Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the Obscenity of Ignorance, Part Two

To continue my rant about the obscenity of ignorance, let me say: it is not ignorance in itself which is obscene, but the habit of not caring to know.

Not caring to know, implies a lack of compassion, for how can one be compassionate without knowing?

Compassion is at the heart of all religion. Why? Because compassion is at the heart of our common humanity. If this were not so, then our common humanity would be dead and what would be left would be but a wild and ugly beast. After three billion years of evolution would this not be the height of obscenity.

To disregard, neglect, ignore and minimize, to misinform about the consequences of military industrial use of nuclear technologies and materials -- is that not an ugly and obscene thing to do? Yes, it is!

Yesterday, I wrote about the catastrophic effects of even a "small" nuclear exchange.

Today, I hope to clarify certain things about the deleterious effects of radioactive materials when they are disseminated into the environment. What matters is not whether the source is an atomic bomb, a "dirty" bomb, a Chernobyl or a "whatever". What matters is how finely divided the particles are -- the more finely divided the greater hazards they present.

The first way to bend the truth in these matters is to compare the radiation of the contaminant to background radiation and ignore whether the source or radiation people are being exposed to is from an external or internal source.

There are enormous differences in how you will be affected by walking past a dog turd on the pavement, by stepping on it or, yech, by eating it.

The same is true with radioactive material. As a rule of thumb, outside the body, no problem. Inside the body, big problem.

A kilo of uranium inside your neighbor's house is no problem in itself. A kilo of uranium on the tip of armor piecing munitions chopping into the neighborhood can be a big problem.

When shells penetrate concrete, armor plate -- whatever -- up to 50% and more of the metal is aerosolized. That means it is dissipated into very small particles which float in the air and can be inhaled or ingested along with food or water it has contaminated.

There are three different kinds of radiatio,.alpha, beta and gamma radiation.

Alpha radiation is a helium nucleus (two protons and two neutrons) ejected from the kernel of an unstable atom. The typical speed with which the particle is ejected is about 15,000 kms. It can't go far though. Outside the body, it will be stopped by the dead cells of the epidermis of the skin and thus no problem. Inside the body is a different story as the only thing it can collide with is living cells.

Beta radiation (with a few footnotes) is an electron ejected at high speed. An electron in itself is harmless, ít is its energy which can cause damage to living tissue. Inside the body, a beta particle can travel a bit farther than an alpha particle.

Gamma radiation is a photon, that is like light, although of a frequency comparable to that of X-rays.

Gamma radiation (which mainly originates in interstellar space) is a major part of what is called "background radiation". That is also why it is misleading to compare the radiation of local contaminants to the background radiation as the radiation of most radioactive material is mainly alpha and beta.

Radiation from small particles of radioactive material inside the body can kill individual cells, but it can also damage DNA. Cells are especially vulnerable when they are dividing and can become cancerous if damaged -- what can happen with a human fetus can be terrifying.

Why am I utterly convinced that Uranium Lite (aka Depleted Uranium) is deadly?

First of all, I am mainly concerned when it is used in ways that cause it to be aerosolized, as when it is used to tip rounds of munitions or to increase the penetrating power of bunker-buster bombs.

Secondly, Uranium Lite is not a single product -- it is not simply a by-product of refining U235 from virgin uranium, it can also be a product of refining used rods from nuclear power plants -- it which case it can be contaminated with other elements including isotopes of plutonium.

Finally, something hardly ever mentioned is that when an atom decays, the product is usually not stable -- far from it!

Unstable elements decay in a cascade to various elements which can be exponentially more radioactive then the parent atom -- it all depends on which isotope of which element you start with.

Summa summarum: radioactive material lodged inside the body is bad, period.

The military and the atomic power industries bend the truth so it screams when they tell us what they are doing is safe.

It isn't.

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