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My understanding is that DU is used in warheads because it is extremely hard (unlike lead), and thus good at armour busting.  It is also a handy way to get rid of a somewhat dangerous by product of fission.  Its radio-toxicity is presumably dependent on how depleted it is, and I doubt the military are too concerned at maintaining particularly high quality standards for ordinance that is intended for the enemy except insofar as it might also constitute a hazard for their own personnel.

The issue then becomes the implications for the civilian population living in war zones for extended periods where DU ordinance has been used.  It shouldn't be too hard to clear up the battlefields if the welfare of the civilian population is truly a concern. The scrap metal from the Falklands made an Irishman a multi-millionaire.

I suspect the dust from an exploded DU warhead is the major problem especially if it is inhaled. However anyone within breathing distance of such an exploded warhead is probably already dead!

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Mar 29th, 2011 at 04:26:48 PM EST
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particularly hard, but they are heavy, which is a virtue in a penetrating projectile weapon.  Uranium is very heavy.  That it burns spontaneously means it doubles as an incendiary weapon, so that after penetrating the tank it burns out the tank from the inside.  

How hard is it to clean up fine, scattered dust?  Very.  Clean-up is possible if the Uranium oxide has not been widely scattered.  

Always, ingestion is the main issue.  Of course the tank crews die from burning, but anyone wandering by a day or a year later can be harmed by breathing or swallowing the dust.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 04:11:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gaianne:
Neither lead nor uranium are (none / 0) particularly hard, but they are heavy, which is a virtue in a penetrating projectile weapon.  Uranium is very heavy.
In fact, uranium is so heavy that it can be used to penetrate any non-radioactive metallic armor...

The fact that if is pyrophoric seems to be neither here nor there, despite the fact that white phosphorus is known to be very toxic and there's controversy over whether it should be considered banned already by existing non-conventional-weapon bans. So with "depleted uranium".

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 04:35:54 AM EST
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