“All the soldiers there were wearing NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical warfare) protective clothing. We said: ‘What’s going on here?’ And their answer was: ‘Didn’t you know? This ammunition is a bit dodgy.’” – Tim Pubrick, Gulf War veteran, British Royal Army tank commander.6
Depleted uranium (DU) ammunition is a very recent advancement in military weapons use. Due to its effectiveness against piercing armor, DU ammunition has recently become a popular item among NATO armies and will most likely become a mainstream form of conventional ammunition among many other armies of the world. However, massive amounts of circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the use of DU ammunition has known to cause dramatic side effects, such as health problems, stillborn babies, toxic and poisonous land, water supplies, and residential territories. Hence an important question arises, is it ethical to use DU ammunition on the battlefield?
II. WHAT IS DEPLETED URANIUM (DU)?
Before we can analyze the ethical use of DU ammunition, it is important to first establish the technology behind DU and DU weapons. Uranium is one of the heaviest elements found in nature and is emits alpha, beta, and gamma particles. It is 1.7 times denser than lead.12 The half-life of U238 (DU is 99% U238) is 4.5 billion years!13 Uranium byproducts(such as Thorium (Th232)) have even longer half-lives, making uranium an element that gets more radioactive during its own decay process.5 Natural uranium is 99.274% U238, 0.720% U235, and 0.0055% U234.14a Uranium is enriched when its contents of U235 reaches 3.2-3.6% (since U235 is fissible). Weapon-grade uranium is +90% U235.14a What is depleted uranium? We start out with natural uranium and extract enriched uranium for nuclear fuel and weaponry. The leftover from the extraction process is something very similar to natural uranium, known as “depleted uranium”. The only difference is that DU has 0.202% of U235 and 0.0008% of U234.14a How much DU do we currently have? As of June 1998, we have around 57,800 huge steel cylinders of DU or 496,000 metric tons. 14b Storage of DU is very complicated and problematic since corrosion of DU storage cylinders often occurs over relatively short periods of time.15
III. MODERN APPLICATIONS OF DU:
The applications of DU are quite extensive. DU is very low cost and is readily available. DU can be used as a commercial aircraft counterweight. A Boeing 747 needs 1,500 kg of DU.