Finally, Some Sense About Uranium and Dirty Bombs

The Columbian military recently raided FARC camps just across their borders. The Columbians confiscated lap top computers containing emails between the FARC and dealers offering to sell them explosives, which the emails suggested included uranium that the dealer was willing to sell for about one million dollars a pound. The press has several times bit on these types stories, sensationalizing them and getting the science all wrong.

There seems to be a widespread idea that uranium can be used for nuclear weapons. Well, it can. That is, one isotope of uranium can be, but natural uranium is less than 1% of that isotope and enriching it is a daunting technical challenge. (Many chemical elements have more than one isotope, atoms that have identical chemical properties but slightly different weights.) Since uranium can power nuclear weapons and nuclear bombs, it must be highly radioactive and could at least be used as a dirty bomb, right? Wrong, but you would never know by reading most such stories in the newspapers. So it is refreshing to read a story that gets it right and is properly skeptical. Kelly Hearn of The Washington Times has written that piece. Continue reading