Depleted uranium ammunition is made in the same way as other types of ammunition. However, while most ammunition uses lead bullets, this type uses depleted uranium. Ammunition manufacturers typically obtain depleted uranium from the national government, and they cast bullets using the metal. The depleted uranium bullets are then attached to a cartridge that already contains a propellant and ignition cap.
Most depleted uranium exists as a byproduct of the uranium enrichment industry. As the centrifuges in a uranium enrichment plant collect ever more radioactive isotopes of the metal, fewer radioactive isotopes get left behind. Because this mixture of uranium isotopes has already ejected the vast majority of its radioactive material, it is called depleted uranium. While depleted uranium is no longer dangerously radioactive, it is still quite toxic, like most heavy metals.
Most of depleted uranium's modern uses take advantage of the material's extraordinary density. Uranium's high density means that small amounts of the metal weigh much more even compared to other heavy metals like lead. This property makes depleted uranium an ideal choice for ammunition, as bullets made from the metal can penetrate even thick armor.
Depleted uranium, unlike lead or other metals used in bullets, is "self-sharpening." Self-sharpening is an armaments industry term that refers to the fact that depleted uranium bullets chip and break into multiple jagged edges as they travel through armor. Lead bullets deform smoothly instead of shattering, which lowers their ability to penetrate thick armor.