Thursday 16 September 2004

Depleted uranium.

Natalie links to this ranting inanity by A L Kennedy, reminding me why it can be a bad idea to read The Guardian. Kennedy, like most left-wingers, is terribly upset about, among other things, depleted uranium.

Forty journalists have died trying to report from Iraq. DU atomicity in Iraq is equivalent to 250,000 Nagasaki bombs, so simply by being there and breathing, reporters risk cancers and birth defects in their children.

I'll quickly pass over what this says about the oft-repeated anti-war claim that of course they didn't wish ill on our troops. If you think depleted uranium is so dangerous, why are you only worried about journalists who get relatively little exposure to it; why do you not even mention the soldiers who deal with the stuff daily? Natalie has already ably addressed the fact that Kennedy doesn't know what "atomicity" means. I just want to quickly mention a couple of points about the anti-DU brigade: firstly, they don't understand Physics; secondly, they don't understand English.

One thing they go on and on about, in tones of dread, is the half-life of depleted uranium: it's a billion gazillion years or so, apparently. What this means, the protestors tell you, is that the stuff will still be radioactive millions of years from now. True, but what it also means, as any schoolkid who doesn't sleep through physics could tell you, is that the material is giving off radiation very, very, very slowly. In other words, it's not very radioactive. Well, it wouldn't be, would it? It's been depleted.

And that's my second point. CND never campaigned against depleted nuclear stockpiles; no-one talks about how much more dangerous armies become when their ammo has been depleted; no-one thinks obesity might be caused by depleted supplies of fat and sugar in our diets; if there were such a thing as depleted mustard gas, I don't think anyone would be very worried about it. The word isn't used with a special non-obvious scientific meaning when applied to uranium: depleted uranium is, as you might expect, a lot less radioactive than natural uranium, which we all breathe in and eat every day as a matter of course. However, the word does have one special meaning: when used by anti-DU campaigners, it means "Oo, doesn't this word sound scary?" Buy a dictionary, morons.

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