What are depleted uranium rounds UK has pledged to Ukraine, and what are the risks? – National

Russia has threatened to escalate its offensive in Ukraine after the British government announced it would supply Ukraine with the type of munitions that Russia falsely claimed contained nuclear components.

On Monday, the UK Ministry of Defense confirmed that it would provide Ukraine with armour-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium.

Such ammunition was developed by the United States during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, some of which are now facing Ukraine to break the stalemate in the East. Includes the same T-72 tank that is in

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process needed to make nuclear weapons. Although the round retains some radioactive properties, it cannot produce a nuclear reaction like a nuclear weapon, said RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist.

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Still, the Russians didn’t stop issuing full-on warnings that the round was about to open the door to further escalation. In the past, they have suggested that war could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.

Both the UK Foreign Office and the White House have dismissed Russia’s accusations. But ammunition carries risks even if it is not a nuclear weapon.

View of depleted uranium ammunition:

What is depleted uranium?

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the process that produces the rarer and more enriched uranium used in nuclear fuel and weapons. While much less powerful than enriched uranium and unable to undergo a nuclear reaction, depleted uranium is very dense, denser than lead, making it very attractive as a projectile.

“It’s so dense and has so much momentum that it keeps going through armor. It also gets so hot that it catches fire,” says Geist.

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When fired, depleted uranium ammunition “essentially becomes an exotic metal dart that fires at a very high velocity,” said Rand’s senior defense analyst Scott Boston.

In the 1970s, the US Army began producing armor-piercing rounds using depleted uranium, and has since added it to composite tank armor to enhance it. Also known as the Tank Killer, the Air Force has added depleted uranium to ammunition fired by A-10 close air support attack aircraft. The U.S. military continues to develop depleted uranium munitions, particularly his M829A4 armor-piercing round for the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, Boston said.

In response to questions from the Associated Press, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Garon Gahn said in a statement Thursday: conventional weapons. “

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The bullets “save the lives of many servicemen in combat,” Gahn said, adding that “other countries, including Russia, have long had depleted uranium munitions.”

Gahn did not say whether the M1A1 tanks being prepared for Ukraine will include depleted uranium armor modifications, citing operational security reasons.

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President Vladimir Putin warned on Tuesday that “Given that Western groups are beginning to use weapons containing ‘nuclear elements’, Moscow will respond accordingly.”

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Britain had “lost direction” and warned that ammunition was “a step towards accelerating escalation”.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the announcement was “another step and there is not much left”.

The White House has accused Russia of disinformation.

“Undoubtedly, this is yet another strawman the Russians are placing their bets on,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council (NSC).

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White House officials say Russia has depleted uranium munitions and does not want Ukraine to have them.

Pentagon Spokesperson Air Force Brigadier General. General Pat Ryder said Monday that, to his knowledge, the United States has not sent depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine from its own arsenal.

Not a bomb, but still dangerous

Although depleted uranium ammunition is not considered a nuclear weapon, it emits low levels of radiation, and the United Nations nuclear watchdog recommends handling it with caution and warning about the danger of radiation exposure.

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Handling of such ammunition “must be kept to a minimum and protective clothing (gloves) must be worn,” the International Atomic Energy Agency warned, adding, “Thus, a public information campaign should be carried out to encourage people to avoid handling ammunition.” may be required,” he added. Projectile.

“This should form part of any risk assessment and any such precautions should depend on the range and number of ammunition used in the area.”

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The IAEA notes that depleted uranium is primarily a toxic chemical, as opposed to radiation injury. Particles in an aerosol can be inhaled or ingested, and most are excreted again, but some enter the bloodstream and can cause kidney damage.

The IAEA says, “High concentrations in the kidneys can cause damage and, in extreme cases, kidney failure.”

The low levels of radioactivity in depleted uranium ammunition are “a bug, not a feature,” of the ammunition, Geist said, and if the U.S. military could find another material with the same density and no radioactivity, it would replace it. are likely to use

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Depleted uranium ammunition was used again in the Gulf War against Iraqi T-72 tanks in 1991 and the invasion of that country in 2003, Serbia and Kosovo. U.S. military veterans of these conflicts have wondered if their use led to the diseases they now face.

Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of the Duma of the Russian parliament, said the supply of bullets containing depleted uranium could lead to “a global tragedy that will primarily affect European countries.”

Borodin said the use of such US ammunition in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq led to “a sharp increase in radioactive contamination and neoplastic disease.”

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani of Washington, Frank Jordans of Berlin, and Menelaos Hadjicostis of Nicosia, Cyprus contributed to this report.

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