What are depleted uranium weapons and what are their dangers?

The Pentagon’s announcement of a new batch of military aid to Ukraine that includes depleted uranium munitions for the first time has raised many questions about these munitions, the risks resulting from their use, and their impact on the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The Pentagon announced, in a statement on Wednesday, that Washington will deliver military aid worth $175 million to Kiev, including 120-millimeter depleted uranium ammunition for American Abrams tanks.

Russia denounced the move and accused Washington of working to escalate the conflict in Ukraine by sending supplies of this type of ammunition to Kiev, pointing to the radioactive dangers of depleted uranium.

What are depleted uranium munitions, who owns them, where were they used, and what are their dangers?

Lethal munitions

Depleted uranium is a derivative of natural uranium, resulting from uranium enrichment processes. It is used in nuclear reactors and munitions. It is packed into a type of bomb that is fired from cannons or dropped from combat aircraft. It has a high ability to melt solid concrete and armored materials.

It is a radioactive substance, but its radioactivity is lower than the radiation levels found in natural uranium ore.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it is used in weapons because it has a high density and self-ignites at high temperatures and pressures, and because it becomes more intense when it penetrates armor plates.

The Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity of the Oak Ridge University Consortium in Tennessee, United States, says that when depleted uranium munitions strike a target, it causes a significant increase in the temperature of its surface.

When a depleted uranium shell penetrates a target vehicle, the large fragments tend to devour everything inside it, which increases the possibility of the target vehicle’s fuel or ammunition inside it exploding due to its high temperature as a result of the burning uranium.

This means that when such ammunition hits a tank’s armor, it penetrates it in the blink of an eye before exploding in a flaming cloud of dust and metal, while rising temperatures cause the fuel and ammunition inside the tank to explode.

Who owns it?

The United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Pakistan produce depleted uranium weapons, which the International Alliance to Ban Uranium Weapons says are not classified as nuclear weapons.

14 other countries also possess this type of weapon.

Where has it been used and what are its risks?

There are many studies on the risks associated with exposure to depleted uranium weapons, and there has been much controversy about their use, especially on battlefields.

The United States used depleted uranium weapons in the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, and NATO used them in its bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

According to the Royal Society in London, America and the coalition forces used about 340 tons of depleted uranium in the munitions that bombed Iraqi forces during the Gulf War in 1991, and NATO used about 11 tons during its intervention in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

Eating or inhaling quantities of uranium, even if it is depleted, is dangerous, as it can impair kidney function and increase the risk of developing a group of cancers.

Parties opposing the use of these dangerous weapons, including the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, say that the dust resulting from their use is dangerous when inhaled, and that munitions that do not hit their targets could poison groundwater and the soil in which they fall.

The use of weapons sparked widespread anger when the number of American, British and European soldiers suffering from radiation symptoms that emanated from depleted uranium increased.

Many physicists and doctors believe that uranium oxide dust that soldiers inhaled or swallowed during the Second Gulf War is the cause or contributing factor to what is known as Gulf symptoms, which more than 130,000 American and European soldiers suffer from out of 697,000 who participated in the war.

They complained of health problems ranging from respiratory problems to liver and kidney problems, memory loss, headaches, constant fatigue, fever, and low blood pressure.

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