In late March 2023, information emerged that the UK would send depleted uranium (DU) shells to Ukraine. This caused significant concern among the Russian authorities, who began to express alarm about the potential danger of such munitions to the environment and public health. However, are depleted uranium shells truly as dangerous as claimed? Read our article for more detail about the claims made by Russian propaganda, the expert’s point of view on the real dangers of DU shells, and the use of depleted uranium weapons in different countries around the world.
What does Russian propaganda say
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that depleted uranium munitions are among the most dangerous types of weapons, posing a threat not only to those involved in armed conflicts but also to the environment and people living in conflict-affected areas.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense has also warned that the use of DU tank shells, which London previously announced would be supplied to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, will lead to the contamination of agricultural lands. The Ministry also cautioned that the number of cancer cases could increase as a result of using such ammunition.
As reported by Russian media «Vesti,» London’s attempt to cover the weakness of its military equipment overlooks a crucial point: the use of DU shells may deprive Ukraine of its fertile soil, a significant natural resource. Contaminated land will be unsuitable for cultivation for an extended period, and decontamination would be extremely expensive.
“When DU munitions hit a target, they break into hundreds or even thousands of tiny particles that settle in the soil. Additionally, scientists state that about a third of the metal mass evaporates and is carried away by the wind in the form of oxides. This leads to widespread radioactive contamination of the affected area,” — “Vesti” writes.
The expert’s point of view
We have asked about the real danger of the DU shells, military expert of Defense Express Media & Consulting Company Ivan Kyrychevsky.
“What is the difference between a nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb, and a shell with depleted uranium? — the expert says. — A nuclear bomb is a munition in which the explosive force is achieved through the splitting of an atom, there is also a specific detonator. A dirty bomb is a combination of nuclear materials and conventional explosives that scatters them over a considerable distance. For example, the Chornobyl disaster in its structure was like this kind of bomb. And shells with depleted uranium are, first of all, metal. It’s just a hard, very strong metal that has half the radioactivity of ordinary granite. Thanks to their strength, such projectiles can penetrate many kinds of armor or concrete fortifications.
As for Russia’s reaction to the transfer of such projectiles, there are several possible reasons that are not mutually exclusive. Firstly, it could be a sign of degradation in management culture, leading to inadequate responses to challenges, especially considering that Russia also has tank projectiles with depleted uranium. Secondly, Russia may continue a consistent line of accusations regarding the presence of a dirty bomb, incorporating depleted uranium projectiles into this context. Thirdly, it may be part of broader efforts to halt the supply of Western aid and destabilize the situation.”
How do scientists assess the damage caused by depleted uranium munitions?
According to the United Nation information, numerous global organizations, encompassing the World Health Organization, have carried out investigations concerning the possible consequences of depleted uranium (DU) on both human beings and our natural surroundings. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) consistently evaluates the latest scholarly publications on the outcomes of internal exposure to uranium, inclusive of DU, resulting from breathing in or ingesting the substance. UNSCEAR has established that no medically noteworthy pathology linked to radiation exposure from depleted uranium has been identified.
In the Reports to the General Assembly of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, research projects that involved the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have demonstrated that the radiological hazard to people and the environment is not considered in instances where depleted uranium appears in the form of localized environmental contamination by minute particles stemming from impacts. Nevertheless, in circumstances where fragments or whole depleted uranium munitions are discovered, there exists a potential danger of radiation effects for individuals who make direct contact with such fragments or ammunition. By executing simple counteractive measures, such as gathering, storing, and disposing of these fragments, national authorities can alleviate this risk.
Use of depleted uranium weapons in various countries
The American defense sector started utilizing depleted uranium in 1977; however, it wasn’t until the Persian Gulf War in 1991 that weapons reinforced with depleted uranium were employed in battle. Following this, such armaments were used during military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The advantages of depleted uranium munitions in combat were evident during the Gulf War, as the United States and coalition forces employing these munitions successfully eliminated over 1,000 Iraqi tanks. In comparison, none of the U.S. tanks armored with depleted uranium were destroyed.
Various other countries also have been involved in the production and use of depleted uranium ammunition. The United Kingdom still uses DU projectiles, but modernized tanks are expected to shift away from them. India and Pakistan have reportedly developed their own DU rounds, while France, China, and several other countries have also confirmed the use of DU ammunition. Some countries also have imported DU munitions, such as Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and South Korea. At the same time, Russia itself continues to produce DU rounds and modernize its tanks for their use.