Depleted Uranium Munitions: A Military Wonder Weapon Few Civilians Have Heard of.
Depleted uranium stored as uranium hexaflouride, a hazardous waste. DU is a byproduct of enriching uranium for nuclear power and weapons. Natural uranium is more radioactive than depleted uranium. It has about 40 percent less of the fissile isotope U-235.
Depleted uranium’s usefulness lies mostly in its high density – 68.4 percent greater than lead.
DU rounds have a 25 percent greater effective range. DU tends to make projectiles bounce off when used as armor plating. It is self-sharpening as an armor-piercing round, which makes it 20 percent more effective than tungsten, its nearest competitor. It also combusts on impact, causing stored ammunition in tanks to explode.
(The DU M829 sabot penetrator round used in an M1A2 Abrahms tank.)
It is controversial for military use since 70 percent of it, on average, turns on impact to dust particles of five microns or less. Particles of 10 microns are easily inhaled. DU is a toxic heavy metal like lead or mercury. The
A 30mm DU slug.
radioactive alpha particles it also emits cannot pass through the skin. Yet
the particles can cause damage once absorbed into the body. DU has a half-life of 4 1/2 billion years. It is considered low-level nuclear waste.
The US military has understood DU’s potential since the World War II Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb. Yet it chose alternatives – lead, steel alloys
DU’s low radioactivity make it safe for some civilian uses, including radiation shielding and as counterweights in aircraft, among others.
and tungsten – until the first Gulf War in 1991.
DU weapons pose few health hazards, according to official US policy. Colonel James Naughton of US Army Materiel Command told a press briefing that Iraqi complaints about DU shells had no medical basis. “They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them.”
I am a beat reporter here at The Daily Voice, and a writer and editor for DailyTwoCents.com and Writedge.com. My interests are wide ranging outside of the virtual newsroom, yet here I mainly focus on serious world news and commentary. I graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in history.