There’s a story doing the rounds at the moment that Colombian rebel group FARC is planning to make a ‘dirty bomb’ out of uranium. This story first blew up last week and has been recycled ever since, and it’s not really true.
The government has seized 30 kg of “radioactive” depleted uranium according to a number of reports. Except depleted uranium is barely radioactive. It’s dangerous alright, but only when made into tank shells.
It is toxic, but so are most heavy metals. You’d be better off making a dirty bomb out of mercury than DU.
The head of Colombia’s armed forces says a buried cache of uranium was found thanks to information from those close to an arms dealer whose name was found on a computer belonging to deceased rebel Raul Reyes (Bloomberg). “It’s exactly the same material listed on Reyes’ computer. Why the FARC were so anxious to obtain this material we still don’t know,” says General Freddy Padilla.
Pro-FARC news agency ANNCOL has rubbished the claims.
Below the fold are a couple of people who got it right about depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium is not sufficiently radioactive to be suitable for a device that could be used as a dirty bomb, said Charles Ferguson, a nuclear affairs specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. … A bomb made with depleted uranium might “have panicked people for a little while, but the alarm wouldn’t have lasted” once the public realized that the health threat was negligible, he said.
Given the consequences, any possibly, even a remote possibility, that terrorists might have got hold of enriched uranium should be taken seriously and investigated.
But many related past newspaper articles have been weak on several points: they are vague on the important differences between uranium and enriched uranium; they incorrectly assert or imply that, even if not useful for a nuclear bomb, then uranium could be used to make a dirty bomb; and they are insufficiently skeptical of these reports, failing to put them into context by explaining how common uranium and dirty bomb scams are.