Washington announced another package of military assistance to Kyiv, which, among other things, will include depleted uranium shells for US Abrams tanks. According to US officials, the tanks will arrive in Ukraine soon.
Depleted uranium is a toxic heavy metal. This metal is just as toxic as natural uranium, but it has less radiation toxicity.
Depleted uranium has high solidness that is twice that of lead. Due to this property, depleted uranium is used as ballast in ships and aircraft. It is also used in the defence industry to increase the armour strength. It is also used to make armour-piercing ammunition cores. Such projectiles are capable of penetrating armour. When they explode, uranium oxide dust is released.
According to the IAEA, local contamination of territory with small particles of depleted uranium does not pose a considerable radiological danger to humans and the environment.
The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) also found no significant abnormalities associated with exposure to depleted uranium radiation. However, the UN has repeatedly expressed concerns about the use of uranium ammunition.
At the same time, specialists in many countries have repeatedly stated that depleted uranium shells may pose a threat to human health and the environment. A research conducted bu the US Army Institute of Radiobiology said that depleted uranium could cause oxidative damage to DNA.
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) says that explosions of depleted uranium shells send clouds of radioactive dust in the air. This dust may cause serious damage to the human body: cancer, kidney failure, fetes development disorders and various mutations.
The US military used depleted uranium munitions during Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, during the invasion of Iraq and the intervention in Yugoslavia. Many US Army veterans subsequently suffered from health problems that were attributed to exposure to uranium ammunition.
The rate of oncological diseases also increased sharply in the regions where such shells had been used during hostilities. Serbia was ranked first in the number of cancer diseases in Europe. About 30,000 thousand people suffered from cancer in the first ten years since the bombing of the republic. Up to 18,000 of those patients died. Many called the phenomenon in Serbia a cancer epidemic.
There are several countries in the world that have depleted uranium shells in their armed forces. Defence departments of the United States and Great Britain call depleted uranium a standard component of armour-piercing ammunition, which has been used for decades and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.
In April, James Heappey, UK's Minister of State for the Armed Forces, said that London had sent Kyiv thousands of shells for British Challenger 2 tanks, including those with depleted uranium. The British side does not monitor the use of those shells nor does it have any obligations to eliminate the consequences of their use after the conflict ends, Heappey added.
The Russian Embassy in Great Britain then indicated that Western countries wanted to turn Ukraine not only into a military training ground but also into a radioactive burial ground. The Russian Embassy also noted that London was trying to relieve itself of responsibility for the use of uranium shells in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would be able to respond to the challenge.
"Without exaggeration, we have hundreds of thousands of such shells that we have not used yet," Putin said.
China also commented on the transfer of British depleted uranium shells to Ukraine.
"The parties concerned should try to ease the tense situation, rather than add fuel to the fire, they should promote a diplomatic solution to the conflict, rather than escalate the situation further,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in late April.
In May, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian Security Council, announced the destruction of Western-made depleted uranium shells in Ukraine that resulted in the formation of a radioactive cloud. According to Patrushev, an increase in radiation levels was recorded in Poland.
Kremlin' official spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the USA's decision to transfer depleted uranium shells to Kyiv "very bad news."
"The use of these shells had very, very sad consequences that even international organizations documented… Future generations of people who came into contact or lived in the areas where those weapons were used still have to deal with those consequences," Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman noted that responsibility for the consequences of using depleted uranium shells will rest entirely with the United States. "Everyone should be aware of this,” he added.
The decision of the United States to transfer depleted uranium shells to Ukraine is a criminal act that will only lead to escalation, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov said.
"This is not just a step towards escalation, but a reflection of Washington's outrageous disregard for environmental consequences of using this kind of ammunition in a combat zone… This is, in fact, a criminal act, I cannot give any other assessment to this,” Ryabkov said.
Russian Foreign Ministry official spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also commented on the White House remarks about depleted uranium shells posing no radioactive threat.
"They have written so many times about the toxicity of depleted uranium, the danger of radioactive dust to the human body, about the contamination if soil with radionuclides and its aftermath,” the diplomat wrote on her Telegram channel.
"NATO soldiers, primarily the Italian military, being unaware of consequences, tested that on themselves during NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia. Of 7,500 people exposed to toxic substances and radiation, 372 died. Moreover, they died from painful cancer complications: kidney dysfunction, lung cancer, bone cancer, esophageal cancer, degenerative development of the skin, Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia,” Zakharova added.
Serbian lawyer Dr. Srđan Aleksić, who represents the interests of those who suffered from the use of depleted uranium shells, said that there was a cancer epidemic in Serbia.
"According to NATO, the level of radiation in Serbia is higher than that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This uranium will stay in Serbia forever, which means that our citizens will be getting increasingly sick,” the lawyer said in an interview with RT.
The North Atlantic Alliance believes that they are supposedly immune to depleted uranium. NATO refuses to carry any responsibility for their use.
"We are disputing this, because this is not true to fact. NATO must answer for civilian victims, for the people who still get sick because of the environmental disaster,” the lawyer said.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky fears that his country may split into two similarly to the Korean scenario.