The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General, Rafael Grossi, has stated that there are “no significant radiological consequences” to the use of depleted uranium ammunition. However, Russia has accused Grossi of withholding information.
During a briefing on Monday, Grossi clarified that from a nuclear safety perspective, there are no significant radiological consequences to the use of depleted uranium ammunition. He acknowledged that there could be contamination in specific cases where people are in close proximity to the area hit by this type of ammunition, but he emphasized that this is more of a normal health issue rather than a potential radiological crisis.
Depleted uranium is commonly used to make the hardened cores of armor-piercing tank and autocannon rounds. While it is not highly radioactive, uranium is still a toxic metal. When a depleted uranium round strikes its target, it can release potentially hazardous aerosols.
The use of depleted uranium ammunition has raised concerns in the past. The US military used these tank shells during the 1991 Gulf War, which reportedly led to a spike in birth defects, autoimmune disorders, and cancer cases in Iraq over the following decades. NATO also employed depleted uranium in its 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia. Earlier this year, the Serbian Health Minister referred to the consequences of this ammunition on the Serb population as a “horrible and inhumane experiment.”
In March, the UK began supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium tank shells, and the US recently announced its plans to send depleted uranium ammunition for its M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. These shipments have sparked criticism and concerns regarding the potential health and environmental impacts.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, accused Grossi of being disingenuous by solely focusing on nuclear safety. She highlighted that depleted uranium releases extremely toxic aerosols when ignited and vaporized. Zakharova argued that chemists should provide insights into the harmful effects of heavy metal accumulation on the environment and human health, suggesting that Grossi might not have the necessary expertise as the head of the IAEA.
Russia claims to have destroyed at least one warehouse in Ukraine containing British depleted uranium shells. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that the West will bear responsibility when this ammunition inevitably contaminates Ukrainian land.
As concerns persist, it is evident that the debate surrounding the use of depleted uranium ammunition involves multiple aspects, including its potential radiological consequences, health impacts, and environmental contamination. The differing opinions between Grossi and Russia underscore the need for further examination of the subject matter by experts from various fields.