Friday, June 5, 2009

Nuclear Cluelessness

The TV announced the discovery of "Manmade Uranium" in the rubble of the Syrian reactor site bombed out by the Israeli Air Force three years ago. Clueless.
There are man made elements, but uranium isn't one of them. What the clueless newsie probably meant is enriched uranium. Natural uranium is mostly isotope U238 which is too stable to fission and be useful in power reactors or bombs. Only a tiny percentage (0.07%) of natural uranium is the fissionable isotope U235. It is possible to concentrate (enrich) uranium in the the fissionable U-235 isotope. Power reactors commonly run on uranium enriched to a few percent of U235. Nuclear weapons require enrichment to 90% and above. Uranium enriched to 90% or more is commonly called "weapons grade". The newsie didn't say if the enrichment was just a few percent or or weapons grade.
Enrichment to weapons grade is the hard part of making a uranium fission bomb.
Morale to the story. If its even slightly technical, expect the newsies to get it wrong.

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