Implantations with low-energy ions (470-keV Xe and 500-keV La with corresponding ion range Rp ∼ 85 nm and range straggling ∆Rp ∼ 40 nm) have been performed to investigate both radiation and chemical effects due to the incorporation of different species in UO2 (urania) crystals. The presence of defects was monitored in situ after each implantation fluence step by the RBS/C technique. Channelling data were analysed afterwards by Monte-Carlo simulations with a model of defects involving (i) randomly displaced atoms (RDA) and (ii) distorted rows, i.e. bent channels (BC). While increasing the ion fluence, the accumulation of RDA leads to a steep increase of the defect fraction in the range from 4 to 7 dpa regardless of the nature of bombarding ions followed by a saturation plateau over a large dpa range. A clear difference of 6% in the yield of saturation plateaus between irradiation with Xe and La ions was observed. Conversely, the evolutions of the fraction of BC showed a similar regular increase with increasing ion fluence for both ions. Moreover, this increase is shifted to a larger fluence in comparison to the sharp increase step of RDA. This phenomenon indicates a continuous structural modification of UO2 crystals under irradiation unseen by the measurement of RDA.