Depleted Uranium, or is it?
A DU shell has no high explosive core. It is solid uranium.
penetrates armor like a knife through butter purely by its huge kinetic
energy. In the process it heats up and once inside the target it
explodes. This is not a nuclear explosion, but simple chemical
combustion, but it is so rapid that it is explosive and also very hot.
It proceeds to send up a mini-mushroom cloud of uranium trioxide
(yellowcake) dust which then settles back over the surroundings.
This stuff is not stable and leaches into the ground, converting to the
lower oxide U3O8 (pitchblende) eventually, but meanwhile it leaches into
the groundwater and can be taken up by plants. Even so, uranium is not
particularly toxic and I could not see any great hazard from it. It also
does not lodge in the body, but people living in a uranium environment
and eating plants that are cycling it, could have a constant low level
of it in the blood, and that intimate a contact over a long period might
be marginally dangerous.
OK, now, I thought DU was natural uranium from which the valuable
components, radium, thorium and U235 has been extracted. The remainder
would then be the relatively innocuous U238, so I did not treat the
reports with a lot of credit.
However it turns out that this is NOT the main source of depleted
uranium! In fact it turns out that the damned stuff has been through the
fuel cycle! Ok here's what THAT means.
Natural uranium is doped with U235 or after extracting about half the
U235 (it is very costly to go for a greater extraction) with plutonium
239 in order to "enrich" it. From there it goes into reactors, where
most of the U235 and/or Pu239 is burnt up. The spent fuel is then
removed for reprocessing.
However now, unlike natural uranium, it now contains transuranics, some
unused plutonium as well as Plutonium formed in the reactor, and U235,
and a form of uranium only found in reactors (U236 I think). It also
contains Strontium 90, Cesium 136, Cobalt 60 and lots of other mean
little hot isotopes that are the "ash" from the nuclear energy process.
The fuel is then processed, and MOST of this crap is removed to waste.
What is left over is mostly U238 or "depleted uranium", but this stuff
is a lot different to uranium that has only been put through the U235
It contains significant though small amounts of some of the most lethal
substances known to man, and the stuff is in fact a lot hotter than U238
alone. This is because no chemical process ever goes to 100%, so a
significant amount of the nasties stick to the sides....And this is the
stuff that gets spread around.....
This has been proved by analyzing the stuff. it contains U236, so it has
to have gone through the fuel cycle. This means of course that people
exposed to this stuff actually ingest not just uranium, but small
amounts of all the worst isotopes in creation - including the known
This is still not grounds for knocking the US. It is a mistake, not a
deliberate act. Someone didn't do their homework, and US troops from
Iraq and Kosovo have also been injured by this effect.
It does tell us though that in fact DU weapons ARE fallout weapons and
need to be banned.
IMO of course..