The Biden administration intends to announce supplies of armour-piercing munitions containing depleted uranium to Ukraine next week, Reuters reported on Saturday, citing an official document.
According to the news agency, the shells will be included in the coming military aid package estimated to be worth between $240 and $375 million. One of the Reuters sources believes that the ammo can be used in US-made Abrams tanks, which are set to be delivered to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
In late March, the UK pledged depleted-uranium shell deliveries for Ukraine. Soon after, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu all threatened to escalate the conflict.
“It seems that the West has truly decided to fight Russia until the last Ukrainian not just on paper but in reality. I would like to note in this regard that if this is what is going to happen, Russia will have to react appropriately. I mean that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with nuclear components,” Putin then said.
According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, depleted uranium is a toxic metal and the main by-product of uranium enrichment. It is the substance left over when most of the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium are removed for use as nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons.
Depleted uranium has high density, twice that of lead. It is used in armour-piercing shells as well as to increase the strength of the armour of military equipment, for instance tanks. Explosions of depleted-uranium munitions release uranium oxide dust.
The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation did not detect any clinically significant pathologies related to the human exposure to depleted uranium. The threat to the population and environment is “not significant” either, the UN adds.
Meanwhile, there’s a potential danger of radiation exposure to the people who come into direct contact with these munitions or their fragments. Moreover, the presence of residues containing depleted uranium can “further increase the anxiety of local populations”.
The US was using depleted-uranium shells on a large scale in the Gulf Wars in 1990 and 2003 as well as during NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, Reuters noted.
The news agency also warned that the presence of radioactive materials in projectiles can complicate Ukraine’s post-war clear-up operations. The country is already peppered with unexploded cluster bombs, other munitions, and hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel landmines.