicts hundreds or even thousands of veterans of the First Gulf War. Instead of searching for the causes and treatments, anti-DU propagandists use Gulf War Syndrome as an excuse to attack DU. They would have veterans believe that American use of DU must be the cause of Gulf-War Syndrome, ignoring the possibility that the disorders are caused by left over chemical munitions and residuals from the Iran-Iraq war, by poisons released in the hundreds of oil-well fires started in Kuwait under Saddam’s orders, or by multiple causes.
Much background radiation comes from the sun and cosmic rays. Visualize the activists flying with their Gamma Scout in a 747 on a one-way ticket to Pyongyang, North Korea. Because DU is widely used in commercial aircraft, they could sit in the back row, nearest the up to 3,300 lb block of depleted uranium used as a 747 tail weight. Their “Gamma Scout” would not register any increase in background radiation from the ton and a half of DU under their seats, but as the plane takes off and soars to 50,000 feet, the Geiger counter will register increasing background radiation as the thinner atmosphere allows in more radiation from solar and cosmic sources. Anti-DU activists rarely mention the massive amounts of DU commonly used in commercial aviation because it is not useful to their purpose of disarming the U.S. military. If depleted uranium were banned, commercial aviation would be shut down until replacement tail weights could be installed. This could cause some inconvenience in Hawaii.
There are also terrestrial sources of background radiation. The most common radioactive isotope is potassium-40--found in organic fertilizers such as dried chicken manure. About 0.012 percent of that potassium is the radioactive isotope potassium-40. Potassium-40 emits 1.46meV gamma radiation -- 1460 times more gamma radiation than the almost undetectable levels emitted by depleted uranium. Organic gardeners use a lot of chicken manure in an effort to raise plant-available soil potassium levels to optimal growing levels of about 100 parts per million (ppm). Without soil potassium, no plants would grow and the world would be barren of life.
The top foot of soil weighs on average 4 million pounds per acre. At 100 ppm, there would be 400 lbs of potassium per acre including about 0.048 lbs of the radioactive isotope potassium-40. Since potassium-40 is 1460 times more radioactive than depleted uranium, this is the equivalent of having about 70 pounds of depleted uranium in a one-acre organic garden.
More radioactivity may be introduced into Hawaii’s environment by the activists than by any accidental military use of depleted uranium in Hawaii. Depleted uranium opponents at Hawaii’s mis-named Malu Aina ‘Peace’ Center operate a 20 acre organic garden which they call a farm. In twenty acres, there would be 0.96 lbs of radioactive potassium-40 in the top one foot of soil. This is the equivalent of having 3,994 lbs of depleted uranium. By its own logic Malu Aina should be shut down and quarantined as a toxic waste dump.
After the activists’ home base is quarantined and stripped of its radioactive topsoil, a check will have to be made on the activists themselves. If anti-DU activists weigh on average 200 pounds each and are no more radioactive than the average person, they will contain on average 100 micrograms of radioactive non-depleted uranium. The average 200 lb person contains about 20,000 micrograms of potassium-40 which emits gamma rays escaping the body at 1.46 MeV. The average person would have to carry 29.2 grams of DU inside them to get the same dose of radiation as from the body’s naturally occuring potassium-40.
Heavy smokers of tobacco or marijuana may be even more radioactive. Marijuana and tobacco have so much potassium-40 content that gamma radiation detectors are used at airports and border crossings to detect hidden drug shipments and cigarette tax evaders.
DU is a life saver for American soldiers. Because it is 70 percent more dense than lead a DU round will zip right through enemy armor. It then ignites causing ammunition and fuel to explode and burn, killing all the head-chopping Islamic fascists inside and thus saving hundreds of human lives. Equivalent lead ammunition would just bounce off. Far from being a radiation danger, DU is actually used as a radiation shield surrounding civilian and military nuclear reactors.
DU is one of the reasons American casualties in Iraq are 3,500 compared to 58,000 in Vietnam or 33,000 in Korea. Low casualties are a major source of frustration for anti-Americans. As Halliburton shareholder and filmmaker Michael Moore explained April 14, 2004, "… the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let ….” The bloodthirsty anti-war profiteer Michael Moore is one of many enemies of the U.S. armed forces who are so very “concerned” about DU.
While the activists point to America’s armed defenders of freedom, the real sources of background radiation include the sun, cosmic rays, the human body, second-hand marijuana smoke, and dried up chicken manure. None of the background radiation they measured comes from DU.