Britain defends supplying Ukraine with weapons containing depleted uranium via the New York Times

Britain on Wednesday defended its decision to supply Ukraine with weapons made with depleted uranium, a day after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia falsely claimed the material had a “nuclear component.”

Britain’s government has confirmed that it would provide Ukraine with armor-piercing shells that contain depleted uranium, alongside its Challenger 2 tanks, which use them. Depleted uranium is a standard component in conventional anti-armor weapons that NATO countries have used for decades, and Britain said in a statement that the ammunition it was providing had nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

The density of depleted uranium makes it an effective material for piercing heavy armor on the battlefield, and is used by many militaries. Among them are Russia’s, which upgraded its main battle tank to add the ability to fire depleted uranium shells, the Tass state news agency reported in 2018.


Uranium, a heavy metal, must be enriched to be used for nuclear purposes. Depleted uranium, which is about two and a half times denser than steel, is a byproduct of that enrichment, still radioactive but at a much lower level.


The Pentagon has also deemed depleted uranium safe, though after the U.S. military used it in Iraq, some activists and others connected it to birth defects and cancers. Numerous studies have been conducted on a possible link, without firm conclusions.

In 2013, Britain’s Ministry of Defense downplayed any health or environmental risks related to the use of depleted uranium. In a paper, it said that while the dust released on impact can sometimes be a health hazard, “all the research to date indicates that these circumstances are extremely unlikely to occur, and, if they do, will only affect very small groups who will be at much greater risk from the other hazards associated with armed conflict.”


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