Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Dissecting an Interview

I will be adding links to this post during the week for references cited herein. However, here is the analysis of a recent Depleted Uranium interview.

This is more on the discussions of Depleted Uranium (DU) that are currently being aired on radio stations and at various universities across the country. In this particular post, I will dissect Part I of an interview conducted by Kathy Sanborn and Leuren Moret that was carried by Republic Broadcasting. If one looks at Kathy Sanborn’s credentials as listed on her website, her credibility is as suspect than the person she interviews, but for now we will concentrate on the interview and Leuren Moret, alleged DU expert.

Sanborn opens her interview with this introduction: “Recently, I met with scientist Leuren Moret in her Northern California home. As an international expert on depleted uranium (DU), Moret works tirelessly to educate the public about the dangers of DU weaponry for both soldiers and civilians alike. Her biography includes a five-year stint at the Lawrence Berkeley nuclear weapons lab and two years at the Livermore nuclear weapons lab. Moret, a former Environmental Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, contributed to an expert report on depleted uranium for the United Nations regarding the illegality of DU munitions.”

Now how did Ms. Sanborn conclude that Moret is an “international expert” on DU? Let’s do what Ms. Sanborn failed to do, namely, check Ms Moret’s credentials. Ms. Moret holds a Bachelor of Science in Geology from The University of California at Davis (1968) and a Master of Arts in Near Eastern Studies from The University of California at Berkeley (1978). Her only other scientific background was as a lab technician at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for five years and Senior Scientific Technologist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from October 1989 to August 1990 (this is a mere 10 months, not two years). Nothing in these credentials speaks of an expert in anything relating to physics, let alone DU. The scary part of what Sanborn says is that Moret contributed to an “expert” report for the United Nations on a topic for which she is singularly unqualified to comment in an expert capacity.

Sanborn asks Moret to explain what DU is to the audience. Moret replies, “Depleted uranium is the waste product of the uranium enrichment process. They have to mine the uranium, extract the ore, and then remove half of one per cent of Uranium-235. The rest of it, 99.5%, is radioactive waste. It is pyrophoric at low temperatures (at 190 degrees Centigrade it will ignite.) As it burns at high temperatures it forms a radioactive poison gas.”

To begin with, DU is not waste product; it is more properly a by-product of the process whereby U235 and U234 (commonly called enriched uranium) are extracted. This by-product, commonly called DU, consists of 99.8% U238, .2% U235, and .001% U234. Natural uranium ore, prior to the extraction of U235 and U234 consists of 99.27% U238, .72% U235 and .0054% U234. U238 is only weakly radioactive, giving off low-energy alpha particles.

An expert would make this distinction. Spent fuel from a reactor is a waste product. The key difference between DU and natural uranium ore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet on DU, is that it is only 60% as radioactive as uranium ore (due to the extraction of U235). DU, like natural uranium, is only weakly radioactive. It is the extracted U235 and U234 that are highly radioactive.

DU does not ignite at low temperatures. Furthermore, Moret’s figure of 190 degrees Centigrade (374 degrees Fahrenheit) is incorrect for the igniting temperature of DU. Per the WHO fact sheet, DU ignites on impact if the temperature exceeds 600 degrees Centigrade (1112 degrees Farhrenheit).

DU does not form a “radioactive poison gas” as it burns. Burnt DU forms uranium oxides which, while toxic, are only weakly radioactive. The concentrations required to have noticeable adverse health effects are beyond what even most tank crews experience when the tank is hit by a DU round. I’ll address the specific health risks when countering Moret’s health risk statements.

Sanborn then asks if DU should be considered a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). To which Moret replies: “Yes, DU is considered a WMD under two of the three categories defining WMD under US Federal Code. DU is also illegal under all international laws and under US military law as well. Depleted uranium is part of a global nuclear war on the population that is at least ten times more intense than nuclear bomb tests.”

So now Moret is a lawyer too. DU is considered a WMD by whom? Do we really think that if this were true, that no one in Congress would bring it up? Moret never cites the code or the alleged categories. She merely makes a blanket statement on it being illegal without offering any proof.

The next claim is just as ludicrous. DU is not illegal under any laws. Virtually every NATO country, Russia and China have DU programs. DU is used in a wide variety of civilian applications as well, including as shielding in medical radiological applications.

The final statement is not quantified in any way…or proven. We can easily imagine and there are studies that have measured radiation from bomb tests. Ten times greater intensity using a weakly radioactive element? One’s dead skin layer is enough to deflect the radiation given off by DU.

Moret then goes on to bring up the 1943 “Groves Memorandum” titled “Use of Radioactive Materials as a Military Weapon,” as proof that the military knew the dangers of DU as early as 1943. She argues that critics point out that the memo was not talking about DU, but she feels the title is sufficient proof. Yet she totally ignores the paragraphs in the memo that refer to gamma and high-energy beta emitting materials that would be required to produce a radiological weapon. DU, it should be noted, is primarily an alpha emitter and therefore totally unsuited for this purpose.

Sanborn then goes on to ask why, if the military knows the dangers of DU, do they use it in Iraq and elsewhere.

Moret’s reply is nothing short of amazing: “You’re looking at a depopulation campaign waged on citizens.”

Considering that DU weapons are first and foremost armor defeating weapons, one can only be amazed by such a statement. Nor can she point to any policy that would even remotely suggest that such a campaign exists.

Moret goes on to say: “Just as Agent Orange was used to depopulate Vietnam as proposed in WWII by the Manhattan project, DU has been, and is being, used to wipe out civilians in war zones …and beyond.”

Agent Orange was used as a defoliant. It was not used with the intent to kill humans. Secondly, Agent Orange is not remotely radiological and thus has no connection to her tie-in to the Manhattan Project. Civilians, unless they are driving around in tanks, are not the target of DU.

Moret continues her march of insanity with questionable disability statistics. She seems to be making the claim that since disability rates are rising, it is because of DU. However, she offers no breakdown of disabilities. In fact, the number one reported disability is hearing loss. Second, her rising numbers include all veterans, not just the ones who served in war zones.

Sanborn then asks how DU produces such devastating effects. To which Moret replies: “Uranium has an affinity for the chemical makeup of DNA, and US patents exist that show Uranium is used by Monsanto and other GM corporations to genetically modify organisms.

The target organ of depleted uranium is the brain. The French Atomic Energy Agency made a detailed study of the effects of uranium on lab animals and found a tremendous effect on the brain.”

First, notice that Moret slips casually between DU and Uranium, ignoring any differences between the substances which are in fact, substantial. The WHO DU fact sheet, says nothing of the sort. In fact, the WHO fact sheet points out that the primary danger of DU and natural Uranium is not radiation at all, but heavy metal toxicity and the primary organ targeted is the kidneys.

As proof of her erroneous assertions, Moret offers two examples of soldiers who returned from the war zone and committed murder-suicide. The articles offered make absolutely no mention of DU, or any other contagion. It is Moret who assumes there is a link and Sanborn does not question it.

Sanborn then states: “Your colleague, Dr. Arun Mitra, says other effects of DU exposure can be cancer, leukemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, joint and muscle pain, neurological and/or nerve damage, mood disturbances, auto-immuno-deficiencies, lung and kidney damage, vision problems, skin rupture, increase in miscarriages, maternal mortality, and genetic birth defects/deformation.” To which Moret replies, “yes”.

This is a case of blatant misrepresentation by both Sanborn and Moret. Dr Arun Mitra made all these comments not about DU exposure, but about downwind effects from a nuclear blast. The two are not the same. Keep in mind that the radiation effects from a nuclear blast include high-energy beta and gamma radiation, while DU radiation is low-level alpha radiation. Dr. Mitra is a key member of The Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). A review of the ICAN website and publications available on their website shows no references to DU.

The WHO DU fact sheet states explicitly that none of the medical issues mentioned by Sanborn and Moret are in fact linked to DU, with the exception of kidney damage in the most extreme doses.

Sanborn then asks how DU gets into the body, to which Moret replies: “Inhalation is the worst type of depleted uranium exposure. If the DU is inhaled, about 70% of it goes directly to the bloodstream. (If you only eat the DU, most of it will stick to the food and pass through your body.) Our troops and the Iraqi civilians are continual victims of DU as they inhale the particles every day.

The chemical and physical nature of the nanoparticles is what makes people sick. The particles enter human cells in forty-eight hours after exposure. The DU nanoparticles are insoluble, and once inside the body, very small amounts can be excreted.”

Here Moret mixes fact with fiction. Inhalation is, in fact, the most dangerous intake path for DU because the fraction absorbed into the blood is greater. However, it is the soluble forms that cause the damage and are absorbed in the blood, not the insoluble forms. Her percentage quoted is incorrect: for soluble forms, between 20% and 30% can be absorbed by the blood, not the 70% that she quotes. 70% of the uranium that is absorbed by the blood will be filtered by the kidneys and excreted in urine within 24 hours. 90% is gone within a few days. Finally, after all the discussion about radiation, Moret almost states an accurate fact. It is the chemical toxicity of DU (like any other heavy metal) that is the risk and that risk is primarily to the kidneys which perform the filtering function.

All studies to date conducted by peer-reviewed sources such as the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), World Health Organization (WHO), The Royal Society and others, indicate that DU contamination stays within a few meters of where it impacted. All studies to date also indicate no specific health risks associated with this contamination. However, as a precaution, they do advise better education for civilians (to keep them off destroyed vehicles), monitoring of sites, and cleaning up DU fragments where they can be identified. Again, it is because of the chemical toxicity that all heavy metals share, not radiation.

I am looking forward to the second part of this interview. What other fiction will these women spin?

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