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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 anti-uranium missiles to Ukraine as well, after Britain sent controversial munitions to help breach Russian defense lines in its slow-moving counter-offensive.

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

These armor-piercing bombs 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 process of enriching uranium for use in nuclear fuel or weapons. 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 missile.

“Depleted uranium is so dense that it has a buoyant force that helps it penetrate the shield, and its surface becomes hot enough to ignite,” Geist explains.

“When you fire a depleted uranium shell, it’s like shooting an iron arrow at a very high velocity,” said Scott Baston, a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation.

He added: “In the 1970s, the US military began producing armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium and added them to tank armor to strengthen them. It also added depleted uranium to ammunition fired by A10 close air support aircraft known as tank killers. comes, the M829A4 armor-piercing shell specifically 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 would “respond on the basis that Western countries will start using weapons containing (nuclear components)”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “These munitions will be a step towards accelerating the expansion.” Days later Putin announced 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 says it has studied the effect of using depleted uranium munitions on US soldiers during the Gulf War and has so far found no risk of cancer or any other disease. He assures that he will continue to monitor the exposed 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 the weapons, especially these ammunitions, have a longer life than traditional ammunitions.

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

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The agency explained that the use of these explosives should be kept to a minimum with precautions such as wearing gloves. A public awareness campaign should be organized to prevent 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 controversies about the effects of depleted uranium weapons exposure on battlefields, especially since 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 mortality, 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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