Get a Glow on Tonight
December 1, 2007 4:47 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this week this story about illegal uranium sales was in the news. Had they been thinking they could have ordered online here and here. BTW, check out what else customers are buying.
posted by Xurando (28 comments total)
Just in time for XXXmas.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:53 AM on December 1, 2007

i've always wondered how people get ahold of stuff like this--never even imagined one can buy uranium online--and *why* it's even legal. if they took a fraction of the money spent on talking about building fences to keep out illegal immigrants and added a tenth of the budget from the 'war on drugs' and used it to keep people from trading in things that are designed solely to blow up things, we might be better off.
posted by msconduct at 5:07 AM on December 1, 2007

"I'm gonna go nuclear on your ass!"
"Yeah? How do you think you're going to do that?"
"Well, I guess I'm going to have to buy me some uranium. Oh, and an anal douche. You know, a rectal syringe? Yeah, that should work."
posted by Siberian Mist at 5:13 AM on December 1, 2007

The Amazon reviews are of suspiciously high-quality.
posted by rokusan at 5:19 AM on December 1, 2007

That's a surreal Amazon page, albeit with entertaining reviews.
posted by spiderskull at 5:28 AM on December 1, 2007

Many years ago I moved into a warehouse in Fitzroy. Each night at around 3 in the morning there would be this fucking inexplicably loud single beep - I couldn't figure out where it was coming from but it was really fucking shitting me. After a couple of weeks of this I (and my twitching fucking eyelid) lay awake one night in an attempt to isolate this motherfucking sound - sure enough, at some ungodly hour, the beep occurred - right above my head a fucking smoke detector with a half dead battery, but too high to reach.

I went and grabbed a broom and beat this fucking thing off the ceiling and did a number on it on the floor. And there, lying amongst the debris, one of those "danger radiation hazard" stickers with the logo of impending cancer and birth mutations.

It would take a bit more than some aggressive broom work to detonate yellow cake, but this and other shit is everywhere.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:46 AM on December 1, 2007

Unsurprisingly, that Amazon page is the #1 result returned when searching for "uranium anal syringe".
posted by tommasz at 5:47 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

"There are no problems that can't be solved with a suitable application of explosives"

Check out the T-shirts for sale at United Nuclear.

Gift opportunites abound!
posted by readery at 6:49 AM on December 1, 2007

"There are no problems that can't be solved with a suitable application of explosives"

For everything else... there's the anal douche.
posted by hangashore at 7:14 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is good to know, I need some radioactive material. I recently bought a "Geiger counter" that is pretty complex to use with a lot of features. The problem is I have nothing to learn with - all 0's all the time - I'm not even sure if it works. I'd like have some experience with it before needing it in an emergency (yes I live near DC, and a nuclear power plant, and know all about the radioactive dispersal from the testing in NV and UT during the 50s and 60s, call me paranoid, it happened after reading Voices from Chernobyl).
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 AM on December 1, 2007

i've always wondered how people get ahold of stuff like this--never even imagined one can buy uranium online--and *why* it's even legal.

It's a hot rock. Treat it as such, and it can't hurt you -- don't hold onto it for hours, don't stick it in your pocket for hours, don't eat it.

To make this truly dangerous required a major portion of one of the largest wartime engineering efforts ever. It's not going to blow up. You could, theoretically, concentrate it enough to make it a real ionizing radiation hazard -- but if you have the chops to do that, you'll know the safety procedures.

Now, I wouldn't cut a hole in myself and stick that lump of U in there, but you know what, that's true of every rock out there.

Sheesh. They sell you the parts to make firebombs at the corner gas station, and you're worried about this?
posted by eriko at 7:14 AM on December 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

Probably the biggest danger is ingesting/inhaling minuscule particles of dust. United Radiation recommends keeping the rock in a ziplock baggie.
posted by stbalbach at 7:25 AM on December 1, 2007

When I was little (around 12) I received my first geiger counter, one of the Civil Defense-era yellow models, brand new in the box, from a fallout shelter which was being disassembled. At the same time my grandparents gave me a small box containing four rocks, labeled something like "Ingredients for Nuclear Power".

The box contained, if I recall correctly, lumps of lead, uranium ore, cobalt, and something else which I can't quite remember. Over the years I've somehow lost this, but I wish I could find it again. At least I've still got the geiger counters.
posted by c0nsumer at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2007

Oh, come on, people. Are we going to get updates on the color-coded "Threat Level" too? This is the worst kind of fearmongering.

The stuff United Nuclear is selling is not particularly radioactive and it's in very small quantities. There are strict legal limits on the type and quantity of radioactive material that you can sell, and they're well under it.

You couldn't build a much dirtier bomb with their stuff than you could by getting a bunch of old smoke detectors or film dust brushes together and shoving them inside a pipe. It's stupid, and the most dangerous part about it would be the inevitable overreaction by the authorities.

The Uranium that was recently on the news (the Slovak thing) was almost half a kilo of 98 percent pure U-235. Now that is serious business; you couldn't make that from what United Nuclear is selling unless you had the resources of a non-trivial government behind you.

If you want to worry about radioactive stuff (and frankly, I don't think you should; there are a lot better things to worry about), worry about the security of the thousands of pounds of high-enriched, weapons-grade materials sitting around both in the East and West. Laboratory samples just don't compete.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:05 AM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I wrote a story in Wired last year called Don't Try This at Home that examined the legal problems that United Nuclear and other online chemical vendors have been facing due to a government crackdown on sales of scientific supplies to amateurs in the name of consumer safety and national security. The availability of a few uranium samples online always makes for good headlines, but the deeper story is how increasing government regulation and anti-science hysteria are putting an end to home experimentation and hands-on learning in schools.
posted by digaman at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2007

Kadin, wouldn't 98% U-235 be a very high enrichment even for bomb grade material?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2007

I linked to digaman's article in this FPP.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:19 AM on December 1, 2007

The same company is also selling a UFO detector.
posted by 2sheets at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2007

My dad uses uranium oxide all the time in his ceramic glazes. It's safer than lead in that context.
posted by Rumple at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2007

Kadin's reference might be to this:

They had originally reported the amount seized was 1kg, but altered the amount yesterday.

Police did not say to what level the uranium was enriched but said the material, found in two cases, contained two types of uranium, 235 and 238 isotopes.

posted by acro at 1:30 PM on December 1, 2007

. ( or the first link in the post).
posted by acro at 1:34 PM on December 1, 2007

I recently bought a "Geiger counter" that is pretty complex to use with a lot of features. The problem is I have nothing to learn with - all 0's all the time

With a real Geiger counter, you should be able to get low readings from all kinds of random things. When people use a Geiger counter to get a reading from some low-output source (which is what they use 'em for most of the time...), they previously have to run the thing for ten minutes to establish what the background rate is where they happen to be.

If, on its most sensitive setting, your Geiger counter does not read above zero, then it may just be broken, and probably not terribly difficult for an electronics amateur to fix.

Or, alternatively, it may be one of the "survey meters" that're easy to buy on eBay these days. They're ion chamber meters, not Geiger counters, and their sensitivity is very low. Their purpose is to let you find the safest way through a radiation spill or nuclear warzone. If you ever get a reading from a survey meter when it's just sitting on your desk, start running.

It's perfectly possible to make a high-sensitivity ion chamber meter (that same site has circuits), but a meter that never reads anything even if you put it on your granite counter-top is clearly either defective, or not such a device.
posted by dansdata at 4:14 PM on December 1, 2007

"No, no, no. This sucker's electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need."

"You don't just walk into a store and buy [uranium]. Did you rip that off?"

"Shhhhhh. Of course. From a group of Libyan nationalists. They wanted me to build them a bomb, so I took their [uranium] and in turn, gave them a shiny bomb-casing full of used pinball machine parts! Come on! Let's get you a radiation suit!"
posted by salvia at 6:46 PM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fiesta Ware
posted by dirigibleman at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2007

The 90% enriched quote came from, oddly enough Al Jazeera (which I figured would be the least 'OMFG terrorists' source at the time):
Police said a total of 481 grammes of uranium had been hidden in lead containers, and that a preliminary investigation showed it contained 98.6 per cent uranium-235 - considered to be "weapons-grade".
So that's where I was getting "almost half a kilo" and the enrichment percentage from.

And yes, 98% enriched U-235 would definitely be bomb-grade stuff.1 That's way above civilian reactor fuel (which is around ~3-5%) and would have to have been stolen from a weapons lab.

481g is not, however, enough to actually create an atomic bomb, though. In order to make a simple implosion-type bomb, you need a 15-17cm sphere, which has a mass of around 50 kilograms.

Hence, even though it's weapons-grade, it's really not useful for anything but a dirty bomb.

1: The Great Wikipedia claims that you need at least 93.5% U-235 to really get a nuclear detonation; anything less creates a "fizzle" because your core would blow apart before you really got things going.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:24 PM on December 2, 2007

Oh (I forgot to mention this in the above response) and although 98% would be high for bomb-grade uranium, it's not exorbitantly/unbelievably high.

You might want 98% (as opposed to 94% or whatever the bare minimum is for explosive fission) if you're using it as the core of a fusion bomb, and basically want it to produce as many neutrons as possible. U-238, which makes up the remainder of the uranium that's not U-235 (i.e. 100-{enrichment percentage}) is an absorber of neutrons, and is considered bad; the less, the better. If you have the resources of a government at your disposal, you might as well enrich as high as possible to reduce the chance of a fizzle.

Also, on second reading the 50kg number isn't necessarily the minimum for a fission bomb. That's the minimum size at which a pure sphere of U-235 will become critical of its own accord. In a bomb, where you're compressing it, it would be smaller (just how much smaller I'm not sure and would probably depend on how fast/hard you were compressing it). But I'm still fairly confident that 400-500g is way too small.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2007

The radioactive boy scout would have had a field day!...
posted by yoHighness at 4:16 PM on December 2, 2007

When David's Geiger counter began picking up radiation five doors from his mom's house, he decided that he had "too much radioactive stuff in one place" and began to disassemble the reactor. He hid some of the material in his mother's house, left some in the shed, and packed most of the rest into the trunk of his Pontiac.
posted by yoHighness at 4:17 PM on December 2, 2007

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