… Hazards of uranium weapons: Radioactivity:
The chief radiological hazard from uranium 238 is alpha radiation. When inhaled or ingested, alpha radiation is the most damaging form of ionising radiation. However, as U238 decays into its daughter products thorium and protactinium, both beta and gamma radiation are released, increasing the radiation burden further. Therefore DU particles must be considered as a dynamic mixture of radioactive isotopes.
Inside the body alpha radiation is incredibly disruptive. The heavy, highly charged particles leave a trail of ionised free radicals in their wake, disrupting finely tuned cellular processes. In one day, one microgram, (one millionth of a gram), of pure DU can release 1000 alpha particles. Each particle is charged with more than four million electron volts of energy; this goes directly into whichever organ or tissue it is lodged in. It only requires 6 to 10 electron volts to break a DNA strand in a cell and these emissions cover a sphere with a radius of 6 cells.
Novel effects from internal emitters are highlighting the hazards posed by exposure to internal alpha radiation. This includes the Bystander Effect – whereby cells adjacent to those struck by alpha particles also exhibit signs of radiation damage, and Genomic Instability, where the descendants of radiation damaged cells show increased rates of mutations: the precursor to cancer growth. Ionizing radiation is a human carcinogen at every dose-level, not just at high doses; there is no threshold dose and any alpha particle can cause irreparable genetic damage.
Hazards of uranium weapons: Chemical toxicity: … (full long text).