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UK to send Ukraine ammunition with depleted uranium

Grim Reaper 6

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The U.K. Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie said on March 20 that some of the ammunition her country would deliver to Ukraine alongside Challenger 2 tanks contains depleted uranium.  The U.K. pledged to supply Ukraine with 28 Challenger 2 main battle tanks as part of the Western allies’ assistance package. Multiple countries promised to send dozens of German-made Leopard 2 tanks, and the U.S. promised to send 31 Abrams tanks later this year.  Depleted uranium is a dense metal formed as a byproduct of enriching natural uranium for nuclear fuel. Being still radioactive but at a much lower level than the original material, depleted uranium is used in armor-piercing projectiles and bombs for greater penetration power. 

On March 21, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin condemned the U.K.’s plans to send ammunition containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, saying Moscow “would have to respond accordingly,” as quoted by Reuters. The U.K. Ministry of Defense said Russia is “deliberately trying to disinform” after Putin warned the country against providing Ukraine with ammunition that contains depleted uranium, according to CNN. The ministry later elaborated that “the British Army has used depleted uranium in its armour-piercing shells for decades. It is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities. Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform.”


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Russia has warned the UK not to provide depleted uranium shells as ammunition for the tanks it is sending to Ukraine, saying they contain a "nuclear component". Depleted uranium makes weapons more powerful, but it is feared they could be a threat to people in areas where they are used. Depleted uranium is naturally-occurring uranium, which has been stripped of much - but not all - of its radioactive matter. It is a waste product from the process through which uranium is enriched for use in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.  Uranium is a very dense metal, so depleted uranium can be used to reinforce the armour-plating on tanks. It can also be put on the tips of bullets, mortar rounds and tank shells, to penetrate conventional tank armour.

Depleted uranium shells sharpen on impact, which further increases their ability to bore through armour, and they ignite after contact. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) says depleted uranium missiles were developed by the US and UK in the 1970s. They were first used in the Gulf War in 1991, and then in Kosovo in 1999, and during the Iraq War in 2003. Depleted uranium shells are not considered to be nuclear weapons," says Dr Marina Miron, from Kings College London.


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