Campaign Against Depleted Uranium – WelcomePosted: January 10, 2009
What is DU?
- Depleted Uranium is a waste product of the nuclear enrichment process.
- After natural uranium has been `enriched’ to concentrate the isotope U235 for use in nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons, what remains is DU.
- The process produces about 7 times more DU than enriched uranium.
Despite claims that DU is much less radioactive than natural uranium, it actually emits about 75% as much radioactivity.1 It is very dense and when it strikes armour it burns (it is ‘pyrophoric’).2 As a waste product, it is stockpiled by nuclear states, which then have an interest in finding uses for it.
DU is used as the ‘penetrator’ – a long dart at the core of the weapon – in armour piercing tank rounds and bullets. It is usually alloyed with another metal. When DU munitions strike a hard target the penetrator sheds around 20% of its mass, creating a fine dust of DU, burning at extremely high temperatures.
This dust can spread 400 metres from the site immediately after an impact. It can be resuspended by human activity, or by the wind, and has been reported to have travelled twenty-five miles on air currents. The heat of the DU impact and secondary fires means that much of the dust produced is ceramic, and can remain in the lungs for years if inhaled.
There is still a controversy over whether or not the health risks of depleted uranium aerosol are as great as those claimed. Let’s remember though that even without the radioactivity (yes those tank shells are radioactive) the chemical toxicity of uranium is similar to that of lead. It doesn’t take a lot of research to determine that the use of uranium creates an indiscriminate effect on battlefield participants. Short of calling them weapons of mass destruction (which is arguable, but not irrational) it would not take much for governments to agree to stop their use. It’s simply a choice they have to make. War is hazardous enough as it is.