NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’ Report on the US Supplying DU Shells to Ukraine is a 1-Source Dud

Image capture of depleted uranium tank shell in flight after
being fired by an Abrams tank towards a target.


This article was originally published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)


In its fund-raising promotions, NPR touts shows like “Morning Edition” as providing listeners a “deeper look” at complicated stories.

Sometimes that is the case, but on this past Sept. 8, in the case of an announced decision by the Biden administration to further escalate the violence in Ukraine by supplying that country’s military with controversial depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank shells, the NPR news program “Morning Edition” glossed over the reason many nations consider their use an atrocity.

“Morning Edition’s” co-host Leila Fadel, in beginning her three-and-half-minute piece on the story, in iintroduced her  lone source,  Togzhan Kassenova, a senior research fellow at Albany University’s Center for Policy Research, calling her “an expert on nuclear politics.”

Kassenova, responding to questions from Fadel, proceeded  to misrepresent what DU is, and what its risks are when used in battle, saying, “Anti-tank rounds with depleted uranium are not nuclear or radioactive.” She added only that uranium is “toxic and requires special handling,” a fact which while true, effectively denies that it is both toxic and radioactive.

Fadel didn’t question her guest’s effort to minimize any risk posed by uranium projectiles, though even the most cursory attempt to research the issue would have disclosed to her that the real problem with DU, a mix of U-238 and  some other rarer uranium isotopes (all radioactive) that are left after the fissionable U-235 used in nuclear bombs and as reactor fuel has been refined out, is that all uranium isotopes are significant releasers of alpha particles as they decay. These low-energy but relatively large particles, not even mentioned by Kassenova, which are essentially helium nuclei composed of two protons and two neutrons — when emitted by ingested or inhaled uranium oxide particles, can do serious cellular and genetic damage.

Pentagon apologists for DU weapons typically note that alpha particles are so low-energy they “cannot penetrate skin or a piece of paper.” True enough, but when introduced into the body, where the tiny alpha-particle-emitting dust can  become lodged in lung or kidney tissue, they prove to be quite good at killing or damaging adjacent cells.   

Critics of DU weapons, whom Fadel only mentioned in a passing aside, explain that it’s not the shiny uranium tip of a DU shell that poses a risk. The risk comes when that shell penetrates tank armor and explodes in the interior at a searing temperature of over 2000 degrees, reducing the entire vehicle and the soldiers in it to cinders. At that point the uranium has become uranium oxide dust, and that radioactive dust blankets the target and a wide surrounding area. Given its radioactive half-life of 170,000 to 4.5 billion years, that’s where DU residue remains until blown, washed or carted away, or until it migrates down into the water table.

Actually, had Fadel had bothered to check with the EPA, instead of just  adopting the Pentagon’s self-serving line that DU is no big deal as far as radiation risk is concerned, she’d have learned that agency’s website states, “If DU is is ingested or inhaled it is a serious health risk. Alpha particles directly affect living cells and can cause kidney damage.”…


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