Jan 23, 2003
arXiv: Physics and Society
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.