Depleted Uranium Worksheet


Uranium found in nature contains two isotopes; U238 @ 99.3% and U235 @ 0.7%. It is U235 that is radioactive and fissionable. This is extracted from the isolated metal for use in reactors and nuclear weapons production. The waste from this extraction process is U238 with traces of the radioactive isotope. Uranium though has properties that make it attractive for other uses. It is very dense (18.95 gms per cm3 that is twice as dense as lead). Its density makes it very armour penetrating. It also happens to burn. The high heat generated on impact and penetration sets the uranium alight. After impact it then burns producing Uranium oxides and uranium dust. This is both poisonous and slightly radioactive because of the residual radioactive isotope component. U235 is an alpha emitter.

When DU (depleted uranium) is used in shells, on impact the shell penetrates the steel plating, and then fragments into a burning cloud the products of which settle as dust in the area around the impact site.

Military personnel working in such an area can inhale dust. As can civilians who return to battle zones which were previously their homes. The Uranium finds its way into drinking water and the food chain. Since it is not removed or cleansed from battle zones by the military after hostility ceases. The particles once in the body are not removed immediately or easily if ever. Alpha particle emitters lodged in the human body can cause damage to tissue and blood cells. The alpha particles strike passing blood cells causing damage, over time this builds up, and the consequences are various.

  1. In Iraq following the Gulf War, where DU weapons were first used, Hospitals reported a sharp rise in mortality rates among children and the elderly. There is an increase in the incidence of cancers such as acute leukaemia (myeloid, lymphatic, undifferentiated …), and an increase in the relapse rate of such diseases compared to pre 1990 figures. Herpes infections, Zoster infections and AIDS like symptoms are on the increase possibly due to the breakdown of the immune system. Premature births are numerous, and congenital malformations of the new-born are at 26.8% of live births (according to the Dept. Of Pathology associated with the University of Baghdad). During the lambing season of 1993 the Agricultural Research Centre reported 10% abnormal births.
  2. In the United States of America Gulf war veterans report hair loss, skin disease, damage to different organs. Some pregnant women are reported to have given birth to cripple children. U.S. Veterans Administration did a state wide survey of 251 Gulf War veterans families in Mississippi. Of their children conceived since the war, 67% have illnesses related to severely deformed or missing eyes, missing ears, blood infections, respiratory problems, and fused fingers.
  3. In the United Kingdom. Radiologists have rejected suggestions that DU has already caused leukaemia in veterans of the 1999 Kosovo campaign. It takes two years for radiation to cause leukaemia. A team from the Medical Research Councilís Radiation and Genome Stability unit in Harwell in Oxfordshire & Mount Vernon Hospital in London has just revealed that a single alpha particle can damage human white blood cells. (New Scientist 20 Jan 2001)

(based on information from an article in New Dawn 1996, No 34, (Jan/Feb 1996). This article is available on, and other articles. Other useful sites are http://www/ and More sites can be found by a web search)

Questions for groups work

What questions need answering about this issue?

Is the rise in illness due to exposure to DU?

What should scientists involved in the production of such weapons do?

What should politicians do?


Mission of Christianity in Science

A. J. Palmer 3.02.01