|Fact sheet No 257: Depleted Uranium - January 2001 (WHO, 2001, 5 p.)|
· Uranium is a naturally occurring element used, among other applications, in the generation of nuclear power. Naturally occurring uranium has three principal radioactive isotopes, namely U-238, U-235 and U-234.
· Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of the process of uranium enrichment (increasing U-235, the fissionable isotope concentration) in the nuclear power industry in which nearly all the radioactive isotope U-234 and about two thirds of the U-235 are removed. Thus, DU is almost entirely U-238 and is about 60% as radioactive as natural uranium. DU can also contain traces of other radioactive isotopes introduced during processing.
· Chemically, physically and toxicologically, DU behaves in the same way as the metallic form of natural uranium. Fine particles of both metals ignite easily, producing oxides.