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Ukraine to receive depleted uranium shells from US: What are they and why are Russians concerned

Ukraine to receive depleted uranium shells from US: What are they and why are Russians concerned Ukrainian soldier (Getty Images)

The United States may soon send armor-piercing projectiles containing depleted uranium to Ukrainian soldiers. Due to their high penetrative capacity, they can easily penetrate armor.

What makes "uranium projectiles" special and why they cause panic among Russians is explained in the RBC-Ukraine article.

More uranium projectiles

According to Reuters, citing American officials, these projectiles are part of a new package of military aid to Ukraine, which will be presented next week.

These munitions are intended for American Abrams tanks. Thanks to their exceptional density, these projectiles can easily penetrate armor and self-ignite upon impact.

Not the first delivery

In late March of this year, the United Kingdom announced deliveries of depleted uranium projectiles for Challenger 2 tanks.

UK Deputy Defense Minister Annabel Goldie stated that, in addition to providing our soldiers with a squadron of main battle tanks Challenger 2, the UK will also supply ammunition containing depleted uranium.

"We have sent thousands of sets of ammunition for Challenger 2, including armor-piercing projectiles containing depleted uranium," Goldie said, adding that usage statistics of the delivered sets will not be disclosed for operational security reasons.

Byproduct and increased firepower

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of enriching natural uranium for nuclear fuel or nuclear warheads. It is very dense and, due to its increased firepower, can easily penetrate armor.

Regarding tank munitions, we are talking about 120mm sub-caliber projectiles with armor-piercing capabilities of up to 700mm. This allows them to target all types of Russian tanks and armored vehicles.

How uranium projectiles work

Depleted uranium is located only at the tip of the projectile. Thanks to its immense kinetic energy during firing, the projectile accelerates to 1500 meters per second.

Upon impact with armor, the uranium tip penetrates it, self-sharpens, and releases dust with uranium particles. The latter self-ignites upon contact with air and increases the projectile's destructive power. As a result, the space behind the armor is affected by burning fragments. The stream of fire and radioactive dust can mildly irradiate the crew, but the chances of survival upon impact are almost none.

International conventions allow projectiles

Uranium shells are not nuclear or chemical weapons, and therefore, they are not prohibited by international conventions. Furthermore, they are in the arsenal of many countries, especially those in the nuclear club.

Is there a radiation threat?

The radioactivity of depleted uranium is about 60% of natural uranium. However, the level is so low that it doesn't register on dosimeters.

According to research by the Royal Society of London, health risks from the use of such projectiles are extremely low.

Cases of cancer among Italian veterans who served in the Balkans and allegedly suffered from depleted uranium exposure have been debunked through research.

No environmental threat

During a UN investigation into the use of depleted uranium in the Balkans, it was confirmed that these munitions did not harm the environment or the population. Italian scientists found an elevated uranium content in the soil, but it did not exceed permissible limits.

According to the estimations of the World Health Organization, the maximum radiation dose from depleted uranium particles entering the body is less than half of the annual radiation dose limit for radiation workers.

Russia remains uneasy

At one point, after news of deliveries from the UK, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin once again hinted at a war "to the last Ukrainian," and the Defense Minister of the country-terrorist, Sergei Shoigu, spoke of another step in nuclear escalation.

Furthermore, Russian propaganda attempted to push its narrative about the "dirty bomb" and Ukraine as an uninhabitable territory.