Depleted Uranium - Medical
DEPLETED URANIUM IS A DENSE, SLIGHTLY RADIOACTIVE HEAVY METAL USED
IN AMMUNITION, ARMOR AND AIRCRAFT. IT HAS 40% LESS RADIOACTIVITY THAN
Uranium is an elem ent found naturally in soil, water, and mineral deposits. It is a slightly radioactive
substance composed of 3 naturally occurring isotopes (isotopes are atoms that differ only in their
number of neutrons; they have similar physical properties), 238U, 235U, and 234U. All three isotopes
are found together in Uranium ore. Depleted uranium is what remains after the more radioactive
isotopes, 234U and 235U, are removed from uranium ore in order to make enriched uranium . Enriched
uranium, which contains the more radioactive isotopes, is primarily used as fuel in nuclear reactors.
All uranium, not just DU, is made up of almost all 238U. Natural and depleted uranium differ only in
their radioactivity. Depleted uranium is roughly half (60%) as radioactive as natural uranium because
there are less of the more radioactive isotopes (234U and 235U). The chemical properties of the
isotopes are the same. It is the chemical properties that are responsible for many of the health
effects of concern, such as possible kidney effects. Depleted uranium also contains trace amounts of
236U and other trace substances such as plutonium, americium and technetium. These amounts are
so small that they are very difficult to measure and have no affect on health or the environment.
ROUTINE USES IN THE
The United States Armed Forces have used DU in the manufacture of munitions, armor and armor-
piercing projectiles. DU’s high density, self-sharpening qualities, and the fact that it is easily
combustible make its projectiles capable of readily penetrating armor made with less dense metals.
Due to its density, armor constructed with DU provides a high degree of shielding and resistan