Current Issues - Civilian Use of Depleted Uranium
(last updated 25 July 2013)
> see also: Regulatory issues of DU use in civilian products
Dr Steve Liddle, an expert in molecular depleted uranium chemistry at University of Nottingham, has created a new molecule containing two uranium atoms which, if kept at a very low temperature, will maintain its magnetism. This type of single-molecule magnet (SMM) has the potential to increase data storage capacity by many hundreds, even thousands of times - as a result huge volumes of data could be stored in tiny places.
> View University of Nottingham release Apr. 20, 2011
> A delocalized arene-bridged diuranium single-molecule magnet , by D. P. Mills, F. Moro, J. McMaster, et al., in: Nature Chemistry, published online: 17 April 2011
Engineers at the University of Cambridge used new techniques to manufacture high-temperature superconducting materials, producing samples that can carry record quantities of electrical current for their type and size.
The breakthrough has improved the effectiveness of yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO) and a related family of superconducting materials. It raises the prospect of more powerful and affordable samples that could have huge benefits in a number of fields.
While some materials need to be cooled down to as low as -269 degrees centigrade to superconduct, YBCO does so at the comparatively "high" temperature of -181 degrees C. This means that it can be cooled with liquid nitrogen, rather than liquid helium, which makes it cheaper to operate.
In the past, however, producing effective bulk superconducting devices from the material has proved difficult. YBCO is processed most easily in the form of a polycrystalline ceramic, but has to be manufactured as a single grain in order to generate large magnetic fields since boundaries between grains limit the flow of current in the bulk sample.
In addition, microscopic defects within the material can impede, or 'pin' the motion of magnetic flux lines and increase the flow of current through it. The distribution of these lines within a bulk superconductor has to be managed to maximise the flow of current and therefore the field.
The Cambridge team have developed a technique to manufacture large single grains of bulk superconductors that involves initially heating the material to a temperature of 1,000 degrees C, causing it to part-melt. In a series of experiments, various elements, such as depleted uranium, were then added to the chemical composition of the superconductor to generate artificial flux pinning sites within the single grain.
When the material cooled and reformed, these added materials retained their integrity and formed physical obstacles that form direct the motion of magnetic flux lines, enabling larger currents to flow.
> View Superconductor breakthrough could power new advances, July 12, 2010 (Univ. of Cambridge)
> View here
Scientists at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at the University Erlangen-Nürnberg have identified reactions of three-valent uranium that allow for the activation and cracking of the CO2 molecule. This metal-catalysed multi-electron reduction might become a key to the use of the greenhouse gas CO2.
Uranchemie zwischen Phobie und Begeisterung, by C. Hauser, K. Meyer, in: Nachrichten aus der Chemie No. 12, Vol. 55 (2007), p. 1195-1199
As a pensioner in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, tried to dismantle his lawn roller, he found it to be partly made of depleted uranium metal. He had bought it on a flea market 20 years ago. The origin of the depleted uranium is unclear. It is assumed that the previous owner had manufactured the roller on his own from scrap metal.
(WDR Aug. 15, 2007)
NRC Source Materials License No. SUB-1382, Docket No. 040-08769
On May 21, 2007, the NRC issued an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact proposing for Termination of the License and Unrestricted Release of the Exxonmobil Refining & Supply C.O., Facility in Billings, Montana.
This license authorized the Licensee to use depleted uranium (DU) catalysts in 84 furnace tubes of a F-551 Reformer Furnace at a hydrogen manufacturing plant. Hydrogen carbon gas was passed through the tubes with the rings acting as a catalyst, to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The Licensee used this process from 1980 to 1986.
In 1986, the tubes were replaced with a non-radioactive nickel-molybdenum catalyst. Residual radioactivity was decontaminated.
The Licensee conducted surveys of the Facility and provided information to the NRC to demonstrate that the furnace component contributed less than 0.01 millisievert/year (mSv/yr) (1 millirem(mrem)/year) and therefore, the Facility meets the criteria in Subpart E of 10 CFR Part 20 for unrestricted release and for license termination.
Federal Register: May 29, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 102) p. 29552-29555 (download full text )
Three or four radiation protection shields made from depleted uranium have inadvertently been melted in a foundry of Budin company at Aubervillers (Seine-Saint-Denis). Assuming they were made from lead, the shields were melted to recover lead. On May 19, 2003, the recovered metal was further trucked to the Metal-Blanc company at Bourg-Fidèle, where its radioactivity was discovered upon arrival.
The shields had originally been used with cobalt-60 high-activity radiation sources.
At least six such radiation shields had been provided to Budin in January 2003 by the metal recycling company Debus at Villejuif (Val-de-Marne).
As a result, the Budin workers had unknowingly been working in a contaminated working place for more than six months.
(Le Figaro Feb. 25, 2004; CRIIRAD Feb. 24, 2004)
> Download CRIIRAD release Feb. 24, 2004 (MS Word, in French)
> Download Summary of CRIIRAD report, Feb. 21, 2004 (MS Word, in French)
By letter dated Nov. 6, 2003, Sud-Chemie Inc. of Louisville, Kentucky, applies for the re-import of spent catalyst waste containing depleted uranium to the US for disposal at Envirocare's radioactive waste disposal facility in Clive, Utah. The catalyst has been used by Tae Kwang Industrial Co., Ltd. in Ulsan, Korea, for manufacture of acrylonitrile and was originally manufactured by Sud-Chemie and exported to South Korea by Solutia Inc.
"(1) Max quantity: 1,750,000 kg of moist powder that's approximately 25%
mixed metal oxides catalyst fines, 25% diatomaceous earth (filter aid) and 50% water.
The catalyst is approximately 10% depleted uranium, so the U content of the mixture is
approximately 2%. Although percentages are expressed as U, the depleted uranium (DU)
exists in the oxide form. Maximum DU content would be approximately 35,000 kg over
the 10 year period. The content of U-235 is approximately 0.0050 weight%.
(5) The imported volume would be approximately 4000 55-gallon drums in the
first year (that's in a warehouse) and roughly 350 to 700 drums/year in following years. [...]
(7) Because the Korean government has not yet established a disposal site in
Korea for the spent catalyst, Tae Kwang has asked Solutia and Sud-Chemie to find an
alternative site in order to continue buying the acrylonitrile catalyst from Solutia. [...]
> see: IUC forms joint venture with NFS to recycle DOE's contaminated low enriched uranium
77 tonnes of wastes containing 4 tonnes of depleted uranium are currently stored in 400 casks at the premises of Siempelkamp Nuklear- und Umwelttechnik GmbH & Co in Krefeld, Germany. The company's license for storing the material expires on June 30, 2001, and it is not clear what will happen with the material afterwards. The material had been used in the "Comas" smelting experiments for a fail-safe nuclear reactor.
(Westdeutsche Zeitung, May 11, 2001)
> See also: Landtag Nordrhein-Westfalen, Drucksache 13/1054, 12.04.2001: Antwort der Landesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage 287 der Abgeordneten Reiner Priggen und Johannes Remmel, Grüne, Drucksache 13/778, Entsorgung von rund 400 Fässern mit radioaktiven Abfällen in Krefeld
"On October 24, 2000, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) notified Region I that depleted uranium (DU) blocks, removed from a linear
accelerator (Linac), were found at the South Pittsburgh Cancer Center
(SPCC). It was determined that SPCC purchased the Linac from Mercy Hospital
over two years ago, to be sent to Columbia, South America. The proposed
recipient in Columbia declined to take the unit and the unit was then
disassembled at the SPCC facility and the pieces, including the DU
components, were sent to a scrap yard for disposal. When the pieces
containing DU arrived at the scrap yard, the radiation monitor alarmed. The
unit was subsequently returned to the SPCC." [...]
> View NRC Preliminary Notification Oct. 25, 2000
"Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have been awarded U.S. patent number 6,030,549 for inventing a process for encapsulating depleted uranium oxides in thermoplastic polymers. The process converts depleted uranium to a form that is both stable and safe for long-term disposal. The encapsulated uranium could also have several useful applications, including the production of radiation shielding and counter weights for airplanes, helicopters and ships." (BNL release July 18, 2000)
> See also:
- Feasibility study of DUPoly to recycle depleted uranium , by Adams,J.W.; Lageraaen,P.R.; Kalb,P.D.; Rutenkroger,S.P., Brookhaven National Lab., Upton, NY (US), BNL--52597, Feb 1, 1998, 20 p.
- Polyethylene Encapsulation , by Kalb, P., Brookhaven National Lab., Upton, NY (US), BNL--68581, Aug 22, 2001, 16 p.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued draft NUREG-1717, ``Systematic Radiological Assessment of Exemptions for Source and Byproduct Materials.''
Comments and suggestions on this NUREG should be submitted by June 30,
The report covers the following items containing (depleted) uranium:
dental ceramics, ophthalmic lenses, glazed ceramic tableware, piezoelectric ceramic, glassware, glass enamel and glass enamel frit, photographic film, negatives and prints, counterweights, shielding in shipping containers, fire detection units, among others.
Depleted uranium "found" near dismantled airplane in Miami, Florida
A hazardous materials team was investigating after depleted uranium was found in a 55-gallon drum in the area of a dismantled airplane at Opa-locka Executive Airport in Miami on Thursday (July 25).
Officials at Opa-locka airport said there were depleted uranium parts in a container, located outside a DC-10 aircraft, that was sealed and became unsealed. It is unclear how the container became unsealed.
(NBC 6 South Florida July 25, 2013)
Investigators have determined that no radioactivity was released from depleted uranium used as ballast in the tail of a Boeing 747 cargo jet that crashed during takeoff from Halifax International Airport on Oct. 14, 2004. The depleted uranium was only used as ballast in the rudder and elevator portion of the cargo jet's tail - which were not part of the inferno of the main debris site. The tail broke off after hitting an earth mound 300 metres beyond the end of the runway during the crash.
Seconds later, the remainder of the plane plunged into a wooded area and exploded in a fireball, killing all seven crew. The depleted uranium was not exposed to the explosion.
(CP Oct. 28, 2004)
Other than with its 747 jets, Boeing never used depleted uranium counterweights in its 767 and 757 jets - the types involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to Boeing speaker Heinrich Grossbongardt.
(SPIEGEL ONLINE, Sep 14, 2001)
On February 20, 2001, a truck leaving the recycling firm IMCO Recycling of Ohio, Inc. in Uhrichville, OH, set off the radiation monitor at the facility's exit. The truck was carrying ingots of aluminum from recycled airplane parts. Further investigation by the company determined that depleted uranium counterweights had been among the aluminum airplane parts that were melted and processed into the ingots. Depleted uranium counterweights were also found among aluminum parts awaiting melting.
A total of 118,000 pounds (53.5 metric tonnes) of aluminum ingots were found to be contaminated with depleted uranium. Radiation levels were measured to be about 50 microRoentgen per hour (several times normal background radiation levels).
> View NRC Preliminary Notification Feb. 26, 2001
(see also: U.S. NRC Petition for Rulemaking concerning control of disused DU counterweights)
Radioactive Material License precludes further disposal of depleted uranium at WCS site in Texas
> See here
Philotechnics to double DU counterweight imports from UK for disposal in Texas
In a license renewal application dated June 17, 2003, Philotechnics Ltd. applied for an increase of the quantity of DU licensed for import under license IW-010 from 50,000 kg to 100,000 kg.
Federal Register: October 7, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 194) p. 57934 (download full text )
A request for a hearing or petition for leave to intervene may be filed within 30 days after October 7, 2003.
Texas Dept. of Health and NRC consent to disposal of imported DU counterweights in facility not licensed for radioactive waste
By letter dated Sept. 26, 2001, the Texas Department of Health approved the disposal of DU counterweights at an unlicensed disposal facility, provided that the counterweights are intact and are labeled as "Depleted Uranium":
"In accordance with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Regulatory Issue Summary Number 2001-13 [10 CFR Part 40 Exemptions for Uranium Contained in Aircraft Counterweights, dated July 20, 2001], it is BRC's position that when counterweights with plating or covering intact are no longer to be used for their intended purposes, the end user may transfer the counterweights to an unlicensed disposal facility that accepts exempt radioactive material as long as:
Based on this statement, the NRC, by letter dated Nov. 2, 2001, approved the resumption of imports according to import license IW010.
If the conditions detailed above are met, the depleted uranium aircraft counterweights in question may be disposed in a facility in Texas not licensed for the disposal of radioactive material [e.g., WCS]."
- the counterweights have been manufactured in accordance with a specific license to manufacture and distribute such items;
- each counterweight has been impressed, legibly, through any plating or covering, with the words "Depleted Uranium;"
- the counterweights have durable and legible markings or labels with the identification of the manufacturer, and a statement, "Unauthorized Alteration Prohibited;" and
- the exemption does not authorize any chemical, physical, or metallurgical treatment or processing of the counterweight, other than repair or restoration of any plating or other covering. Cutting, grinding, or smelting of uranium counterweights would therefore violate the conditions of the exemption, and are activities that require an NRC license.
U.S. NRC puts import license for depleted uranium counterweights from UK on hold
In a letter dated Jan. 22, 2001, NRC put the import license IW010 on hold:
"Pursuant to Section 182 of the Atomic Energy Act, we request that Philotechnics provide written confirmation, addressed to the undersigned and within 20 days from the date of this letter, that it will refrain from importing any depleted uranium under license IW010 until arrangements for disposal of the non-recyclable radioactive materials have been made in conformance with applicable law, and the NRC has received verification of such arrangements." [...]
Texas opposes import of DU counterweights from United Kingdom to USA for land burial in Texas
In a letter to NRC dated Nov. 29, 2000, Texas Bureau of Radiation Control (BRC) states that
"it is BRC's position that the counterweights are not exempt from regulation and must be disposed in a facility licensed for the disposal of radioactive material. Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County, Texas, is not licensed for the disposal of radioactive material and may not accept the counterweights for disposal."
Import license application
Federal Register: July 31, 2000 (Vol. 65, No. 147), p. 46751-46752 (Download full notice ):
"Application for a License To Import Radioactive Waste
Name of applicant: Philotechnics, Ltd.
Pursuant to 10 CFR 110.70(c) ''Public notice of receipt of an
application'', please take notice that the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission has received the following application for an import
license. Copies of the application are available electronically through
ADAMS and can be accessed through the Public Electronic Reading Room
(PERR) link http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html at the NRC Homepage.
A request for a hearing or petition for leave to intervene may be
filed within 30 days after publication of this notice in the Federal
Register." (emphasis added)
Date of application: July 6, 2000, Date received: July 7, 2000
Application No.: IW010
Description of material:
From the license application:
- Material type: Depleted Uranium Class A waste.
- Total qty.: 50,000 kgs DU metal, aircraft counter-weights.
- End use: For disposal at Waste Control Specialists, L.L.C. , Andrews County, TX.
- Country of origin: United Kingdom.
"Because the counterweights will be disposed of in a facility that is not a radioactive waste disposal site and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and because they are not regulated domestically as a low-level radioactive waste, specific approval by the state agency responsible for licensing the Waste Control Specialists' site, the Texas Department of Health, is not required." (emphasis added)
The license IW010 was issued by NRC on Nov. 8, 2000.
Federal Register: January 21, 2000 (Vol. 65, No. 14) p. 3394-3397 (Download full notice ):
SUMMARY: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has received, and requests public comment on, a petition for rulemaking filed by David A.
Barbour, Philotechnics . The petition has been docketed by the Commission and assigned Docket No. PRM-40-28. The petitioner requests
that the NRC amend its regulations governing the domestic licensing of
source material to provide additional rules for the effective control
of depleted uranium aircraft counterweights. The petitioner believes
that this regulatory clarification should address a number of issues
concerning the exemption, storage, and disposal of these devices.
DATES: Submit comments by April 5, 2000. Comments received after this
date will be considered if it is practical to do so, but assurance of
consideration cannot be given except as to comments received on or
before this date." [...]
Petition for Rulemaking PRM-40-28
On July 20, 2001, the U.S. NRC released an Issue Summary to emphasize current restrictions, applicable to counterweights, and other products containing uranium, which are exempt from licensing requirements.
> View Issue Summary 2001-13: 10 CFR Part 40 Exemptions for Uranium Contained in Aircraft Counterweights
On Jan. 6, 2005, the NRC denied the petition - conceding however "that some additional clarification" may be warranted. Therefore, the NRC plans to issue a regulatory information summary clarifying the existing exemption.
Federal Register: January 12, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 8) p. 2053-2057
(download full text )
The regulatory issue summary mentioned was issued on February 28, 2005. It clarifies that the exemption for repair only covers new painting of the counterweights (under conditions), but not electroplating etc., and it clarifies that the exemption for storage does not cover long-term storage for more than 24 months.
NRC Regulatory Issue Summary 2005-03, 10 CFR Part 40 Exemptions for uranium contained in aircraft counterweights - storage and repair, February 28, 2005
> Download: RIS 2005-03 · alternate source (467k PDF)
Epidemiological study finds no elevated uranium concentrations in urine and no malfunction in kidneys of first responders to Amsterdam 1992 Plane Crash
from the Abstract:
"METHODS: Data of a historically defined cohort of 2499
(exposed and non-exposed) firefighters, police officers and hangar workers were
collected 8.5 years after the disaster. Urinary uranium concentrations were
determined by sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Urine
albumin-creatinine ratio and fractional excretion of beta(2)-microglobulin were
calculated from a single-spot urine specimen and simultaneous blood sample.
Exposed assistance workers were compared with their non-exposed colleagues, and
associations between uranium and kidney function parameters were explored.
RESULTS: Median uranium concentrations were around 2 ng/g creatinine. Median
values of albumin-creatinine ratio and fractional excretion of
beta(2)-microglobulin were well below the level for microalbuminuria and for
tubular damage, respectively. No statistically significant differences between
exposed and non-exposed workers were found in uranium concentrations and kidney
function parameters, although exposed hangar workers had lower uranium
concentrations. No statistically significant associations were found between
uranium concentrations and kidney function parameters in the total cohort."
Urinary uranium and kidney function parameters in professional assistance workers in the Epidemiological Study Air Disaster in Amsterdam (ESADA), by Bijlsma JA, Slottje P, Huizink AC, et al., in: Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation: ahead of print publication Oct 26, 2007
Study finds no excess chromosome aberrations in Bijlmermeer residents and firemen
A study performed by the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) on 10 firemen and 10 other care providers and residents who were at the scene of the 1992 plane crash in Bijlmermeer found no excess chromosome aberrations in blood attributable to exposure from radiation or hazardous substances.
> View Dutch Health Ministry news release, July 8, 2004 (in Dutch)
> View Dutch Health Minister's statement, July 8, 2004 (in Dutch)
> Download study report: Rapportage Individuele FISH-test Vliegramp Bijlmermeer, Juli 2004 (57k PDF - in Dutch)
Study finds no excess uranium in care providers
On Feb 19, 2003, a study into the health of care providers present on the scene of the 1992 crash was released, finding:
"Furthermore, no differences were detected in uranium concentrations in the urine of those involved and those not involved. Similarly no differences were detected in kidney functioning. "
> See Medisch Onderzoek Vliegramp Bijlmermeer (Medical Investigation into the Bijlmermeer Aviation Disaster)
Uranium Pollution from the Amsterdam 1992 Plane Crash (by Henk v.d.Keur, May 1999)
Uranium Pollution from the Amsterdam 1992 Plane Crash , by Henk v.d. Keur: in: WISE News Communique No.463/464, Dec. 13, 1996, p.12-15
> see also:
Radiation Exposure from Depleted Uranium Counterweights
U.S. FAA Advisory Circular No. 20-123: Avoiding Or Minimizing Encounters With Aircraft Equipped With Depleted Uranium Balance Weights During Accident Investigations, Dec. 20, 1984
U.S. NRC Health Physics Position HPPOS-206: Boeing Company Request Concerning Depleted Uranium Counterweights, 1983
You thought, the use of uranium glass for household items is a matter of the past? You were wrong:
On Sep. 16, 2010, the NRC issued a Notice of Violation to glass manufacturer Fenton Art Glass Company in Williamstown, West Virginia.
The company holds an NRC license allowing "Possession incident to the use as a coloring agent in the manufacture of decorative glassware (not to exceed 1% of uranium by weight in glass products)".
The violations involved: possession of depleted uranium oxide powder in excess of the authorized license limit; the failure to perform the required periodic review of the radiation protection program; and, the failure to conduct required training.
> Download NRC Inspection Report No. 04003149/2010001, Fenton Art Glass Company, Williamstown, West Virginia site and Notice of Violation , Sep. 16, 2010 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML102590398)
In a letter dated Nov. 14, 2003, Phil Morgan , a potter from Seagrove, North Carolina, requested assistance from his Congressman in finding a supplier of a material he called "ceramic grade spent uranium oxide". He has been using such material to obtain a light yellow colored glaze, but he is no longer able now to obtain such material "due to the nature of this material's regulations". His request eventually was forwarded to the NRC.
> View/Download request forwarded to the NRC
> View/Download NRC's reply (June 8, 2004)
Depleted uranium was found in yellow enamel powder sold by a French company, and in pieces of enamel jewelry.
By gamma spectrometic monitoring done at the independent laboratory of CRII-RAD , a uranium concentration of 10% was found in the powder "jaune no.17"; the uranium was depleted to 0.23% uranium-235. The dose rate at the surface of the powder was 8 ÁSv/h. Jewelry pieces identified as made with this enamel powder were enamel plates, pendants, and rings. The dose rate at the surface of the jewelry pieces was 6.7 ÁSv/h.
The powder is sold at a price of 480 FF (US$ 74) per kg incl. tax by Cristallerie de Saint-Paul at Condat-sur-Vienne (Haute-Vienne), the only producer of enamel powder for use on copper, silver, and gold in France. Until very recently, the powder was sold without any mention of its hazards.
For the handicraft-artists using the powder for manufacturing enamel jewelry, the powder presents an inhalation hazard. The annual dose limit for the public of 1 mSv corresponds to the inhalation of 14 - 45 milli-grams of the powder (depending on age).
For the users of the jewelry, there exists the external radiation hazard to the skin: for continuous exposure, the skin dose would be 0.6 mSv per year, assuming that 1% of the skin would be irradiated. There moreover exists the risk of dissolution of toxic uranium from the enamel.
The depleted uranium used in the powder was sold by Cogéma's Pierrelatte facility, where depleted UF6 is being converted to the form of U3O8 for long-term storage in the Bessines storage facility.
Uranium was widely used as a coloring matter for porcelain and glass in the 19th century. The total production of uranium colors was 260 tonnes (with an uranium contents of 70%), 150 tonnes of which were used for uranium glass. While the uranium in those times had to be mined at high cost, depleted uranium now is available at virtually no cost, since it is a waste from the uranium enrichment process.
This use of depleted uranium in enamel resumes, after nearly 100 years, the practice of dispersing the radiating and toxic uranium in everyday's items, a practice that was believed to be a matter of history.
> View CRII-RAD release of Oct. 27, 1999 (in French)
> See also Radiation Exposure from Household Items Containing Uranium
On February 14, 2000, Cogema confirmed that it has made a decision to stop the sale of depleted uranium to producers of enamel and glass. Instead, all of Cogema's depleted uranium will be stored (see Bessines storage project) or re-enriched (see details).
> View CRII-RAD release of Feb. 14, 2000 (in French)
In August 2011, the matter of the radiation dose resulting from former use of powder "jaune no.17" in enamel resurfaced in France, when a collector of enamel jewelry found Geiger counter readings up to 20 ÁSv/h at the surface of his enamel items.
An investigation by radiation protection authority IRSN confirmed gamma and beta rates up to 20 times background at the surface of the items, but concluded that the resulting effective doses were negligible.
> View IRSN release Sep. 5, 2011 (in French)
> Download IRSN's technical note Sep. 2, 2011 (PDF - in French)
The independent radiation monitoring laboratory CRIIRAD rather claims that the use of depleted uranium in these enamel items well presents a health hazard.
(Le Populaire du Centre, Oct. 19, 2011)