Why Steal a Sunken Battleship?

I found this interesting, so I thought I’d share it. People are stealing sunken battleships for their “low background” steel…



3 thoughts on “Why Steal a Sunken Battleship?”

  1. Those ships are destroyers or cruisers, not battleships.

    There are very few sunken battleships and their armor makes them hard to illicitly scavenge.

  2. It wasn’t just steel that changed as a consequence of atmospheric nuclear tests—it was the teeth and bones of boomers.  A major contributor to the long-term radiation of nuclear fallout is strontium-90, one of the products of the fission of uranium or plutonium.  With a half-life of 28.79 years, it is one of the longer-lived components of fallout (by comparison, cobalt-60, which is the principal contributor to low-level radiation from steel, has a half-life of 5.27 years).  Strontium appears below calcium in group 2 of the periodic table and has similar biochemical activity, so if ingested it tends to accumulate in calcium-rich structures such as bones and teeth.  The Baby Tooth Survey monitored a total of 320,000 baby teeth collected over the years of atmospheric nuclear testing up until 1970.  The study found that children born after 1963 had levels of strontium-90 in their teeth fifty times higher than those born before nuclear testing began.

    Strontium also replaces calcium in the bones.  Everything in biology is dynamic, and even material in bones turns over with time.  Counting all excretion paths, the biological half-life (which has nothing to do with the nuclear half-life of the isotope) of strontium in the human body is estimated at around 18 years.  So taking into account the slow excretion of strontium-90 accreted in the body and the nuclear decay of the remaining strontium-90, the radioactivity of bones and teeth from those who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s is declining, but is probably still detectable with a radiation counter likely to use low-background steel!

    The total radiation emitted by strontium-90 many years later is small compared to the natural radiation of the human body which is largely due to potassium-40 and carbon-14.  However, the concentration of strontium-90 in the bones can increase the risk of bone cancer and leukemia.

  3. Java Sea is shallow. The metal is easy to reach with conventional scuba. No one was guarding the sunken ships. They were sunk out of sight of land. No one even realized there might be a problem until dives revealing the ships were disappearing.

    I originally thought it would have been uneconomical to dive on the ships to get scrap steel, but if the source is free and you are hungry enough, low profit margins would not matter.

    I suspect the steel is just being melted down and reused as scrap. I doubt the thieves are willing to document the provenance of the steel to get the low background steel cachet. Besides, there is plenty of low background steel available at the bottom of Scapa Flow (where the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in 1919). It is mined for just that reason, and there is plenty of steel there.

    The Perth and Houston have not been stripped. Possibly because they sank within sight of land in a highly-travelled strait. I first came across this when I was researching my book The Cruiser Houston.


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