On 21 March 2023, UK Minister of State for Defence Annabel Goldie announced in the House of the Lords of the British Parliament that Britain would transfer armour-piercing sub-caliber shells to Ukraine with depleted uranium (DU). Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium, she announced.
The cynical nature of the statement made by the UK Minister of State for Defence is given by the fact that it was made almost on the eve of another anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, that started on 24 March 1999, when the alliance began its operation called “Merciful Angel”. The order to begin bombing coalition forces was given by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, who said the operation was a ‘humanitarian one’.
Any armour-piercing sub-caliber ammunition is an artillery projectile with a core diameter smaller than the calibre of the gun, used for firing against tanks, armoured vehicles, usually at direct fire ranges. The DU is the trivial name for a metal that is based on over 90% U-238 isotopes and less than 1% U-235.
The use of DU in such ammunition is associated with its high density, which provides their high armour penetration capability. This effect is achieved by using the kinetic energy of the core itself, as well as its shell. When hitting the armour, the soft steel shell breaks and transmits its energy to the core, which penetrates the armour.
The tungsten alloys have similar characteristics, but tungsten-based ammunition is more expensive for manufacturing. DU ammunition production is much more common in countries that have uranium reserves, the technology to process it and use it in foreign territory, when there is no need to think about the environmental impact. The use of depleted uranium-based ammunition has no significant advantage over tungsten ammunition in contemporary military conflict.
In armed conflicts, the DU ammunition was used exclusively by NATO countries.
In particular, in 2003–2004, the US used such ammo in strikes on Iraqi cities: Amara, Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Fallujah. In total, the United Nations estimates that the US used at least 300 tonnes of DU in Iraq.
As a result, the radiological conditions in Fallujah were far worse than those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the U.S. bombing. This city is still being called the second Chernobyl.
It is to be reminded that the NATO forces used DU ammunition during bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999. In all, some 40,000 armour-piercing air-launched projectiles with over 15 tonnes of depleted uranium have been used in that country.
Because of exposure to depleted uranium ammunition, a mobile hot cloud of fine aerosolized uranium-238 and its oxides is generated, which can subsequently provoke the development of serious pathologies.
The radiation hazard from DU occurs when it enters any human and animal body in the form of radioactive dust.
Fluxes of alpha radiation from small uranium particles deposited in the upper and lower respiratory tract, lungs, and esophagus cause the development of malignant tumours. Accumulated in the kidneys, bones, and liver, uranium dust leads to internal organ changes.
Thus, according to the Iraqi government, in 2005 the cancer incidence in the country because of the use of DU rose from 40 to 1,600 cases per 100,000 people. In this regard, Baghdad filed a lawsuit to the International Court of Arbitration in Stockholm on 26 December 2020 against Washington, demanding compensation for the damage caused.
There has also been a 25% increase in cancer incidence in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.
The victims of the irresponsible policies of their own leadership have been the NATO soldiers who took part in the military campaigns in Iraq and Yugoslavia.
The Report of the Italian Chief Military Medical Inspector (2016) says that 4,095 servicemen of Italian Armed Forces deployed in the Balkans (1994-1999) and in Iraq (2003) where NATO forces used DU ammunition have subsequently been found to have malignant tumours of various types. In 8% of cases (330 people), diseases were fatal.
In addition, uranium remains in the soil for a long time and pose a risk of negative effects on people, animals, and crops.
In a report published in Geneva in 2002, a group of experts who carried out research under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme at the sites of the NATO strikes noted: ‘The experts were surprised by the fact that more than two years after the bombings, particles of depleted uranium were still present in the air’.
Moreover, the head of the expert team noted: ‘Uranium bomb fragments were found in Serbia in Plackovica area, which is not marked on the bombing map presented earlier to the UN by the NATO’. The mystery of uranium contamination in Plackovica remains unsolved.
The level of contamination of soil and groundwater in these areas over a long period requires continuous monitoring to assess potential risks.
There are documents confirming NATO countries’ awareness of the danger of the effects of this type of ammunition on the troops, civilian population, and environment of the territories. For example, the Summary Report of the U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute to Congress in 1994, entitled Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Army, states: ‘No technology exists for reducing the toxicity of depleted uranium… The cleanup of depleted uranium ammunition areas is extremely difficult’.
In addition, the report by the UK Royal Society in 2001, The health hazards of depleted uranium munitions, noted: ‘The main type of cancer for those affected by depleted uranium munitions is lung cancer’.
The West is well aware of the negative consequences of the use of DU ammunition. Despite the fact that the use of such ammunition will cause irreparable damage to the health of AFU soldiers and civilians, NATO countries, particularly the UK, have expressed their readiness to supply this type of weapon to the Kiev regime.
Moreover, after the use of DU shells, large areas of crops on Ukrainian territory will be contaminated, and radioactive substances will be spread through vehicles to the rest of the territory.
In addition to the contamination of its own population, this would cause enormous economic damage to Ukraine’s agro-industrial complex, especially crop and livestock production, bringing down in the future any export of agricultural products from Ukraine for many decades, if not centuries.
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