Nuclear weapon gold used in rings

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The Independent Online
SCRAP gold taken from dismantled nuclear weapons is being recycled into wedding rings in what must be the most bizarre commercial spin-off from the end of the Cold War, writes Steve Connor.

The beating of swords into ploughshares is old hat compared with the ambitious recycling efforts of US nuclear scientists who are exploiting the scrap-metal potential of the world's most lethal weapons.

Precious and semi-precious metals such as gold, platinum, silver and copper, from the tens of thousands of US nuclear missiles due to be dismantled, will be melted down and sold on the open market, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which is leading the recycling effort.

The gold used in some nuclear warheads has already been extracted, melted down and sold, said Robert Bailey, a scientific group leader at the laboratory. 'We change their form in such a way that they are no longer classified pieces. A lot of them are classified shapes right now, so we would change the shapes either by melting or refining or separating them and then sell them on the open market.'

Dr Bailey said the gold used in nuclear missiles was US Government property and there was no technical reason why it could not be sold to make jewellery and wedding rings. Pure gold is not radioactive and Dr Bailey said there were no health risks provided the gold was separated from radioactive elements within the warheads, such as plutonium. 'I know we have taken gold out of weapons and have put it back into the market and obviously some of it would have ended up in jewellery. The wedding band I'm wearing right now may have come from a weapon because I just bought it about a year ago.'

The use of gold in nuclear weapons dates back nearly half a century when the first warheads were built. Gold plating prevents corrosion, especially of the plutonium core, which 'rusts' easily in air. Gold is also used in sophisticated electrical circuits.

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