“This is a common type of munitions, used particularly for its armor-piercing capability,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday, adding that such shells “are not radioactive” and “are not come nowhere near” the category of nuclear weapons.
The use of such weapons is not prohibited by international law.
Where have they been used?
Many armies use this type of ammunition, including the American and Russian.
They were used in the two Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003, as well as in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The Pentagon also acknowledged that it used depleted uranium shells twice in 2015 in operations against the Islamic State group in Syria.
What are the health and environmental risks of its use?
Depleted uranium is a “heavy metal that is chemically and radiologically polluting,” says the United Nations Environment Program.
Armor-piercing shells, hitting their target, spread dust and uranium fragments. In terms of health, “the main risk posed by depleted uranium is not radioactivity, but its chemical toxicity.”
Ingestion or inhalation of large amounts may affect kidney function.
Depleted uranium munitions were cited as one of the possible causes of ill-health among Gulf War ex-combatants, or the high number of cancers or birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, but their role has not been scientifically proven.