Following Britain’s Lead, Controversial Munitions Aim to Aid Kyiv’s Push Against Russian Forces

In a move echoing Britain’s earlier decision, the United States recently confirmed its plans to dispatch depleted uranium anti-tank rounds to Ukraine. These munitions, intended to bolster Kyiv’s counteroffensive efforts against Russian forces, will equip the 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks scheduled for delivery in the coming fall.

Depleted uranium rounds, a legacy of the Cold War era, were initially designed by the United States to neutralize Soviet tanks, including the T-72 models, the same tanks the Ukrainian forces are now facing in their counteroffensive efforts. While retaining some radioactive properties, they lack the capacity to trigger a nuclear reaction akin to a nuclear weapon, clarified RAND Corp nuclear expert Edward Geist.

Russia’s previous unfounded assertions, claiming these rounds bear nuclear components, have prompted concerns about potential escalations. President Vladimir Putin has, in the past, hinted at the possibility of using atomic weapons in the conflict.

Understanding Depleted Uranium Ammunition

Composition and Lethality

Depleted uranium emerges as a byproduct of uranium enrichment for nuclear weaponry. It is a heavy, dense, and highly stable metal that, despite its inability to generate atomic reactions, boasts exceptional characteristics that make it highly suitable for use in armor-piercing ammunition and other military applications.

This quality renders it a highly effective projectile, an even better option than lead. When discharged, a depleted uranium munition transforms into a high-speed, dense dart capable of piercing armor. On impact, it promptly incinerates, generating intense heat that ignites surrounding materials.

Health Risks

While not classified as nuclear weapons, depleted uranium munitions do emit low levels of radiation—such as radioactive dust and particles during impact, prompting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to advocate for cautious handling and protective measures.