Is that uranium in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
2002-10-01 18:24:49

Bad People
Sid gets 10 points for accuracy and 10 for style. But I bet the French judge only gives her 8.
-- Lenny from Canadia


After much fanfare and hype this weekend over a container with 33 pounds of "weapons-grade uranium" found in Turkey, we now know two things: When measuring the weight of a substance, you should SUBTRACT the weight of its 32.7 pound LEAD CONTAINER, and before announcing that you have "weapons-grade uranium", you should make sure that what you have is actually uranium, and not ZINC, MANGANESE, IRON, and ZIRCONIUM.

When naturally-occurring uranium uranium ore (U3O8) is mined it contains the following percentage of uranium isotopes (+/- 0.1%):

  • 99.283% U238
  • 0.711% U235
  • 0.005% U234

U235 is the stuff that explodes. To make naturally-occurring uranium and turn it into "weapons-grade" uranium you have to get rid of the 99.283% U238 and the 0.005% U234 that's in the ore. In order to get 33 pounds of "weapons-grade uranium" (U235) you need to refine at least 3300 pounds of pure uranium ore. Figure that most ore contains dirt and other stuff that's no good and you end up with sifting through many tons of raw materials to get that 33 pounds of "weapons-grade uranium".

In other words, to announce to the world that you've confiscated 33 pounds of uranium could be an honest mistake -- someone taken in by a container that was faked up to look like something it was not. To go on and make the claim that you have weapons-grade uranium, which is a specific type of uranium that is extremely dangerous and requires specialized tests to verify that claim, then we're left with a few possibilities:

  • There's enough weapons-grade uranium missing from the world's supplies that authorities are quick to suspect that anything they find that might be weapons-grade uranium actually is weapons-grade uranium.
  • Some official thought they could lie that they'd found "weapons-grade uranium" and get away with that lie.
  • Some official who is thought to be responsible enough to handle weapons-grade uranium doesn't know weapons-grade uranium from a bunch of crappy lesser metals.
  • Journalists made the whole thing up to sell more newpapers/magazines/TV advertising, because staying employed is more important than reporting the facts.

It's probably some combination of all of the above, which isn't a pleasant thought. If it'll make you any happier, think of a suicide bomber wasting himself and covering locals with a dusting of ZINC, MANGANESE, IRON, and ZIRCONIUM.

Oh yeah, we also learned a third thing: If you find a container labeled "primarily youranuom", you might be dealing with a poorly-crafted FAKE.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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