Depleted Uranium

Programme overview

This programme looked at the transport, uptake and behaviour of depleted uranium in the environment. It studied how depleted uranium changes and moves through soil, plants and animals.

Background & objectives

The programme examined how depleted uranium moves through the environment over periods of 5-10 years and longer, including:

  • what changes happen to it
  • how it is taken up by soil, plants and animals.

The research focused on the environment, and did not consider the human health effects of depleted uranium, or issues associated with its use by the military.

The programme studied the following topics:

  • how the environmental behaviour of depleted uranium alloys, and their corrosion products, differs from that of natural uranium, uranium wastes and/or natural analogues;
  • how depleted uranium is transported in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments
  • sorption in near surface environments (including that associated with the military use of depleted uranium)
  • how water transports depleted uranium on the surface and in the subsurface, and models that predict this transport
  • how uranium, trace actinides and fission products associated with DU, become fixed, and accumulate in living tissue (bioaccumulation), including processes related to soil function and subsurface microbial communities
  • how plants take up depleted uranium, and whether it enters animal and human food chains
  • the mineralogical forms and the physicochemical properties of corrosion products and particles that form as depleted uranium munitions interact with the environment and military armour
  • how depleted uranium cycles in and across the near surface environment
  • weathering or secondary depleted uranium dusts and particles, including resuspension which could lead to inhalation
  • new monitoring and analytical methods, including potential biomarkers for determining bioavailability, chemical speciation, particle size, etc.

The findings of the programme helped to assess and quantify environmental exposure to depleted uranium, as well as the uncertainties about how depleted uranium moves in the environment.