Press accounts have indicated the presence of trace levels of plutonium and other contaminants in DU that are indicative of recycled nuclear fuel. Is this true? How did these contaminants get in the DU and does it change your evaluation of the health hazards associated with DU exposure?

Yes, trace levels of transuranics have been found in DU. The Department of Energy operated three gaseous diffusion plants (Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee) where they enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and power plants; creating depleted uranium as a by-product. Some or all of these plants received recycled uranium extracted from spent nuclear fuels in the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s. Uranium extracted from spent nuclear fuels included low levels of transuranics, including americium, neptunium, and plutonium, technetium-99, and uranium-236. The gaseous diffusion process concentrates these contaminants in the enriched uranium and decreases the levels in the depleted uranium so that only trace quantities remain. The radioactive contaminants increase the radiation dose from theDU itself by less than 1 percent, which is considered insignificant.

In March 2001, DOE reported the results of a two-year recycled uranium study that concluded the transuranic content in depleted uranium was very low. The DOE data are consistent with U.S. Army testing of the DU used in armor plate for the Abrams Heavy Tank, which concludes the radioactive contaminants contribute less than a one percent increase in the radioactivity from DU itself. Various NATO countries and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently recovered penetrators in the Balkans and tested them for the level of contaminants. Their findings are consistent with DOE/DoD findings. The UNEP concluded that the transuranics have no significant impact on the overall radioactivity or the health risk. These contaminant levels are in the parts per billion range. A part per billion is approximately equivalent to one second in 31.7 years.