Depleted and natural uranium: chemistry and toxicological effects

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2004 Jul-Aug;7(4):297-317. doi: 10.1080/10937400490452714.


Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product from the chemical enrichment of naturally occurring uranium. Natural uranium is comprised of three radioactive isotopes: (238)U, (235)U, and (234)U. This enrichment process reduces the radioactivity of DU to roughly 30% of that of natural uranium. Nonmilitary uses of DU include counterweights in airplanes, shields against radiation in medical radiotherapy units and transport of radioactive isotopes. DU has also been used during wartime in heavy tank armor, armor-piercing bullets, and missiles, due to its desirable chemical properties coupled with its decreased radioactivity. DU weapons are used unreservedly by the armed forces. Chemically and toxicologically, DU behaves similarly to natural uranium metal. Although the effects of DU on human health are not easily discerned, they may be produced by both its chemical and radiological properties. DU can be toxic to many bodily systems, as presented in this review. Most importantly, normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, and heart can be affected by DU exposure. Numerous other systems can also be affected by DU exposure, and these are also reviewed. Despite the prevalence of DU usage in many applications, limited data exist regarding the toxicological consequences on human health. This review focuses on the chemistry, pharmacokinetics, and toxicological effects of depleted and natural uranium on several systems in the mammalian body. A section on risk assessment concludes the review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / radiation effects
  • DNA Damage
  • Heart / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney / radiation effects
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver / radiation effects
  • Mammals
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced
  • Public Health
  • Radiation Injuries*
  • Radioactive Pollutants / pharmacokinetics
  • Radioactive Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Uranium / chemistry*
  • Uranium / pharmacokinetics
  • Uranium / toxicity*


  • Radioactive Pollutants
  • Uranium