Letter: Safety of Military Surplus DU Round Containers

I’ve recently bought a M833 artillery round storage/transport tube at a Canadian store known for buying US DOD surplus.

I had just opened the tube and dumped out the pressboard packing tube when it struck me that this tube may have contained a DU projectile.

A clothing removal, thorough hand washing, and quick web search later proved that the M833 is in fact a DU round.

Aside from M833 and M900 tubes I’m guessing that 20mm transport containers would be available on the surplus market and may have held DU rounds.

Do you or others you may know have any suggestions as to what if any special precautions should be taken when handling transport containers that formerly held DU rounds? – Alley in Soviet Canuckistan

JWR Replies: In the Army, depleted uranium (DU) has never been used for any regular production field artillery rounds. It is used almost exclusively in tank main gun rounds and in Apache helicopter 30mm API rounds. The cans for the latter would be marked “30mm API PGU-14/B”. Most of the tank DU round cans are marked “M833 105mm APFSDS-T”. To be absolutely safe, it is best to avoid buying any cans used for DU rounds, but even then, the risk is absurdly low. To explain: The handling risk is negligible, unless the ammunition was mishandled or crushed, in proximity to an open can. (Obviously, if they were crushed in transit, then the can itself would have also been crushed, beyond repair.) The chances of encountering a contaminated can are nil. (If that were the case, it would be best to wear a dust mask.) DU is an alpha and beta radiation emitter. Inhaled alpha and beta emitters do pose a long-term health threat.

For some background, see this Army Technical Bulletin.