Depleted Uranium

Don't be misled by the term 'depleted uranium'. Like spent fuel' from civilian reactors, depleted uranium is highly toxic and carcinogenic and has a half life of some 4.4 billion years. -- Alice Slater

NATO is trying to save Kosovars, but if they leave Kosovo filled with depleted uranium, it's not a happy situation. They [would be] poisoning them. If you are going to use depleted uranium in warfare, it's better to drop an atom bomb and kill 30,000 people instantaneously rather than killing them over 20 or 30 years. -- Hari Sharma

Desert Storm veterans along with the people of Iraq and Kuwait were victims of one of the latest military experiments on human beings. I believe that the ignorance was culpable and criminal. -- Rosalie Bertell

We came across a lot of destroyed vehicles and dead bodies as we moved up through Kuwait. Nobody ever told us to stay away from the vehicles that might have been contaminated with depleted uranium. -- Victor Suell, radio operator, US Marines

In Iraq in 1997, I discovered monstrous births of deformed babies and old men who, amid the wreckage which the Allies had blasted with our uranium shells, told me of daughters with breast and liver cancer. -- Robert Fisk

There is now overwhelming evidence that use of depleted uranium is killing peacekeepers from Allied countries now based in the Balkans. It is killing the soldiers who went into the Balkans when the Serbs withdrew, and it is killing the people there who we went to war to supposedly protect. It is also killing the ordinary people of Iraq who have to suffer the triple pressures of a despotic regime, international sanctions, and death from depleted uranium. Using depleted uranium is clearly immoral, but it is also against international law and UN conventions which prohibit the use of weapons which cause indiscriminate deaths and injury. -- Caroline Lucas MEP

In the Navajo creation story, the people were warned not to touch a yellow substance called 'cledge', to leave it in the ground. 'Cledge', now known to be uranium, was from the underworld. The Navajo people had a choice, yellow 'cledge' or yellow corn pollen. The yellow corn pollen posses the positive elements of life, if 'cledge' were to be released from the ground it would bring forth the serpent. The serpent would bring into the world evil, death, and destruction.

A common myth perpetuated within the nuclear industry, is that unlike the coal industry there are few injuries and deaths. The truth has a different story to tell. From 1946 to 1968, thirteen million tons of uranium were mined in the US. Fifteen hundred miners, mainly native American Indians, worked the uranium mines. There they breathed radon gas and silica-laden dust. Today more than half of these miners have died from cancer and respiratory diseases.

For use in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons naturally occurring uranium has to be enriched to increase the level of fissile uranium, U-235. The leftover product is depleted uranium, in which the level of fissionable uranium 235 has been reduced from 0.7% to 0.2% by the enrichment process. Uranium 238 makes up over 99% of the content of both natural uranium and depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is roughly 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium, with a half life of 4.5 billion years. After 50 years of producing enriched uranium for weapons and reactors the US has a waste stockpile of depleted uranium in excess of 1.1 billion pounds.

In a novel method of waste disposal, depleted uranium is being given away free to arms manufacturers for use in armour and munitions.

The military are not the only users of depleted uranium, it is used as a counterweight in some aircraft. El Al Flight LY 1862 crashed into a block of flats on the outskirts of Amsterdam (October 1992). Apart from the immediate consequences of the crash (at least 43 people killed on the ground, the exact number not known due to illegal immigrants living in the area), 850 people have since fallen ill as a consequence of a giant fireball that erupted from the plane and choking white smoke. The plane was known to be carrying 1,500 kg of depleted uranium (only 163 kg recovered), plus the possibility of nerve gas agents or biological weapons agents. The plane was destined for the Israel Institute for Biological Research (a top secret establishment for biological and chemical warfare, where according to an ex-employee 'There is hardly a single known or unknown form of chemical or biological weapon ... which is not manufactured at the institute' [Sunday Times, 4 October 1998]). The crash that occurred at Stansted Airport less than a minute from take-off narrowly missed outlying farm buildings, there was no loss of life on the ground (December 1999). The aircraft was carrying depleted uranium as a tail fin counterweight. Most of the depleted uranium has not been recovered. In a paper published in Nature physicist Robert L Parker estimated a worst case scenario of 250,000 people exposed to DU in a 747 crash.

Whilst the rare crash of a plane carrying DU is a local problem, the main concern with depleted uranium is the use by the military, as has been recently highlighted in the Gulf and former-Yugoslavia. DU is a heavy metal, in common with other heavy metals it is highly toxic and radioactive. Wars involving the use of DU are likely to be the most toxic in human history. The 'success' of DU in its two most recent field trials both as a penetrator and armour is likely to hasten its use on the battlefield unless there is urgent international action to outlaw its use.

Many thousands of rounds of ammunition was fired in the Gulf War. Tank busting rounds were tipped with depleted uranium. A tip of depleted uranium packs a punch, high kinetic energy in technical jargon. An unexpected benefit, not only does it bust enemy tanks, it also gets rid of unwanted nuclear waste. On hitting a tank, or armoured vehicle, the force of impact causes the DU to vaporise, an aerosol of uranium dioxide and uranium trioxide is formed. The vehicle and the surrounding area becomes contaminated with radioactive depleted uranium dust. Clean up crews were given no warnings, issued with no protective clothing. Since the Gulf War, the US DoD has produced a video warning of the dangers of DU but few people have seen it.

Depleted uranium when alloyed with titanium forms a dense hard penetrator. The two together are pyrophoric, on impact they combust releasing an aerosol of fine uranium particles. 60% of the particles are less than 5 micron in diameter, 10 microns is a respirable size.

In Iraq, children are dying of cancers, birth defects.

Depleted uranium munitions were used in Kosovo. The areas where it was used show high levels of background radiation. 10,000 people are expected to die in Kosovo as a direct consequence of the amount of depleted uranium dumped on the country during the US/UK led humanitarian war.

Of the 40,000 British personnel who served in the Gulf, by the end of August 1999, only five had been screened by the MoD for DU contamination. British servicemen have suffered Gulf War Syndrome, but all they have met from the British government is a wall of secrecy. When files were obtained there was an attempted prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Two Gulf War veterans had their homes raided by MoD police, computers seized. The purpose of the raid was to seize leaked documents that showed the MoD was aware of the effects of DU contamination and its connection to Gulf War Syndrome.

In the US 155,000 veterans of the Gulf War are sick, 36,000 are suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. The number who have died is unknown as the US government refuses to release the figures.

Asaf Durakovic served in the Gulf as a unit commander of a medical detachment. Later he was Professor of Nuclear and Medical Research, Chief of the Nuclear Medicine Service, a colonel in the US Army Medical Corps. Asaf Durakovic examined several veterans who had been contaminated. All the records have been lost, Asaf Durakovic has been fired.

Gulf War syndrome may be due to a number of factors, the cocktail of drugs combatants were forced to take, releases from Iraqi chemical and biological sites bombed by coalition forces, oil fires.

Carol Picou served in the Gulf. She was forced, under orders, to take drugs. She has subsequently fallen ill. Following her testimony to Congress she was forced out of the army, losing in the process her health insurance. She has received numerous anonymous threatening phone calls warning her to lay off. Valuable papers went up in flames when her car was fire bombed.

In the US soldiers are dying of brain tumours and cancers, young soldiers in their early twenty's with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Children are born with missing limbs, missing eyes, missing ears, hearts on the wrong side of the body. In Iraq, the Iraqi people are displaying the same symptoms and conditions, the only difference being that they lack any form of medical treatment due to the US/UK imposed and enforced sanctions which has already led to 500,000 dead children.

In Mississippi, a survey of the families of 251 veterans of the Gulf, 67% have illness rated as severe or suffer from missing eyes, fused fingers, blood disorders, respiratory problems.

Carol Picou travelled to Iraq to see for herself the devastation. Armed with a Geiger counter, she found tanks were still highly radioactive six years after the end of the Gulf War.

Leonard Dietz, a veteran of WWII used to work at a nuclear power plant. One day he discovered depleted uranium in the filters at the plant. It had not come from the plant. Eventually it was traced to plant operated by National Lead Industries. The plant was fabricating 30 mm cannon rounds tipped with depleted uranium. The plant had contaminated a 2,000 square mile area with depleted uranium aerosols. The plant was subsequently shut down for exceeding their monthly radiation limit. The limit amounted to 1 1/2 penetrator rods within a 30 mm cannon round packed with DU.

During the Gulf War at least 300 tons of DU tipped munitions were fired within four days.

Tank armour reinforced with depleted uranium is virtually impervious to conventional shells. This was vividly demonstrated during the Gulf War. An M1A1 tank became stuck in the mud and was left for later recovery. It became a sitting target when surrounded by three Soviet-made T-72s. They attacked at less than 1,000 metres. The shells from the T-72s bounced off the M1A1, the worse damaged that it suffered was when one shell scored a groove in the frontal armour before bouncing off. The M1A1 returned fire, using 120 mm DU rounds. The first T-72 took a direct hit in the turret causing an explosion that blew the turret into the air. The second T-72, as it turned to run, took a direct hit in the engine compartment, which blew the engine into the air. The third T-72 backed up behind a sand berm and was hidden from view. The M1A1 depressed its gun and fired a DU sabot round through the berm, into the T-72, causing an explosion.

Hunkered down in their tanks, crews are exposed to low level background radiation from the DU armour and the payload of DU shells. In an M1A1 tank a tank driver receives a radiation dose of 0.13 mrem/hr to his head from overhead DU armour. After just 32 continuous days, or 64 twelve-hour days, the amount of radiation a tank driver receives to his head will exceed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's annual standard for public whole-body exposure to man-made sources of radiation.

The US Army and Marine Corps deployed more than 1,900 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during the Gulf War, plus several hundred M1 and M60 model tanks. The M1A1 tanks fire 120 mm rounds, while the M1 and M60 tanks fire 105 mm rounds. The weight of the DU penetrator dart in a 120 mm tank round is 10.7 pounds; in a 105 mm round it is 8.5 pounds. The US Army reported that a total of 14,000 DU tank rounds were expended during the war - 7,000 rounds were fired during training before the war into sand berms in Saudi Arabia; 4,000 rounds were fired during combat; and 3,000 were lost due to fires or other accidents. British Challenger tanks fired at least 100 DU tank rounds in combat.

The US Air Force A-10 fired approximately 940,000 30 mm DU rounds in combat.

DU penetrator rounds fired by American aircraft and American and British tanks destroyed approximately one-third of the 3,700 Iraqi tanks lost in battle. In addition, artillery pieces, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment destroyed by DU rounds number in the thousands. By the end of the war, an estimated 300-800 tons of uranium from spent rounds lay scattered in various sizes and states of decay across the battlefields of Iraq and Kuwait.

US tank crews were not monitored for radiation exposure during the Gulf War. Servicemen were never warned of the dangers of depleted uranium. A fire at a munitions dump was dealt with by people wearing no protective clothing. Servicemen scrambled over burnt out tanks and armoured vehicles, no one was warned of the dangers.

The US Army Chemical Command produced a book Uranium Battlefields Home and Abroad, its message could not have been clearer - 'Don't go into tanks that have been hit by depleted uranium munitions. They're radioactive.' The books were deliberately withheld until after the Gulf War.

In the grain breadbasket northern wheat-growing area around Mosul, North Iraq, the wheat is stunted blades of grass. This is a region that would normally feed nineteen million people.

Siegwart-Horst Gunther, carrying out research in Iraq on the effects of DU on the local population, especially children, found the following: considerable increase in infectious diseases caused by severe immunodeficiencies in a large part of the population, frequent occurrences of massive herpes and zoster infections, AIDS-like syndromes, an hitherto unknown syndrome caused by renal and hepatic dysfunctions, leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and malignant neoplasms, congenital deformities caused by genetic defects (also in animals). Siegwart-Horst Gunther has likened what he found to the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome (the congenital defects in Iraqi children and those of US Gulf War veterans are identical). Siegwart-Horst Gunther found children playing with DU shells, one of whom later died of leukaemia. When Siegwart-Horst Gunther attempted to bring a DU shell back to Germany for analysis he was met by a large police contingent who took the projectile away for storage in a shielded depository. He was later prosecuted and found guilty for violating Atomic Energy Law.

In former-Yugoslavia, over 1,000 children are suffering from unknown diseases: headaches, aching muscles, abdominal pains, dizziness, respiratory problems etc. Symptoms similar to Gulf War Syndrome. Several hundred are receiving hospital treatment.

Throughout its air bombardment of Serbia and Kosovo, Nato maintained that its use of depleted uranium munitions posed no threat to human health. A difficult argument to maintain with what is known of the hazards of low level radiation. Also in view of what we have seen with the use of DU munitions in Iraq. More recently Nato officers 'off the record' have been forced to admit that there may be problems. At least one K-For officer has warned aid workers to stay away from sites that were attacked with DU munitions. In Kosovo, DU munitions were not only used against armour. A defence installation at Djakovica was hit with DU munitions. Somewhat perversely Nato has steadfastly refused to identify targets hit with DU munitions.

The US has admitted to firing about 10 tons of air-launched DU munitions over Kosovo. To date that fired over Serbia remains classified.

British war veterans who served as part of the Kosovo peace keeping force are planning to sue the MoD for Balkan War Syndrome. The symptoms, fatigue, chronic joint pain, are similar to Gulf War Syndrome. Belgium, who had 14,000 troops in the region, in a systematic screening programme, has identified cases of uranium contamination, even where the troops were not deployed in high risk areas. Britain is still maintaining there is no problem.

Iraqi casualties were high during the Gulf War - more than one hundred thousand troops were killed. In contrast 147 allied soldiers were killed (and over half these deaths were due to 'friendly fire'). The military have cynically manipulated the figures. Bush wanted a fast, quick war that would be over before the body count started to rise and mass political opposition could be organised. To achieve that end unprecedented firepower was poured into Iraq. The casualties will come later as combatants and their children die from depleted uranium contamination, immune deficiency and genetic disorders. The military, the politicians and the arms dealers took a calculated risk - that by the time the real casualties become apparent the issue would be too diffuse to be a political problem.

It is not in the interests of the military-industrial-complex to admit the link between Gulf War Syndrome and depleted uranium, or to admit that those who were on the battlefield will suffer long-term health effects, as to do so would be to deny the use of the latest military toy.

An unpublished report by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (1 March 1991) illustrates the cynical mindset that deploys DU munitions:

There has been and continues to be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and thus be deleted from the arsenal. If DU penetrators proved their worth during our recent combat activities, then we should assure their future existence (until something better is deployed).

The secrecy surrounding Gulf War Syndrome and the use of depleted uranium is not unique. US veterans of the atomic tests, British servicemen forced to witness atomic tests, people of Utah downwind of the atomic test sites in Nevada, aborigines in Australia, Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants and the 23,000 American citizens who were injected with plutonium and literally used as human guinea pigs faced the same levels of secrecy.

It took the Pentagon 46 years to admit to the problems caused by mustard gas, 22 years to acknowledge to the problems Vietnam veterans were suffering from Agent Orange, how long before it owns up to Gulf War Syndrome and its causes?

Like anti-personnel landmines, DU weapons are unfocused, indiscriminate killers, they hit more than the primary target and remain effective on the battlefield long after the period of conflict is over. The use of DU weapons is prohibited under the terms of the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. The use of DU weapons is also prohibited under Article 35 of Additional Protocol 1 of the 1977 Geneva Convention which states 'it is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.'

Web Resources


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Gaia index ~ Soft Energy Paths ~ Agent Orange ~ Landmines
(c) Keith Parkins 2000-2001 -- July 2001 rev 7