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Bit of conjecture on the side-effects of depleted uranium ammunition on its users here. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of military personnel being issued weapons and equipment that isn’t up to the job, or that’s just plain dangerous to the user- aircraft structurally prone to stalling, or pistols that blow up in the owner’s hand- but D.U. seems to be one step beyond.
Speaking of this sort of thing, I recently met a US Army officer who’d transferred from tanks to infantry because he hated tanks. He corrected himself- “No, not tanks, tankers. I hate their attitude. They basically believe “there’s always a bigger hammer”. They think nothing of firing a D.U. penetrator from the main gun at single insurgent, just to see what a 120mm round will do to a human body.” Which immediately put in me in mind of The Boys #65, but I decided to keep that to myself.
D.U. Isn't that dangerous. It's "depleted" uranium, which means that the amount of fissionable U-235 relative to U-238 has been reduced. Is it radioactive? Yes, mildly so, but not terribly so, U-238 has a half-life of four and a half billion years. What does that mean? Well that means that it's not terribly radioactive, it's not like say, americium 241, which is commonly used in household smoke detectors. If someone handed you a kilo of U-238 you could hold on to it without any incident. If someone handed you a kilo of americium 241 you'd be in a world of hurt in a fairly short amount of time. Boeing used to use DU for the trim weights on the 747 because it was dense and more easily formed than tungsten.
So what makes depleted uranium dangerous then? Well, the fact that it's a heavy metal, just like lead or mercury. Being exposed to uranium fragments or dust from a DU munition is dangerous for the same reason that being exposed to lead fragments or dust from conventional munitions is dangerous. But the myths about DU, that it undergoes a nuclear reaction when it hits the target, or that it's dangerous because its radioactive are nonsense.
As far as shooting a 120mm penetrator at a single insurgent goes, hey, why not? Seriously, if you don't kill him with the main gun you're either going to kill him with 7.62mm rounds fired from the coaxial machine gun or the loader's machine gun or with .50 calibre rounds fired from the commander's gun (I used to be an M-1 tank commander) or if the poor bastard is close enough you're going to run him over and crush him under the treads. Anyway you look at it dead is dead. You're not going to be less dead from being run over by an M-1 or shot with a machine gun than you are if you're hit by a DU sabot round.