UK Defends Sending Weapons to Ukraine Containing Depleted Uranium
Britain on Wednesday defended its decision to supply Ukraine with weapons made with depleted uranium, a day after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin falsely claimed the material had a “nuclear component”.
The British government has confirmed that it will supply armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, as well as its Challenger 2 tanks, which use them. Depleted uranium is a standard component of conventional anti-armour weapons that NATO countries have used for decades, and Britain said in a statement that the ammunition it supplied had nothing to do with the weapons nuclear.
The density of depleted uranium makes it an effective material for piercing heavy armor on the battlefield and is used by many armies. Among them is Russia, which upgraded its main battle tank to add the ability to fire depleted uranium shells, state news agency Tass reported in 2018.
James Cleverly, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that there was “no nuclear escalation”, adding: “The only country in the world that talks about nuclear issues is Russia.”
Uranium, a heavy metal, must be enriched to be used for nuclear purposes. Depleted uranium, which is about two and a half times denser than steel, is a byproduct of this enrichment, still radioactive but at a much lower level.
Putin’s bogus claim came in a statement on Tuesday at his summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who US officials said urged Russia not to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Depleted uranium has been used by the military as far back as the 1990 Gulf War, so “it’s nothing new and nothing unusual,” said Stuart Crawford, a defense analyst and former army officer. British. Mr Crawford said Russia uses depleted uranium in some of its ammunition, including 125 millimeter tank shells.
It is certainly not a “nuclear component” as Mr. Putin described it, he said.
“To say that ups the ante or escalates the conflict because of the nuclear aspect is just plain nonsense,” Crawford said.
Questions have long followed the use of depleted uranium in some munitions and armor, as outside groups have raised environmental and safety concerns. A 2022 report by the United Nations Environment Program identified depleted uranium as a risk in the war in Ukraine, saying that while it does not release radiation that can penetrate healthy skin, it “has the potential to cause radiation damage if inhaled or ingested,” which can occur when the material is sputtered upon impact.
The Pentagon has also deemed depleted uranium safe, although after the US military used it in Iraq, some activists and others linked it to birth defects and cancer. Many studies have been conducted on a possible link, without definitive conclusions.
In 2013, the UK Ministry of Defense downplayed any health or environmental risks associated with the use of depleted uranium. In one article, he said that while dust released on impact can sometimes be a health hazard, “all research to date indicates that these circumstances are extremely unlikely to occur and, if they do occur , will only affect very small groups who are much more exposed to other hazards associated with armed conflict”.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder told a briefing on Tuesday that to his knowledge, the United States had not supplied Ukraine with any ammunition containing depleted uranium.
Mr Putin’s comments did not appear to be related to environmental or health risks, but instead accused the West of aggravating the war by sending weapons containing depleted uranium and said that Russia “should react in result”. It seemed like a veiled threat to use Moscow’s nuclear arsenal in Ukraine, as Mr. Putin warned at times during the war.
US officials have said they have seen no effort by Russia to move or use its nuclear weapons and believe the risk of their use is low, although concerns persist.