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What do we know about depleted uranium munitions? Why is Ukraine trying to own it?

The United States has announced it will send depleted uranium anti-missiles to Ukraine, following in the footsteps of Britain, which sent controversial munitions to help Kiev penetrate Russian defense lines in its slow-moving counteroffensive.

Ukraine will use 120mm shells on 31 M1A1 tanks that the US plans to deliver to Kiev this fall.

These armor-piercing missiles were developed by the United States during the Cold War to destroy Soviet T-72 tanks, the same tanks that Ukraine now faces.

Edward Guest, a nuclear materials and policy expert at the Rand Corporation, said depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to make nuclear weapons. These missiles contain radioactive materials, but they do not lead to a nuclear reaction like nuclear weapons.

What is Depleted Uranium?

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process used as nuclear fuel or as a weapon. It is less powerful than enriched uranium and cannot produce a nuclear reaction.

Depleted uranium has a higher density than lead, making it suitable for use as a projectile.

“Depleted uranium is so dense that it has the velocity to penetrate the shield, and its temperature is so high that it catches fire on its surface,” explains Guest.

“When a depleted uranium projectile is fired, it becomes like an iron arrow at a very high velocity,” explains Scott Baston, a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation.

And he adds: “In the 1970s, the U.S. military began producing depleted uranium armor-piercing missiles and added them to the armor of tanks to strengthen them. It also added depleted uranium to ammunition fired by A10 close air support aircraft called tank killers. The U.S. military is still developing depleted uranium bombs. , specifically the M829A4 armor-piercing shell for operation on the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank.

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What does Russia say?

In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow “will respond on the basis that the West will start using weapons containing (nuclear components)”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “These munitions will be a step towards accelerating the expansion.” Putin announced days later that Russia would respond to the British move by sending tactical nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus.

Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko said in July that Russia had already sent some weapons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the US decision to send weapons containing depleted uranium as “very bad news”. He said that the US use of these types of explosives in Yugoslavia led to a significant increase in the incidence of cancer and other diseases that affected subsequent generations living in the area.

And in a call with reporters, he continued: “If these explosives are used, the same situation will continue in the Ukrainian regions again, and the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the leaders of the United States.”

The US military said it had studied the effect of using depleted uranium munitions on US soldiers during the Gulf War and so far had found no risk of cancer or any other disease. He insisted that he would continue to follow the affected players.

Lt. Col. Caron Corn, a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps, responded to a question from The Associated Press last March that the Pentagon supports the use of depleted uranium munitions. For decades weapons, especially these ammunitions have a longer shelf life than conventional weapons.

Although they are not the same as nuclear bombs, the low levels of radiation they produce have prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency to exercise caution when using or being exposed to these explosives.

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The agency said use of these explosives should be kept as low as possible with precautions such as wearing gloves. A public education campaign should be organized to discourage people from handling these explosives.

Guest believes that the low levels of radiation in depleted uranium munitions are “a side effect, not a key feature,” and insists that if the U.S. military finds another material with the same density, it will use it instead of depleted uranium.

It is noteworthy that depleted uranium ammunition and armor enhanced with depleted uranium were used in the first Gulf War against Iraqi T-72 tanks, and later in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as in Serbia and Kosovo.

Who owns these depleted uranium bombs?

The United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Pakistan are producing low-level uranium weapons that the International Alliance for the Prohibition of Uranium Weapons says are not classified as nuclear weapons.

A further 14 countries are known to be stockpiling depleted uranium weapons.

What are the dangers of depleted uranium?

There have been many studies and debates about the effects of depleted uranium weapons exposure on battlefields where these munitions were used in the 1990 and 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

The Royal Society of Scientists, a London-based cooperative, says 340 tons of depleted uranium were used in munitions during the 1991 Gulf War and an estimated 11 tons in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

Ingesting or inhaling uranium, even if it is depleted, is dangerous because it can affect kidney function and increase the risk of developing a group of cancers.

Parties opposed to such weapons, including the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, say they can inhale the dust they produce, while munitions that miss their targets poison groundwater and soil.

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But Britain, which has announced it will send this type of munition to Ukraine, says in its guidelines that low levels of uranium dust can be difficult to breathe.

What does science say?

The Royal Society said in a 2002 report that for most soldiers on the battlefield and those living in conflict zones, the risks to kidneys and other organs from using depleted uranium munitions are negligible.

But the association added, “Under extreme circumstances, and under worst-case assumptions, soldiers exposed to high levels of depleted uranium could experience damage to the kidneys and lungs.”

“Environmental contamination can be highly variable, but in most cases the health risks associated with DU are very low,” he said. “In some extreme cases, in some areas we can find high levels of uranium in food or water, which can be harmful to the kidneys.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency said a small number of Gulf War veterans had low levels of uranium in their bodies, which led to the excretion of large amounts of uranium in their urine, but did not cause significant health effects.

He added that studies of these soldiers showed a “small increase (ie not statistically significant)” in death rates, but the increase was more due to specific facts than disease…which could not be related to depleted uranium. “

The UNEP report on the impact of depleted uranium in Serbia and Montenegro also noted the “absence of significant and widespread contamination”.

However, some Serbian politicians doubted this and spoke of an increase in the number of deaths from malignant tumors.

Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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