2. What is depleted uranium and how is it used?
The SCHER Opinion states
Uranium (U) is a heavy metal. Uranium is easily oxidized in air and U metal is therefore coated with a layer of U oxides, U is therefore present mainly as oxides in the environment. Natural U is weakly radioactive and contains the radioisotopes U-234, U- 235 and U-238. All U isotopes have a very long half-live and decay to many other radioisotopes, called progeny. The decay of U finally results in stable isotopes of lead (Burkhart, 1991; Choppin et al., 1966).
Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of uranium enrichment. Depleted uranium is less radioactive then U (see below), but retains the chemical properties of natural U. Depleted uranium has a variety of applications because of its high density and its pyrophoric properties. It has been used as counterbalance weight in aircraft, missiles, forklifts and sailboat keels. It was also used in medical radiotherapy as a radiation shield and in dental porcelain crowns (until 1982). In weapons technology, DU is used in armour plates in heavy tanks and in armour-piercing ammunition. DU-containing ammunition was first used in the 1991 Gulf War and has again been used in Serbia, in Kosovo, and in the 2003 Gulf war. Due to their high kinetic energy and the pyrophoric properties of U, DU ammunitions are used solely for the purpose of armor-piercing and have little use against other targets (Bleise et al., 2003).