Depleted Uranium - History

History

Enriched uranium was first manufactured in the early 1940s when the United States began its nuclear weapons program. Later in the decade, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union began their nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs. It was at this time that depleted uranium was first stored as an unusable waste product (uranium hexafluoride). There was some hope that the enrichment process would be improved and fissionable isotopes of U-235 could, at some future date, be extracted from the depleted uranium. This re-enrichment recovery of the residual uranium-235 contained in the depleted uranium is no longer a matter of the future: it has been practiced for several years. Also, it is possible to design civilian power-generating reactors using unenriched fuel, but only about 10% of reactors ever built utilize that technology. Both nuclear weapons production and naval reactors require fuel containing concentrated U-235.

In the 1970s, the Pentagon reported that the Soviet military had developed armor plating for Warsaw Pact tanks that NATO ammunition could not penetrate. The Pentagon began searching for material to make denser armor-piercing projectiles. After testing various metals, ordnance researchers settled on depleted uranium.

The US and NATO militaries used DU penetrator rounds in the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnia war, bombing of Serbia, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

While clearing a decades-old Hawaii firing range in 2005, workers found depleted uranium fins from training rounds from the formerly classified Davy Crockett recoilless gun tactical battlefield nuclear delivery system from the 1960-1970s. These training rounds had been forgotten because they were used in a highly classified program and had been fired before DU had become an item of interest, more than 20 years before the Gulf War.

Read more about this topic:  Depleted Uranium

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