Physicochemical characterization of Capstone depleted uranium aerosols III: morphologic and chemical oxide analyses

Health Phys. 2009 Mar;96(3):276-91. doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000298229.60229.10.


The impact of depleted uranium (DU) penetrators against an armored target causes erosion and fragmentation of the penetrators, the extent of which is dependent on the thickness and material composition of the target. Vigorous oxidation of the DU particles and fragments creates an aerosol of DU oxide particles and DU particle agglomerations combined with target materials. Aerosols from the Capstone DU aerosol study, in which vehicles were perforated by DU penetrators, were evaluated for their oxidation states using x-ray diffraction (XRD), and particle morphologies were examined using scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS). The oxidation state of a DU aerosol is important as it offers a clue to its solubility in lung fluids. The XRD analysis showed that the aerosols evaluated were a combination primarily of U3O8 (insoluble) and UO3 (relatively more soluble) phases, though intermediate phases resembling U4O9 and other oxides were prominent in some samples. Analysis of particle residues in the micrometer-size range by SEM/EDS provided microstructural information such as phase composition and distribution, fracture morphology, size distribution, and material homogeneity. Observations from SEM analysis show a wide variability in the shapes of the DU particles. Some of the larger particles were spherical, occasionally with dendritic or lobed surface structures. Others appear to have fractures that perhaps resulted from abrasion and comminution, or shear bands that developed from plastic deformation of the DU material. Amorphous conglomerates containing metals other than uranium were also common, especially with the smallest particle sizes. A few samples seemed to contain small bits of nearly pure uranium metal, which were verified by EDS to have a higher uranium content exceeding that expected for uranium oxides. Results of the XRD and SEM/EDS analyses were used in other studies described in this issue of Health Physics to interpret the results of lung solubility studies and in selecting input parameters for dose assessments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / chemistry*
  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive / chemistry*
  • Algorithms*
  • Beta Particles
  • Computer Simulation
  • Firearms*
  • Gulf War
  • Military Personnel
  • Motor Vehicles
  • New Mexico
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Oxides / chemistry*
  • Radiation Monitoring / methods*
  • Radioactive Waste / analysis
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Uranium / chemistry*


  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Oxides
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Uranium