How many jet airliners have depleted uranium used as counterweights) on board? Do Boeing & Airbus both use it?
Uranium Pollution from the Amsterdam 1992 Plane Crash
Risk of depleted uranium exposure admitted by the
Parliamentarian Inquiry Commission probe
By Henk van der Keur, Laka Foundation
from: Depleted Uranium: A Post-War Disaster, Part 7
Laka Foundation, May 1999
On October 4, 1992, an El Al Boeing 747 crashed in Amsterdam's Bijlmermeer, killing 43 people. In recent years questions have remained about the cause of the crash, health problems among citizens and rescue workers, the exact cargo, depleted uranium counterweights, and other issues. Last year a Parliamentarian Inquiry (called Commission Meijer, after its chairman) was started to resolve these questions. On 22 April 1999 the Commission Meijer published its results.
One of the Bijlmer crash issues was the presence of depleted uranium (DU) in the plane's counterweights. A total of 282 kilograms was constructed in the plane's tail wings. Laka made this public in October 1993 after which a discussion started on the potential burning of DU and the risks for citizens and rescue workers.
From the beginning, Laka pointed out emphatically that bystanders and Bijlmer residents ran potential health risks as a result of airborne uranium from the burning wreck. The presence of DU is among others based on a publication by Paul Loewenstein, then technical director and vice-president of the American company Nuclear Metals Inc. (currently named Starmet), the supplier of the DU to Boeing. Loewenstein says in this document that each Boeing 747 contained DU in the form of counterweights. Loewenstein says in his article that "large pieces of uranium will oxidize rapidly and will sustain slow combustion when heated in air to temperatures of about 500 degrees celcius".
The great danger from this chemical reaction is that the escaping cloud of dust with thousands of microparticles of uranium oxide can be inhaled or swallowed by bystanders. The American physicist Robert L. Parker wrote in Nature, in a worst-case scenario involving the crash of a Boeing 747, that about 250,000 people would run health risks (or near-poisoning) as a result of inhalation or swallowing of uranium oxide particles. Parker's conclusion assumed the presence of 450 kilos of DU in a Boeing 747. He says: "Extended tests by the American Navy and NASA showed that the temperature of the fireball in a plane crash can reach 1,200C. Such temperatures are high enough to cause very rapid oxidation of depleted uranium."
Paul Loewenstein said that DU would disperse particles in a fire, depending on the following factors: temperature, the surface condition of the fragments (a measure of the accessibility of the metal to surrounding oxygen), and wind speed. This means that the weather at the time of the Bijlmer crash was conducive to the dispersion of burning uranium and that there was every reason for concern. The temperature of the jet fuel fire apparently went higher than 500C, sufficient for the likely combustion of the outer surfaces of the DU fragments. Moreover, there was a strong northeast wind blowing at the time (windspeed 7). People should have been concerned because a big part of the uranium in the form of dust clouds could have spread across the area, especially towards the southwest. It is known that dust particles can be blown by the wind for kilometers.
To calm troubled minds in the Amsterdam suburb Bijlmermeer, the radiation expert A.S. Keverling Buisman of the Energy Research Center (ECN) issued a press release the same day that the news of the uranium contamination swept the world. He confirmed the presence of DU in the wrecked plane, but denied any hazard to public health or the environment. He declared that the uranium remained intact. A day later, the same expert spoke in the town hall in the Zuidoost (Southeast) district, where the Amsterdam Research Service on Environmental Protection and Soil Mechanics (Omegam) presented a definitive version of its investigation on the polluted soil in the immediate surroundings of the flats named Kruitberg and Groeneveen where the plane crashed. Throughout the hearing, Keverling Buisman was pressed to answer all kinds of questions about uranium, and to calm the uneasiness of the Zuidoost population.
Neither the Zuidoost council nor the Amsterdam Environmental Service nor Omegam was aware at that time of the extent of the presence of DU in the accident. The clearly nervous radiation expert did not convince the neighborhood people that uranium carried no risks. The Bijlmer working group on Air Traffic and associated neighborhood groups like Service Platform and Sounding Board were already in possession of a variety of documents in which it was clear that depleted uranium in a jet fuel fire is definitely harmful to public h