What is depleted uranium?

The British government recently said that it would provide Ukraine with armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

What is depleted uranium?

  • Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the process of creating enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.
  • In comparison to enriched uranium, depleted uranium is much less radioactive and is incapable of generating a nuclear reaction.
  • However, due to its high density (it’s more dense than lead) depleted uranium is widely used in weapons as it can easily penetrate armour plating.
  • It’s got so much momentum that it just keeps going through the armour and it heats it up so much that it catches on fire.

Which countries have depleted uranium munitions?

  • Apart from the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Pakistan produce uranium weapons, which are not classified as nuclear weapons, as per the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.
  • Another 14 states are known to store them.
  • Risks of using such weapons
  • Even though depleted uranium munitions aren’t considered nuclear weapons, such weapons emit low levels of radiation and can cause severe diseases.
  • Ingesting or inhaling quantities of uranium – even depleted uranium – is dangerous.
  • It depresses renal function and raises the risk of developing a range of cancers..
  • According to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, depleted uranium munitions which miss their target can poison groundwater and soil.

Where have depleted uranium munitions been used?

  • Depleted uranium munitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War to destroy T-72 tanks in Iraq.
  • These weapons were again used in the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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