2. What is depleted uranium and how is it used?
Uranium ore contains a mix of isotopes – forms of the element with slightly different physical properties. It is processed to increase the content of the most radioactive isotope, U-235, which is used as nuclear fuel and to make nuclear warheads. The by-product of this enrichment contains less U-235, and so is known as depleted uranium (DU).
Depleted uranium is still a mix of isotopes, all chemically identical, but is less radioactive than the naturally occurring mix. Uranium is an extremely dense metal, and is highly chemically reactive, burning spontaneously when in contact with air. The main uses of depleted uranium depend on its high density. It has been used as a counterbalance weight in aircraft, missiles, and even forklift trucks and boat keels. It is also used in armour-plate for tanks and in armour piercing shells. DU-containing munitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War, in NATO action in Serbia and Kosovo, and again in the 2003 Gulf War.