After the fissionable Uranium 235 is separated from natural uranium in order to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors, the remaining product is 99.8% Uranium 238, also misleadingly called "Depleted Uranium." While the term "depleted" implies that the product is harmless, it is anything but harmless. With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, depleted uranium is an extremely dense and chemically toxic heavy metal. Military and arms manufacturers favor its use in tank armor and armor-piercing shells known as depleted uranium penetrators. Depleted uranium munitions are
radiologically hazardous because they burn on impact with steel, leaving toxic alpha-, beta-, and gamma-emitting uranium in solid form on the area of impact. After impact, a portion of the uranium aerosolizes into fine particles small enough to be inhaled. The tiny aerosolized glass particles can also settle or drift in the air, contaminating the surrounding environment posing long-terms risks to human health.
Uses of depleted uranium
Because of it extreme density, pyrophoric qualities, mass quantities and low cost, the US
Department of Defense (DoD) became interested in using depleted uranium in weapons in the 1950s. While depleted uranium munitions are primarily used by the US and the UK, today, more than 15 countries are known to have depleted uranium in their arsenals including Bahrain, Egypt, France, Greece, Kuwait, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Turkey. Depleted uranium was first known to be used on a large scale in the 1991 Gulf War. NATO admitted to the use of depleted uranium munitions for a short period in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war there. US jets fired some 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition during NATO's 1999 bombing of Kosovo.
Depleted uranium is also used in civilian products. It is used as ballast in airplanes posing potential disastrous consequences in the event of a plane crashing, for example the 1992 El-Al jet crash into housing near Amsterdam and the 2001 terrorist hijackings of US jetliners that were crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Depleted uranium is also used in some hospital equipment. Both the US Department of Energy and Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) have proposed recycling low-level radioactive waste in consumer goods, raising concerns that depleted uranium could also be used in this way.
Depleted Uranium Resources
In April 2001, the UN World Health Organization published a monograph entitled Depleted Uranium: Sources, Exposures and Health Effects. It is the product of a review of the best available scientific literature on uranium and depleted uranium. The monograph provides a framework for identifying the likely consequences of public and occupational exposure to DU. It is available at:
http://www.who.int/environmental_information/radiation/ depleted_uranium.htm .
Metal of Dishonor book and documentary on depleted uranium, produced by the International Action Center, 39, West 14th St, Rm 206, New York, NY 10011, USA, email: email@example.com http://www.iacenter.org
The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) http://www.cadu.org.uk/