Coastal Post Online


April, 2003

Coalition Forces Employ Depleted Uranium

A Weapon Of Mass Destruction
By Hiroshi Kato FRSA

Our Lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
-Dr. Martin Luther King
Depleted Uranium is a waste product of the nuclear industry and is given virtually free to the weapons industry. Uranium is toxic and carcinogenic so it acts as both a chemical and radiological weapon.
DU is the densest metal available and can penetrate all known armor. It ignites spontaneously on impact and burns at 5000 degrees C, giving off black smoke, incandescent sparks and carbonizing its victims.
On ignition a firestorm of radioactive uranium dioxide particles is created which stick to tanks and objects, penetrate the soil, sand and water and are inhaled by animals and people. The emission of predominantly Alpha as well as Beta and Gamma radiation from these particles and debris will persist for the life of the planet, not only in target areas but also wherever they are carried by winds. The particles can remain suspended in the earth's atmosphere for months and travel vast distances.
DU ammunition (from 30 mm to 120 mm penetrators) has been used in Iraq since 1991, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo, Serbia and Montegro during the Balkans war. In 2001 DU penetrators fired in the Balkans were found to have traces of Plutonium and other higher radioactive contamination only found in recycled nuclear reactor rods (Dirty DU). If particles of these transuranic isotopes are inhaled they carry even higher cancer risks. During the 1991 Gulf war 320 tons of DU ammunition was used. Because of its hardness it is also used as armor plating for tanks.
But much larger weapons with high penetration warheads have been developed since 1985 also using a secret, high density 'mystery metal'. US patents located recently confirm that some bomb, missile and cluster bomb warheads are designed to use Depleted Uranium for warhead casings, ballast or liners.
Twenty-three weapon systems are now suspected of using Uranium warheads (depleted or undepleted) including Cruise Missiles, Bunker Busting Bombs, Small Smart Bombs, and Cluster Bombs. New medical evidence from sick civilians in Afghanistan suggests that some bombs or missiles may have used pure or undepleted uranium warheads so that contamination appears to be natural uranium. During the Afghan war an estimated 1,000 tons of Uranium Oxide dust may have disbursed from 2,000 hard target guided weapons.
The US Shock and Awe attacks on Iraq relied on the same types of guided bombs and missile systems but about 50% more were used than in Afghanistan-potentially 1500+ tons of uranium. Widespread tank battles using known DU munitions plus new ground attack missiles may bring the total to 2000+ tons of Uranium contamination (depleted and undepleted).
In most areas where DU has been used, local populations as well as allied troops in target areas have suffered from similar symptoms and illnesses: unexplained cancers and leukemias, neurological disorders, respiratory problems, immune deficiency syndromes, rare kidney and bowel diseases. Children are born with genetic defects, moderate to severe deformities, rare illnesses and develop cancers very young.
The USA and British governments have delayed Uranium testing for veterans for years. But some Gulf War veterans who have had private uranium testing still have depleted uranium contamination in their systems 12 years after the first Gulf War.
One third of the troops involved in the first Gulf War developed Gulf War syndrome and 200,000+ (1 in 4) US veterans are on disability programs. Several thousand have died but with very few autopsies for uranium contamination. Radioactive particles are inhaled or ingested. They are small enough to penetrate tissues where they become embedded. They then sit there internally for the life of the individual emitting a permanent source of internal radiation which damages chromosomes in adjacent cells. Only one radioactive particle is needed to mutate a chromosome potentially leading to crippling damage for the individual.
External Beta and Gamma radiation e.g. from high level sources cause most obvious damage. But the UK M.O.D. website acknowledges that internal Alpha radiation causes more damage to cells than equivalent Beta or Gamma doeses. The US military have known about the dangers of uranium contamination since 1943.
The present radiation risk models accepted and used by the British and USA governments were devised before the discovery of DNA and before the biological responses of living cells to radiation were known. Now we know that one third of all genes exposed to radiation die or mutate. This can result in the production of cancers, general impairment of health and genetic defects which are passed on to future generations. Furthermore some people are genetically more sensitive to radiation than others putting them at greater risk when exposed to low levels of radiation.
The European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) has just published a report which determines that previous risk models for internal radiation exposures e.g. from DU are incorrect. The report states that cumulative radiation exposure from internal DU is 100 to 1000 times higher than the present ICRP risk models recognize-based as they are on external whole body exposure rather than highly concentrated internal radiation hot spots.
European MEPs have already voted for an immediate moratorium on Uranium weapons in Strasbourg on 13 Feb. 03. If Uranium, depleted or undepleted, is being used in large warheads from 250 kg in the Tomahawk cruise missile to 1500 kg in the 2 ton GBU-28 Bunker Buster guided bomb, then these will be large "Dirty Bombs" spreading radioactive contamination over several miles. If 1 in 3 of the 10,000+ bombs and missiles used in the 2 week shock and awe campaign their plumes will merge into a radioactive dust cloud across much of central Iraq, contaminating thousands of people, communities, land and water supplies. Large uranium warheads are unquestionably weapons with indiscriminate effects. In large numbers as used in Iraq they are also weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction cause sudden death or destruction in target areas, some with long term or widespread effects. Weapons of indiscriminate effect cause widespread or long lasting contamination liable to cause injury, chronic illness, slow death or severe birth defects. Both are outlawed in the first protocol of the Geneva conventions.
The international media have blocked all public questions about these new weapons since the War on Terrorism began in October 2001. Only distorted Pentagon propaganda that uranium contamination has no harmful effects has been broadcast. So most Iraqi civilians and coalition troops are unaware even of the health hazards from tanks in their streets burned out with uranium shells. Most have no concept of the radiation that may have spread from the bombs. Nor is there any protection from widespread contamination. However, United Nations health and environmental specialists do recognize the dangers of low level radiation. They know more than most people about emerging health problems in Afghanistan, and have been alerted to suspected large uranium weapons. On 6 April the UN Environment Program (UNEP) announced plans for environmental depleted uranium testing in Iraq when this can be started. Proposals for similar uranium monitoring for the human population is hoped for soon from WHO. Hopefully anti-tank ammunition is the only source of new uranium contamination but targets still need urgent isolation, dust control and cleanup when possible. If many uranium warheads have been used in bombs and missiles this must be identified very fast so that local communities can be evacuated and down wind areas including neighboring Gulf countries alerted.
There is no economic clean-up procedure for multiple attacks with large radiological bombs. The public health implications may be 5-10 worse than the epidemics of cancers, leukemia and birth defects experienced in southern Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war.
There is no doubt that at least 100 tons of Uranium weapons have been used in Iraq. The billion dollar question is how many more Uranium weapons have been used? And how long will the facts about these weapons be kept secret by the US and UK governments-even from their own troops?



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