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Royal Society investigates effects of depleted uranium

24 January 2000

Royal Society Press Release

The Royal Society is undertaking an independent study of the effects on human health and the environment of depleted uranium in missiles and shells, it was announced today (24 January 2000).

A working group of six experts has been set up to review the available evidence, and to issue a report later this year. Professor Brian Spratt FRS, the chairman of the working group, said: "There is some public concern about the long-term consequences for military personnel, civilian populations and the environment arising from the use of depleted uranium in military conflicts, such as the Gulf War and Kosovo. The Royal Society wishes to provide the public with an independent opinion of the possible health hazards associated with the use of depleted uranium munitions."

The working group's terms of reference are:

  • to assess the exposure to depleted uranium and its oxidation products that military personnel are likely to experience by various routes (eg ingested, inhaled or embedded);
  • to relate these exposures to the known chemical and radioactive toxicities of depleted uranium and its oxidation products;
  • to assess the likely health effects of these exposures;
  • to estimate the exposure, doses and possible health effects, for the general population during, and shortly after, the use of depleted uranium munitions;
  • to estimate the longer term consequences for health of environmental contamination with depleted uranium and its oxidation products; and to identify areas where research is required to address the consequences for health and the environment of the use of depleted uranium munitions in warfare.

The working group will also consider the possible hazards associated with the use of depleted uranium as ballast on aircraft.

The Royal Society working group on depleted uranium will publish its findings later this year. The group's members are:

Professor Brian Spratt FRS (Chairman; Professor of Biology, Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, University of Oxford)

Dr Michael Bailey (Head, Dose Assessments Department, National Radiological Protection Board)

Dame Barbara Clayton CBE (Honorary Research Professor in Metabolism, University of Southampton)

Dr Clive Marsh (Director of Physics Research, AWE Aldermaston)

Professor Ian Shanks FRS (Science Advisor, Unilever Research)

Professor Marshall Stoneham FRS (Director, Centre for Materials Research, University College London)

Uranium is a naturally-occurring radioactive element which exists in three forms, called isotopes: uranium-238, uranium-235 and uranium-234. Uranium-238 is less radioactive than uranium-235 or uranium-234. Depleted uranium is a by-product of the processing of uranium for use in nuclear reactors, and is less radioactive than naturally-occurring uranium because it contains a lower percentage of uranium-235 and uranium-234. Depleted uranium is a very hard, dense material that allows the tips of missiles and shells to pierce armour.


1. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. The Society's objectives are to:

recognise excellence in science
support leading-edge scientific research and its applications
stimulate international interaction
further the role of science, engineering and technology in society
promote education and the public's understanding of science
provide independent authoritative advice on matters relating to science, engineering and technology
encourage research into the history of science

For further information, contact:

Carl Smith/Socorro Ponsford
Press and Public Relations
The Royal Society
Tel: 0171 451 2516/2508

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