The UK will send “armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium” to Ukraine, for use with the tank squadron donated by the British army.
Defence minister Baroness Goldie made the admission yesterday in response to a written parliamentary question from crossbench peer Lord Hylton.
Goldie said: “Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.”
Russia has previously warned it would regard the use of depleted uranium in Ukraine as a ‘dirty bomb’.
Kremlin official Konstantin Gavrilov said in January: “If Kyiv is supplied with such shells for NATO heavy military equipment, we will consider this as the use of dirty nuclear bombs against Russia with all the ensuing consequences.”
Depleted uranium rounds have been linked to cancer and birth defects. They were fired extensively by allied forces in Iraq.
The rounds are radioactive and scientists believe their toxic effects on human health can continue to be felt long after conflicts have ended.
A White House spokesperson refused to confirm whether the US was supplying such rounds to Ukraine when asked by a reporter in January.
Britain is sending 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
Since Declassified first reported this story today, Russian president Vladimir Putin has threatened he “will have to respond accordingly” while his defence minister Sergei Shoigu said it put the world “fewer and fewer” steps away from “nuclear collision”.
The UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, told a press conference of “the concerns we’ve expressed over the years about any use of depleted uranium, given the consequences of such usage, and those would apply to anyone who provides such armaments.”
Haq added: “We have made clear including through our Office of Disarmament Affairs concerns about any use of depleted uranium anywhere.”
Doug Weir, research and policy director at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told Declassified: “The UK’s decision adds to existing concerns about Russia’s use of depleted uranium in the invasion.
“Since 2007, huge majorities have backed UN resolutions highlighting the health, environmental and technical concerns associated with the use of the weapons. The UK has been one of only four countries to consistently vote against them.”
Weir also expressed doubts about the reliability of the British shells, which are known as CHARM3. He warned: “Alongside the problems depleted uranium contamination will create for Ukraine’s management of damaged military vehicles, the UK’s ageing CHARM3 ammunition is past its service life, and it is unclear if it will function as intended.”
Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said: “Like in Iraq, the addition of depleted uranium ammunition into this conflict will only increase the long-term suffering of the civilians caught up in this conflict. Depleted uranium shells have already been implicated in thousands of unnecessary deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses.
“CND has repeatedly called for the UK government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts. Sending them into yet another war zone will not help the people of Ukraine.”