Depleted-Uranium Weapons: the Whys and Wherefores
Authors: Andre Gsponer
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The only military application in which depleted-uranium (DU) alloys
out-perform present-day tungsten alloys is long-rod penetration into a main
battle-tank's armor. However, this advantage is only on the order of 10%,
and it disappears when the comparison is made in terms of actual lethality
of complete anti-tank systems instead of laboratory-type steel penetration
capability. Therefore, new micro- and nano-engineered tungsten alloys may
soon out-perform DU alloys, enabling the production of tungsten munition
which will be better than existing uranium munition, and whose overall
life-cycle cost will be lower, due to the absence of the problems related to
the radioactivity of uranium. The reasons why DU weapons have been
introduced and used are analysed from the perspective that their
radioactivity must have played an important role in the decision making
process. It is found that DU weapons belong to the diffuse category of
low-radiological-impact nuclear weapons to which emerging types of low-yield
(i.e., fourth generation) nuclear explosives also belong. It is concluded
that the battlefield use of DU during the 1991 Gulf War, which broke a
46-year-long taboo against the intentional use or induction of radioactivity
in combat, has created a military and legal precedent which has trivialized
the combat use of radioactive materials, and therefore made the use of
nuclear weapons more probable.