The Junk Science on Depleted Uranium

The United States military, joined by many other nations, uses depleted uranium in its anti-armor ordinance and in its armor plating due to the material's physical density. It is more widespread as a penetrator, although at least the latest Abrams tank also uses it as a plating material in the composite armor. It is not used due to its radioactivity, which is quite low, i.e. that is why it is called "depleted."

Fortunately, the Leftist criticism of DU is a much of total and complete junk. Utranium oxide is not a gas, it is a mineral. The World Health Organization has been all over this issue since Bosnia as well as the International Atomic energy Agency. It goes nowhere. Depleted uranium is what is it named for- depleted. It contains a tiny fraction of the radioactive variety of uranium isotopes. Its use as a weapon is because of the density of the metal, not its other attributes. There is no impact from "poison gas" on the receiving end of a DU round.

The International Atomic Energy Agency: " DU does not add significantly to the normal background radiation that people encounter ever day. It is weakly radioactive. For example, DU is 3 million times less radioactive than radium still found in many old luminous watches and 10 million times less radioactive than what is used in fire detectors. The extreme density of DU, together with other physical properties, make it ideal for military use in munitions to penetrate thick tank armor and in defensive armor protection. It is not a nuclear weapon." Link: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Features/DU/faq_depleted_uranium.shtml

"Based on credible scientific evidence, there is no proven link between DU exposure and increases in human cancers or other significant health or environmental impacts." IAEA, supra.

WHO Report, Depleted Uranium: Sources, Exposure and Health Efects," 2001
http://www.who.int/environmental_information/radiation/depluraniumexecsume.htm
"Most (>95%) uranium entering the body is not absorbed, but is eliminated via the faeces. Of the uranium that is absorbed into the blood, approximately 67% will be filtered by the kidney and excreted in the urine in 24 hours. Typically between 0.2 and 2% of the uranium in food and water is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. Soluble uranium compounds are more readily absorbed than those which are insoluble."

"Direct contact of depleted uranium metal with the skin, even for several weeks, is unlikely to produce radiation-induced erythema (superficial inflammation of the skin) or other short term effects. Follow-up studies of veterans with embedded fragments in the tissue have shown detectable levels of depleted uranium in the urine, but without apparent health consequences. The radiation dose to military personnel within an armoured vehicle is very unlikely to exceed the average annual external dose from natural background radiation from all sources." WHO, supra.

Exposure can be measured:
"For the general population it is unlikely that the exposure to depleted uranium will significantly exceed the normal background uranium levels. When there is a good reason to believe that an exceptional exposure has taken place, the best way to verify this is to measure uranium in the urine. The intake of depleted uranium can be determined from the amounts excreted daily in urine. depleted uranium levels are determined using sensitive mass spectrometric techniques; in such circumstances it should be possible to assess doses at the mSv level." WHO, supra.

"Only military use of depleted uranium is likely to have any significant impact on environmental levels. Measurements of depleted uranium at sites where depleted uranium munitions were used indicate only localized (within a few tens of metres of the impact site) contamination at the ground surface. However, in some instances the levels of contamination in food and ground water could rise after some years and should be monitored and appropriate measures taken where there is a reasonable possibility of significant quantities of depleted uranium entering the food chain." WHO, supra.

"For the general population, neither civilian nor military use of DU is likely to produce exposures to DU significantly above normal background levels of uranium. Therefore, individual exposure assessments for DU will normally not be required. Exposure assessments based on environmental measurements may, however, be needed for public information and reassurance." WHO, supra.

"Long-term studies of workers exposed to uranium have reported some impairment of kidney function depending on the level of exposure. However, there is also some evidence that this impairment may be transient and that kidney function returns to normal once the source of excessive uranium exposure has been removed." WHO, supra.

"Since depleted uranium is a mildly radioactive metal, restrictions are needed on the disposal of depleted uranium." WHO, supra.

"General screening or monitoring for possible depleted uranium-related health effects in populations living in conflict areas where depleted uranium has been used is not necessary. Individuals who believe they have been exposed to excessive amounts of depleted uranium should consult their medical practitioner for examination, appropriate treatment of any symptoms and follow-up." WHO, supra.


There is no "poison gas" from DU: there are articulates of uranium oxide released, but they do not pose any significant hazard:

"When DU munitions hit an armored vehicle they form an aerosol containing fine DU particles that may be inhaled. Most of the contamination stays inside the vehicle that has been struck. However, some of the dust will be dispersed into the environment and spread by wind or deposited on the ground by rain. The bulk of DU dust remains within about a few hundred meters of the hit target. Over time, fine DU dust particles deposited on the ground will be absorbed into the soil, while bigger DU fragments remain intact on the ground and start to corrode. In most cases, no more than 10% of the penetrators hit their intended target. DU penetrators that do not hit a target or hit 'soft' targets (non-armored vehicles) do not generate significant dust. Most munitions that impact on soft ground, such as clay or sand, penetrate intact into the ground (down to a few meters depending on the type of soil). The corrosion of DU penetrators varies. For example, in quartz sand or acidic volcanic rock, high solubilization rates could lead to local contamination of groundwater. However, the risk would be minimal to people living in the area as dose rates are unlikely to be much greater than normal background radiation levels." IAEA, supra.

RAND Corp. Study, April 1999:
http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/docs/b04151999_bt170-99.htm

GAO Report, confirming low risk from DU exposure of US Army personnel (but critical of Army procedures), January 1993, http://www.gao.gov/ (search: depleted uranium).

New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 335:1498-1504 November 14, 1996 No. 20, "Mortality among U.S. Veterans of the Persian Gulf War," Han K. Kang, Dr.P.H., and Tim A. Bullman, M.S. [ no excess disease among Gulf War veterans]:
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/335/20/1498


More from the IAEA: "United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP) studies in 2001 (Kosovo), 2002 (Serbia and Montenegro) and 2003 (Bosnia and Herzegovina) - to which IAEA experts contributed - found it was highly unlikely that a reported increase in the risk of cancer in the Balkan regions could be associated with the residues of DU munitions used there during the war in the mid-1990s. It found the probability of significant exposure to local population was very low." Supra.

Dr Alex Bordujenko, MB BS, MPH, FAFPHM, for the Expert Committee to Examine Balkan Veteran Exposure to Depleted Uranium
ADF Health 2003 4 (1): 6-11:
"Even in the area immediately surrounding a vehicle destroyed by depleted uranium munitions, the generated dose rate from external radiation is unlikely to exceed 0.3 mSv per year — a tenth of the natural background dose rate for the US. US regulatory limits for public exposure to other than background sources of ionising radiation is 1 mSv per year." Link: http://www.defence.gov.au/dpe/dhs/infocentre/publications/journals/NoIDs/adfhealth_apr03/ADFHealth_4_1_06-11.html

Dr. Bordujenko also reviewed the inhlalation risk:
"The United Nations Environmental Program has estimated that the inhalation and ingestion of depleted uranium contaminated dust, even under extreme conditions shortly after the impact of projectiles, would be less than 10 mSv (based on the amount of dust that can be inhaled in these conditions).12 This represents about half the annual dose limit for radiation workers. For people in open areas near destroyed tanks or near burning depleted uranium, the aerosol dose is considerably less. For people who entered the tanks or the vicinity of the former fire sites after the aerosol had settled, the internal contamination is also much smaller." Id. [Note: Someone inside a vehicle hit by a DU round will not be too worried about the inhalation long-term risk of some particles, since they will likely be fatally wounded from the kinetic and heat impact of the round in a confined space.]

There are now already depleted uranium numbers coming in from Iraq after Operation Iraqi Freedom, which show extremely low levels among potentially exposed military personnel and civilians.

This issue, like so many from the Left, is so colored by their anti-military and anti-American viewpoint that the science gets lost.

Randy Mott

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