This paper assesses the radiological and chemical hazards resulting from the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions. Due to the low radioactivity of DU, radiological hazards to individuals would become significant in comparison to natural background radiation doses only in cases of prolonged contact—for example, when shards of a DU penetrator remain embedded in a soldier’s body. Although the radiation doses to virtually all civilians would be very low, the cumulative “population dose” resulting from the dispersal of hundreds of tons of DU, as occurred during the Gulf War, could result in up to ten cancer deaths. It is highly unlikely that exposures of persons downwind from the use of DU munitions or consuming food or water contaminated by DU dust would reach the estimated threshold for chemical heavy-metal effects. The exposures of soldiers in vehicles struck by DU munitions could be much higher, however, and persons who subsequently enter such vehicles without adequate respiratory protection could potentially be at risk. Soldiers should be trained to avoid unnecessary exposure to DU, and vehicles struck by DU munitions should be made inaccessible to curious civilians.
Author(s): Xu Chunyang