Depleted Uranium versus Tungsten

Depleted Uranium Counterweight from Boeing 747 Aircraft

Description: A byproduct of Uranium enrichment, depleted Uranium is about 50-60% less radioactive than natural Uranium. It consists of U238 almost exclusively, and it is a very heavy dense metal. It is used for radiation shielding, tank armor and highly penetrating projectiles. The depleted Uranium elevator counterweight shown below most likely came from a Boeing 747.  It is embossed with the required Depleted Uranium stamp. DU was used in counterweight applications on some commercial aircraft up until the 1980’s, when it was phased out and replaced by Tungsten.


Tungsten Counterweight from Boeing 747 Aircraft

Description: The elevator counterweight shown below exhibits the same density as Depleted Uranium, however it is made of Tungsten. A close examination of a barely legible stamped part number at the top of the weight indicates it is a Tungsten replacement part for the original DU counterweight.  As expected, this counterweight registers a background level of radiation, which in addition to the part number, shows that it is not DU. The bottom photo shows an excerpt from a Boeing repair manual that portrays this sort of elevator counterweight. 


Unused Round from a Gunship: DU or Tungsten?

Description: This inert round was pulled out of the desert floor of Ft. Irwin Military Reservation by a solider who was out on training maneuvers. He said that it was a stray round that was fired from a helicopter gunship, and he believed that it was Depleted Uranium.  It missed its target while shooting at defunct tanks and vehicles at one of the gunnery ranges, and buried itself in the sand. 

You can see the turning striations on the projectile from leaving the gun barrel. The soldier stated that these were coated on the outside in steel. The round is 14 cm long and about 4 cm in diameter at its widest point. While it exhibits the density of depleted uranium, it registers background levels of radiation which shows that it might in fact be Tungsten.


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