© 2001 Jane's Information Group. All rights reserved

                                 08 January 2001

             DEPLETED URANIUM - FAQs

             What is Depleted Uranium?
             Depleted Uranium (DU) is only used as a
             penetrator. It is not a warhead, bomb or

             For what is Depleted Uranium used on the
             It is used to penetrate the armour of modern,
             the residual penetrator (and the high
             temperature fragments created as it passes
             through the armour) striking everything inside
             the tank and setting fire to its fuel and
             ammunition. In the Balkans, this would include
             the M84A (Russian T-72) main battle tanks of
             the Bosnian Serb VRS and the Serbian VJ
             forces. In the Gulf war, some of the Iraqi tanks
             were of the same T-72 type, manned by
             Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards.

             Who used it in the Balkans?
             During the Balkans operations from 1992 to
             1996, only the US Air Force acknowledges its
             use in some of its 30mm cannon shells fired
             from the GAU-8A cannon. It is true that some
             guided weapons used depleted uranium to
             increase the penetration effect and that the
             20mm Phalanx close-in weapon system, used
             to protect warships at sea from sea-skimming
             missiles, also has a percentage of DU rounds.

             What about the British Army?
             The British Army fired 88 DU rounds against
             Iraqi tanks in the Gulf war; no such rounds
             were fired during the Bosnian and Kosovan
             campaigns. No British aircraft are equipped
             with DU warheads on their weapons,
             according to official reports. DU rounds are
             ‘war-use only’.

             Any other uses?
             DU is very dense so is also used as a
             counter-balance for large commercial aircraft
             including the Boeing 747, military aircraft such
             as the Harrier, and in yacht keels.

             Also, on 14th March 1988 the US Department
             of Defence announced that a new, modified
             version of their Abrams main battle tank was
             due to enter production which would have
             improved armour containing DU. First
             production M1A1s with the new armour were
             completed in 1988. These tanks, which were
             shipped to US units in Germany, weighed
             about 65 tons. The heavy armour package
             deployed in Europe includes DU in the turret.

             The armour design modification to the M1A1
             incorporates steel-encased depleted uranium
             which is two and a half times the density of
             steel and is already used in a broad spectrum
             of civilian applications. Sealed within the tank,
             depleted uranium has a very low level of
             natural radiation which is within the acceptable
             range established by the US Nuclear
             Regulatory Commission. Currently, versions of
             the M1A2 tank also contain DU armour.

             Can Depleted Uranium be replaced?
             DU can be replaced (Britain, France, Russia
             and the US are the only commonly
             acknowledged users of DU as the penetrator
             material in kinetic energy munitions). The
             great majority of armies use kinetic energy
             munitions with tungsten alloy penetrators;
             however, these have a 20% lower penetrative
             performance, and the sintered materials used
             to make them are more expensive. Tungsten
             may not emit radiation, but, in common with
             DU, its particles are poisonous.

             It is alleged that DU causes leukaemia?
             Leukaemia is caused by (inter alia):
             - Ionising radiation - x-rays, for example
             - Derivatives of benzene (hydraulic fluid,
             lubricating oil, fuel oil, ceramic armour and
             other products found in modern armoured
             - Viruses

             What happens when a DU round hits a
             The DU penetrator hits the tank armour, both
             the penetrator and armour partially liquefying
             under pressure. Once the armour has been
             perforated, that part of the penetrator which
             has not melted, together with the molten
             armour and fragments that break away from
             the interior, ricochet inside the vehicle. This
             usually causes a fire. Studies in the USA, UK
             and France show that when an armoured
             vehicle burns at about 10,000 degrees C, the
             resulting oxidisation of the materials aboard,
             including benzene products and depleted
             uranium, can create particulates that are
             harmful to the human body; ingested they can
             affect the lungs and kidneys.