Statement by Australasian Radiation Protection Society: Potential Health Effects of Depleted Uranium in Munitions
Some military personnel involved in the 1991 Gulf War have complained of continuing stress-like symptoms for which no obvious cause has been found.
These symptoms have at times been attributed to the use of depleted uranium in shells and other missiles, which are said to have caused toxic effects.
Similar complaints have arisen from the more recent fighting in the Balkans, particularly the Kosovo conflict about a year ago.
Depleted uranium (DU) is natural uranium which is depleted in the rarer U-235 isotope (see below). It is a heavy metal and, in common with other heavy metals, it is chemically toxic.
It is also slightly radioactive and there is therefore said to be a hypothetical possibility that it could give rise to a radiological hazard under some circumstances, e.g. if dispersed in finely divided form so that it is inhaled.
However, because of the latency period for the induction of cancer by radiation, it is not credible that any cases of radiation-induced cancer could yet be attributed to the Kosovo conflict.
Furthermore, extensive studies have concluded that no radiological health hazard should be expected from exposure to depleted uranium.
The risk from external exposure is essentially zero, even when pure metal is handled. No detectable increases of cancer, leukaemia, birth defects or other negative health effects have ever been observed from radiation exposure to inhaled or ingested natural uranium concentrates, at levels far exceeding those likely in areas where DU munitions have been used.
This is mainly because the low radioactivity per unit mass of uranium means that the mass needed for significant internal exposure would be virtually impossible to accumulate in the body - and DU is less than half as radioactive as natural uranium.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)