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Fear of anything nuclear a bit overblown, unnecessary

July 25th, 2013 9:41 am by Don Whittamore

Fear of anything nuclear a bit overblown, unnecessary

Demonstrators are protesting the use of depleted uranium at the Aerojet, Rocketdyne Jonesborough facility. There was a recent guest commentary in the Press about the dangers of that stuff. The writer described it as harmful to humans, flammable (so is iron when you get it hot and with enough oxygen) and explosive when it is on fire.
Depleted uranium contains less U238 (fissile isotope) than does natural uranium. It is used for penetrating bullets, counter weights in aircraft, ballast in sailboats, paint and armor plating. It is toxic, but so is cadmium (most of the springs in pressure regulators are coated with cadmium). I wouldn’t lick either one, but I would hold it. Living on Earth is a dangerous thing. It might just kill you some day.
I believe that the phobia about anything related to nuclear was nurtured by Hollywood and their “B” movies about such things as giant ants eating Los Angeles. Many imagined creatures were spawned by the fear of the early A-bomb tests in the Nevada desert.
We understand the effects of high levels of radiation much better than we did in the 1940s. An early accident during the development of the bomb gave data as to the amount of radiation that was deadly, debilitating or a long-term health risk. The scientists came up with a number for the level that should be avoided. Management, just to be safe, cut that number in half. Congress, just to be safe, cut that number in half.
As a result of such caution, nuclear materials that are shipped in tightly sealed barrels must have the barrels washed and decontaminated prior to entering the destination facility. The natural road dust acquired during shipment makes the package more radioactive than is allowed in the plant.
We must be cautious about the unknown, but there are things that we now know yet still retain an unjustified fear. A delicious sugar substitute called cyclamate was brought to market in 1958 (I consumed a lot of it).
It was banned in the United States in 1969 because large doses given to rats caused them health problems. Small doses in humans has never been proven to be a problem. The United Kingdom and much of Europe never banned it. It is still banned in this country.

Don Whittamore lives in Johnson City.

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