That Uranium Seizure

You what?

Tests proved the powder-like substance to be 98.6 per cent uranium 235, a highly fissile isotope, indicating that it was highly processed and intended for use in a bomb.

That\’s a bit of a surprise. I wasn\’t aware that anyone ever processed material up to that isotopic purity. I would guess (and it is very much a guess) that this didn\’t in fact come from a bomb plant at all. 80% HEU is more normal for that. I would think this came from a scientific institute instead, from people actually studying the isotope.

As fo this bit:

Smugglers arrested in Slovakia this week had enough weapons-grade uranium on them to make a "dirty" bomb.

The half-kilo of material taken in raids near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday was a processed form of uranium used in nuclear weapons.

"It was enriched enough to be used in various ways for terrorist attacks," said Michal Kopcik, the vice-head of Slovak police.

Well, yes, but you don\’t actually need enriched uranium to make a dirty bomb. You don\’t need uranium at all in fact, plenty of other more easily available radioactive isotopes would do. But take a few pounds of regular uranium, not even the metal, just yellowcake, blow it up with gunpowder and you\’ll create all of the panic and concern that any other dirty bomb would create. Because that is of course what a dirty bomb would do: create panic, not in fact be directly life threatening other than the explosion itself.

7 comments on “That Uranium Seizure

  1. Half a kilo is a hell of a lot for lab work. However, you also notice the error here:

    Around 20 kilos of enriched uranium or plutonium is required for a nuclear bomb ?

    You need far less plutonium than uranium to make a bang due to the higher neutron density and lower stability. And the amount you need is heavily dependent on the sophistication of your bomb design – (from memory) about 60 kilos of U235 is needed at standard temperature & pressure for “critical mass” – actually “critical neutron density”. This reduces if you use increasing explosive force to jam the fissile components together (but needing more accurate timing components to get them to meet.)

  2. “create panic, not in fact be directly life threatening other than the explosion itself”

    Pack a car full of “explosives” (flour, cooking oil, nails) and you get widespread terror: shot people on the tube, kidnappers holding people for 90 days, etc.

  3. Ah, but Kay, radioactivity has a special ability to alarm people irrationally, largely – I suspect – because of the indoctrination they received during the Cold War from agents of the Soviet Union and their fellow travellers.

  4. Err, didn’t the British and US governments also scaremonger *ever so slightly* about the threat from the USSR’s radioactive weapons…?

  5. Well that’s hardly consistent, johnb, with the left’s incessant sneering at the folly of government advice that, in the event of a nuclear attack, you should crouch under a table and, when you go out, wear welly boots. It’s actually excellent advice, based on the risks you face. Understanding risks is a very anti-left position. They’d see it as cold and heartless, no doubt, or even calculating.

  6. “Half a kilo is a hell of a lot for lab work” – my thoughts exactly. If there is indeed half a kilo of nearly pure 235 then that is quite a lot, somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to enrich that amount. You would need to start with a good deal more than the 70 kilos or so that actually contains a half kilo of 235 because of enrichment losses – perhaps a ton or more. So, 100,000 GBP for the U, and 20 times that for the enrichment electricity – perhaps 2 million quids worth (other posters might like to improve on my guesstimates). Seems like too much exotic stuff to be other than of military provenance.

  7. One supposes that this very highly enriched U might be useful in “small” tactical weapons.

    The more I think about it, the more expensive it seems to me to enrich to high nineties – anybody got any numbers?

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