11| 'National Security' Kept Atomic Veterans' Suffering a Secret (excerpt)

Of the hundreds of thousands of Atomic Veterans exposed to radiation by the military, at most 455 have received compensation.

Pat Broudy

This article will cover the uses of depleted uranium before and during the Gulf War, the exposures of military and civilian personnel and the resultant coverup of the records of the "Atomic Veterans" exposed to ionizing radiation during the Cold War, as well as the expectation of the same treatment of the Gulf War veterans.

Separation of the slow-neutron-fissionable uranium 235 (U-235) isotope from the major isotope, uranium 238 (U-238), was necessary to build the uranium bomb detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, and other gun-type uranium weapons. Natural uranium is almost 99.3 percent U-238 and only about 0.7 percent U-235. To obtain a few kilograms of U-235 leaves more than a ton of U-238 and remaining U-235 waste.

DU-waste removal discussed 1957

What to do with about a billion pounds of DU waste was discussed in meetings as early as 1957. One of the earliest uses of DU was as a substitute for U-235 in the test firings of the Hiroshima gun-type weapons at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1945.

A more important early use was as the "tamping" material between the high explosives and plutonium core of implosion bombs, such as the first Fat Man bomb design used at Alamogordo, New Mexico; Nagasaki, Japan; and twice at Operation CROSSROADS. A large mass of U-238 acted both to hold the core together until it could fission more efficiently and to reflect neutrons back into the core for more fissions. The plutonium core of Fat Man was only the size of a grapefruit, but the U-238 tamper and explosive lens surrounding it increased the bomb diameter to five feet.

In addition, about 20 percent of the Fat Man TNT-equivalent explosive yield of twenty-one thousand tons was from fast-neutron fission of U-238, because large quantities of fast neutrons are produced in a fission explosion.

This capability of U-238 to fast fission led to its use in thermonuclear bombs to create more explosive yield. The reaction became fission of a small trigger fission bomb to create the heat and pressure for fusion of hydrogen-containing components, then fission of U-238 by fast neutrons produced in copious amounts by both the fission trigger and fusion reaction.

A negative aspect was production of large amounts of fission products in the fission-fusion-fission reaction from the large amount of DU employed to enhance total explosive yield significantly compared to the large fusion yield. This greatly increased fission product inventory was essentially the opposite of the "clean bomb" development intent.

Resultant heavy fallout from tests such as Shot Bravo, during 1954 in the Pacific, caused beta burns and overexposure of Japanese working on the "Lucky Dragon" fishing boat, Americans on Navy ships caught in the fallout, Marshall Islanders exposed on Rongelap Island, as well as American military personnel on Rongerik Island.

Besides nuclear bomb munitions, other military uses were found for DU. Armor-piercing shells made of DU or with DU claddings were developed as well as hardening of armor with DU cladding. Burn tests of DU munitions alone, as well as DU munitions in shipping containers, in lightly armored Bradley fighting vehicles, and turrets and hulls of Abrams tanks, were conducted at the Nevada Test Site to determine hazards. These uses were prevalent in the Gulf War, the cause of "friendly fire" deaths and injuries.


The full text of this chapter is available in the book, Metal of Dishonor. Link here for order information.




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