The UK government is sending depleted uranium shells for use in the Challenger 2 tanks gifted to Ukraine, a move CND has condemned as an additional environmental and health disaster for those living through the conflict.
First reported by Declassified UK, Defence Minister Baroness Goldie admitted in the answer to a written question that armour piercing rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were included in its tank package for Kyiv. She added that the rounds “are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.”
A byproduct of the nuclear enriching process used to make nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons, DU emits three quarters of the radioactivity of natural uranium and shares many of its risks and dangers. It is used in armour piercing rounds as it is heavy and can easily penetrate steel. However on impact, toxic or radioactive dust can be released and subsequently inhaled.
DU shells were used extensively by the US and British in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, as well as in the Balkans during the 1990s.
It is thought that the extensive use of these shells is responsible for the sharp rise in the incidence rate of some cancers like breast cancer or lymphoma in the areas they were used. Other illnesses linked to DU include kidney failure, nervous system disorders, lung disease and reproductive problems. However, a lack of reliable data on exposure to DU means no large-scale study on its true impact exists.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:
“Like in Iraq, the addition of depleted uranium ammunition into this conflict will only increase the long-term suffering of the civilians caught up in this conflict. DU shells have already been implicated in thousands of unnecessary deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses. CND has repeatedly called for the UK government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts. Sending them into yet another war zone will not help the people of Ukraine.”
Photo credit: Harland Quarrington / MoD via Flickr