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Weapons Grade Uranium

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  • Weapons Grade Uranium

    I watched a show on 60 minutes last week about some failed raid on an atomic reactor in South Africa (Pelindaba) to steal weapons grade uranium. The part I found interesting was that the commentator said that weapons grade uranium could safely be handled without protective equipment. This more or less totally contradicts everything I have ever heard----I thought that when it was handled people had to be in the classic lead lined suits with all kinds of radiation protection to keep from being killed by radiation poisoning. Was the commentator wrong/
    Last edited by brian Rupnow; 06-27-2010, 10:17 AM.
    Brian Rupnow

  • #2
    Depends at what stage of the process it was at.

    AFIK the mined milled and refined product is not "intensely" radioactive... until it is turned into fuel and run in a reactor. THEN it becomes lethal.
    This product has been determined by the state of California to cause permanent irreversible death. This statement may or may not be recognized as valid by all states.
    Heirs of an old war/that's what we've become Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
    Plastic Operators Dot Com

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    • #3
      Brian,
      Uranium 238 (the more common isotope) and U-235 (the rare, fissionable isotope) are both alpha emitters and therefore not too dangerous to hold. They are both heavy metal poisons, so eating them would not be a good idea.

      I presume the show you referenced was discussing fuel rods for a reactor. They are usually only 3% U235, and if unused are not dangerous. If used, then they are radioactive due to the fission products. These would have to be handled with care, if not cooled they will melt from the heat of decay products. Don't know how long they could be out of the cooling water pool before that happens.

      They are both heavier than lead, so carrying a lot of it would be difficult.

      Thats all I know.

      Steve

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      • #4
        A quick Wiki run shows that South Africa had quite the nuclear weapons program.

        What the hell...

        Why does SOUTH AFRICA need nuclear weapons?
        This product has been determined by the state of California to cause permanent irreversible death. This statement may or may not be recognized as valid by all states.
        Heirs of an old war/that's what we've become Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
        Plastic Operators Dot Com

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Liger Zero
          Why does SOUTH AFRICA need nuclear weapons?

          Why does ANY country need nuclear weapons?

          Mike

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          • #6
            Here's a Washington Post article on the attack:

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...121901857.html

            There are many more available on-line.

            SA developed a nuclear arsenal as documented here:

            http://www.nti.org/e_research/profil...ear/index.html

            and a number of other on-line sources.

            I also remember reading about a nuclear explosion off the coast of SA several years ago believed to be a test of one of their weapons.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by KillerMike
              Why does ANY country need nuclear weapons?

              Mike
              X2 on that Mike

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Liger Zero
                A quick Wiki run shows that South Africa had quite the nuclear weapons program.

                What the hell...
                South Africa and Israel colluded for years to build nuclear warheads (strange bedfellows). They constructed some 10 - 20, U-235 warheads each. Israel is claimed to have developed the Shavit satellite launch vehicle to be weaponized as the RSA-3 ballistic missile carrier for their warheads.

                Why does SOUTH AFRICA need nuclear weapons?
                Same reason every country in the world wants nuclear weapons -- you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.
                "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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                • #9
                  Both South Africa and Israel were scared of being attacked by numerous neighbours, because they were both quite unpleasant to minority groups.

                  Israel thought that massed Arabic countries would attack them, while South Africa thought that massed black African countries would attack them.

                  Despotism breeds madness, and madness breeds aggression.

                  At least the aggression that built the cold war was more of an even show of strength, and that's easier to back down from, as we've seen, and are still seeing.

                  Why in heaven's name failed empires like the UK and France still think they need nuclear capabilities I can't fathom.

                  They question should be, which is the next country to feel scared of being attacked - that's after Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and China ?
                  Richard

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                  • #10
                    I thought that when it was handled people had to be in the classic lead lined suits with all kinds of radiation protection to keep from being killed by radiation poisoning. Was the commentator wrong/
                    The report is correct.

                    You can quickly check the radiation level of any particular isotope by checking the half life. For U-238 it is over 4.5 billion years which means it hardly emits any radiation at all. Even pure weapons grade u-235 has a half life of 3/4 of a billion years so once again the activity is very low. The bulk of the radiation emitted is by daughter products but because the rate of decay is so low they are also very weak.

                    As for chemical toxicity, uranium is considerably less toxic than lead in the elemental form. Unlike lead it doesn't bioaccumulate in the tissues and is almost entirely excreted promptly. The primary hazard associate with uranium metal that entered the body would be long term carcinogenic and teratogenic effects produce by the alpha radiation.

                    Naturally, this all changes if what they were trying to steal was Uranium Hexafluoride gas, which is the common form that the material is kept in since the low density makes it impossible for a criticality event to occur. However, you can't put Uranium Hexafluoride in your pocket since it is kept in large and heavy shielded cylinders.
                    Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                    • #11
                      The idea of South Africa having nuclear weapons was a scheme hatched by a group of racist skinheads. They figured that if one group of Africans had nuclear weapons, they all would need them, and since they're always fighting among themselves, world domination wasn't even an issue.

                      "Let 'em go at it" and turn Africa into self-lighting, glass parking lot.
                      No good deed goes unpunished.

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                      • #12
                        The idea of South Africa having nuclear weapons was a scheme hatched by a group of racist skinheads. They figured that if one group of Africans had nuclear weapons, they all would need them, and since they're always fighting among themselves, world domination wasn't even an issue.
                        While that may be an attractive hypothesis to some the real answer is a lot more likely.

                        Israel most likely provided the startup technology to SA in return for permission to test their weapons there. SA poses no threat at all to Israel and is conveniently placed for easy transport and test of such weapons. SA has a high enough tech level that the independent development of Nuclear weapons wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. Since it was impossible for Israel to test their weapons on home turf and they do not have any off shore possessions this was a marriage of convenience that benefited both parties.
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                        • #13
                          Africa probably had nuclear power before any other continent.

                          There were reactors there a very long time ago apparently at the 100kW level or so..

                          Here is a link, yes it is to the "Fictionpedia", but the literature is out there and is quite acceptable science.

                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural...ission_reactor

                          Now, nobody got any great benefit from this, most likely........
                          1601

                          Keep eye on ball.
                          Hashim Khan

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                          • #14
                            Doesn't metallic Uranium spontaneously ignite in air? Breathing dust is probably a bad idea also.

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                            • #15
                              Why does ANY country need nuclear weapons?
                              Consider what the world would be like now if the USSR had nuclear weapons and the West did not. Having them doesn't mean you have to like having them.

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