Ukraine’s Depleted Uranium Blast: Europe on Brink of ‘Environmental Disaster’

May 19, 2023

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned on Friday that a radioactive cloud was heading towards Western Europe following the destruction of a Ukrainian warehouse storing British-supplied depleted uranium ammunition.

Sputnik News spoke with Dr. Chris Busby, physical chemist and scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, about how the West’s decision to provide depleted uranium (DU) ammunition to Ukraine has potentially caused a continent-wide ecological disaster. Below is his answer in full.

Recently, several web media outlets provided videos of an enormous explosion in the town of Khmelnitski, located to the West of Kiev, and about 200 km from the border with Poland. There were two major explosions which produced a massive roiling swirling fireball which, like an atomic bomb, developed upwards and formed a mushroom cloud, which was black.

I have represented nuclear atmospheric test veterans in the Royal Courts of Justice in London and have seen many films of nuclear explosions: this was not one. A nuclear explosion is characterised by an immediate intense white light which wipes out the camera film or detector.

So, what was it? It was suggested by several commentators that an arms depot that had been hit contained the Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons sent by the UK to the Ukraine for use in the British Challenger tanks as anti-tank penetrators. That the explosion was one involving the burning of the DU in the fireball. Since I am a scientific authority on Uranium and its health effects, but have also examined its dispersion and behaviour in the environment, I will comment on what I believe happened, and why it is important. I was a member of the UK government Ministry of Defence Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (DUOB) in 2000-2005, and also the UK government Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) 2000-2004. I am Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) which is an independent NGO that provides advice on risk from ionising radiation.

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My main research interest in this area is Uranium and health, particularly the DU particles, which are so small they act as a gas and move over very large distances once they are created by the burning of DU. I found them in England in 2003 after they had come from Iraq. I found them in 2023 in England after they came from the Ukraine war. So that is the first thing: the material is able to travel very large distances.

Therefore, if the Khmelnitsky explosion was a DU one, the material would move with the wind direction and should be detectable at monitor sites downwind.

First, we need to say that DU has a gamma signature, it releases gamma rays. The UK and USA governments lie about this. They point to the fact that the U-238, that remains after the fissile U-235 is removed in the centrifuges (and is sent off for nuclear weapons and reactors), is a weak alpha emitter.

They say that alpha radiation cannot penetrate skin and so the DU itself is harmless. That it cannot be detected by a Geiger Counter and the alpha particles don’t make it through the window. There is, of course, a health problem if the post-impact particles are inhaled and pass into the body through the lung into the lymphatic system or directly into the digestive system, but essentially DU is harmless.

What you need to know is that Uranium 238, when it decays with its alpha emission, turns into Thorium-234 and Protoactinium-234m which then turns into Uranium 234. Thorium 234 is a beta and gamma emitter delivering 6% of its decay energy as a gamma ray. Thus, large clouds of DU particulate aerosol will be detectable by gamma detectors.

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When I visited Iraq with Al Jazeera in 2000 I went to the south and examined the corpses of the tanks that had been hit by DU in the first Gulf War. Some of the A-10 DU penetrators were still lying around. They gave off an intense gamma ray signal, and the holes in the tanks were highly gamma ray active. So much for only an alpha emitter.

I am a yachtsman: examination of the UK metereological weather pressure maps tell us that at the time, and for days after the explosion, there was an anticyclone to the North of the explosion site and winds were weak but from the South East blowing North Westerly around the high-pressure area. So, the plume would move towards Poland. If the winds were about 5km/h they would reach any Poland detectors 250 km away on the 15th.

After Chernobyl, the European Union set up a Europe-wide gamma radiation detector system that used to give gamma readings in real time. I went to look. But astonishingly, all the data was blocked. The web- based system, administered from Germany, (EURDEP) would not provide the detector maps that are normally available. Luckily, there were some location maps on the web and some that had been already downloaded by colleagues of mine before the system stopped working. I obtained maps from Poland. One of these I show below.

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