U.S. Information Paper on Depleted Uranium
23 January 2001; Updated 13 February 2003
AD HOC Committee on Depleted Uranium (AHCDU)
- While the armor and munitions are manufactured in different locations, the depleted uranium metal used to manufacture these items was produced using similar processes.
- In the enrichment process, two streams of uranium are produced. One stream contains the more radioactive components of uranium and the other contains uranium that is "depleted" in these components.
- The majority of our depleted uranium is from the enrichment of natural uranium. There are trace amounts of transuranics (including plutonium and other heavier elements), as well as technicium-99, and uranium-236 in this depleted uranium which came primarily from the enrichment process. The machinery used for the enrichment process was also used in the 1950-1970's to enrich uranium extracted from recycled reactor fuel. This resulted in the contamination of those facilities with trace amounts of transuranics, uranium-236 and technicium [sic]. These trace amounts were picked up in the DU processed in the facility. In addition a small fraction of the raw material used for producing our DU came from the uranium extracted from reactor fuel. We are researching the exact amount.
- Depleted uranium is not manufactured from nuclear waste. It is a product of the uranium enrichment process and a small portion was from the enrichment of the uranium extracted from nuclear fuel.
- The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) processed all of the depleted uranium used in the Balkans and in the Gulf in the same way.
- The presence of trace amounts of transuranics is not a new issue nor is it a significant health or environmental issue. Both the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense reassessed the levels of transuranics in representative samples of our depleted uranium in 1999 and found that the increase in radiation or toxicity due to transuranics, technicium-99, and uranium-236 was less than one percent. These samples are believed to be representative of all our DU. There are no added health effects associated with the presence of these trace amounts.
- In light of the current controversy, we are continuing to re-verify these estimates.
- Some individuals have asked about the temporary suspension of operations at a plant producing DU in Kentucky. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspended operations in order to reassess the safety and hygiene procedures in the plant itself. It did not do so because of the trace amounts of transuranics, U-236 and technicium [sic] in the depleted uranium. Once again, these trace amounts present less than a 1 percent increase in radiation levels and no increase in the toxicity.
- Our depleted uranium is "clean." The trace amounts of transuranics, technicium [sic], uranium-236 are so low that they do not change the health or environmental risk of using these munitions.
- Trace amounts of U-236 are found in U.S. depleted uranium. The U-236 in our DU is from the trace amounts that are in our enrichment facilities and from the small amounts of DU that are from the reprocessing of the uranium extracted from nuclear fuel. U-236 and the other trace contaminants in our DU increase the radiation levels by less than 1%. Also, there are trace amounts of U-236 in the environment from above ground nuclear weapons testing.
- No new depleted uranium is being produced. We are currently using the remainder of the original DU produced plus recycled DU in our manufacturing processes. We have done testing that is representative of the DU in our inventory. Further testing is not required because we are not producing new depleted uranium.