|Over the last 13 years since the first Gulf War the effects and health risks of depleted uranium have become increasing evident. This article brings together a lot of information already known with a new twist: 500 more tons just hit Iraq
What is D.U.?
To start off let's get familiar with what depleted uranium is. I will keep it relatively simple and to the point.
Depleted uranium: A radioactive metal produced when natural uranium is enriched, thereby removing the isotope U 238 to obtain highly radioactive U 235. For every ton of enriched U235 produced there is 100 tons of D.U. left over as a by product.
The U 238 that is D.U. has a half life of 4.5 BILLION years.
Depleted uranium is uranium that is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium, while retaining identical chemical properties. It is 2.7 times heavier than steel and makes an excellent metal for making munitions.
D.U. is pyrophoric, meaning it burns on impact with a target. Impact with a target generates extreme heat and vaporizes 20-70% of its mass through the kinetic heat and energy of the target penetration.
This produces Uranium Oxide particles which are highly radioactive and react in a highly toxic manner when inhaled into the lungs. Uranium Oxide particles then spread on the air currents for miles surrounding the target area.
DIRTY D.U. at Kosovo Sites
Tests on D.U. munitions, which were fired in Kosovo, have revealed the presence of U 236 which is a type of "dirty" uranium only found in spent nuclear reactor fuel rods. The reason it is called dirty is because it contains traces of plutonium and other highly radioactive isotopes from a nuclear reactor process.
The pentagon has claimed that it only uses uranium depleted uranium left over from the enrichment process. New tests show that they are using spent fuel rods, or uranium that was enriched for nuclear bombs as part of the D.U. put into munitions. At this time they still deny using any reactor rod or plutonium enriched uranium.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) controls the source of D.U. and considers its use in munitions to be "utilizing of waste material."
In the U.S. and many other countries there are strict guidelines for handling and disposing of D.U. But DOE is more than happy to get rid of D.U. by offering it for munitions.
Over 320 tons fired in Gulf War
In 1991, the Allied forces fired 944,000 DU rounds from aircraft, and at least 20,000 were fired from tanks. Over 320 tons of D.U. shells were fired in Iraq and Kuwait.
According to a British Atomic Energy Authority report, some 500,000 people would die before the end of this century, due to radioactive debris left in the desert.
Out of the 696,000 American troops in the Gulf War, about 436,000 were in areas contaminated with D.U. Over 100,000 troops were directly exposed to airborne uranium oxide particles.
Tests on vehicles that were shelled with D.U. reveal a radiation count 1000 times higher than the background radiation normally occurring.
Further tests on the surrounding areas show a 300-500 times normal radiation count.
Hot Spots Found In Bosnia and Kosovo
U.N. experts have found over 370 radioactive hot spots in Kosovo and Bosnia. In 1995 D.U. munitions were used in numerous air strikes and fired from armored vehicles.
Over 100 tons of D.U. were fired into Kosovo and Bosnia and the former Yugoslav republic. Serb forces had access to D.U. for years and used hundreds of rounds in Kosovo and Bosnia.
At some sites there was detectable amounts of plutonium, curium, cesium (an extremely toxic radioactive compound), was 200 times normal exposure levels.
The tests on sites are still ongoing but over 80% of the sites tested showed traces of dirty D.U. Most sites tested had levels of radiation at least 250-500 times normal levels.
Health results from using D.U.
The use of D.U. has also led to birth defects in the children of Allied Gulf War veterans. Since returning from the war the rate of birth defects and complications has gone up alarmingly. A study of Gulf War veterans showed that 67% had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.
It is believed to be the cause of anophthalmic birth defects, in which babies are being born without eyes in Iraq. Only one in 50 million births should be an ophthalmic, but in one Baghdad hospital, they had 23 cases in just two years. 20 of the fathers of the studied babies had been exposed to American D.U. anti-tank rounds in 1991.
In all over 3000 babies have been born without eyes or with underdeveloped eyes, or with only one eye. This is 30 times the average worldwide.
There have also been cases of Iraqi babies born without the crowns of their skulls, a deformity also linked to DU shelling. There have been over 500 documented cases in Iraq since 1991 of this type of birth defect.
The rate of cancer in children in Iraq is 300-400 times higher than since the Gulf War. Some hospitals were diagnosing 3-5 new leukemia cases a day. There were 40-50 new bone cancer patients diagnosed a week on average, after 1994.
During the late 90's in Baghdad, at the Saddam Central Teaching Hospital, they called the cancer ward the "Death Ward".
During the 90's according to UNICEF, the death rate for children under five was as high150 per 1000. Many times parents were too poor or unable to get their children to hospitals, and countless thousand died without medical care.
DU has been blamed for the effects of Gulf war syndrome -- typified by chronic muscle and joint pain, fatigue and memory loss -- among approximately 200,000 US soldiers after the 1991 conflict.
In Kosovo the rate of cancer in children has risen over 200% in children under 16. The birth defect figures are still being collected, but it appears that there has been a 15-30% increase in deformities and complications due to underdeveloped respiratory and circulatory systems in infants.
The Illegal Aspects of Using D.U: A War Crime? Yes, according to existing humanitarian treaties
While there is no specific international treaty bans the use of D.U., many international humanitarian laws make its use illegal.
According to a August 2002 report by the U.N. sub commission, laws which are breached by the use of DU shells include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Genocide Convention; the Convention Against Torture; the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980; and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which expressly forbid employing 'poison or poisoned weapons' and 'arms, projectiles or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering'. All of these laws are designed to spare civilians from unwarranted suffering in armed conflicts.
In 1996 the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion stating that "The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular to the principal and rules of humanitarian law."
In 1999, a United Nations sub commission considered D.U. hazardous enough to call for an initiative banning its use worldwide. The initiative has remained in stuck in committee, blocked primarily by the United States, who is the sole U.N. nation opposed to a resolution.
Karen Parker, a lawyer with International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project, raised the issue of D.U. in 1996, telling the U.N. that use of D.U. violates "the existing law and customs of war."
Parker has consultant status with the U.N. and has raised the issue with the U.S. congress also.
Parker states the following reasons that using D.U. is a war crime and humanitarian crime:
1) The effects of using a weapon must be limited in territory to the actual field of combat. (Minute particles of ceramic bonded uranium can migrate for many miles beyond the battle field, even into neighboring non-combatant countries, effecting civilians many miles from the actual battle field.)
2) Weapons must not continue to harm or kill after the war has ended. (Health effects from continued exposure to radiation continues for years after the battle continuing to kill due to cancer and health problems)
3) Weapons must not be unduly inhumane. (Long term results of exposure to D.U. causes slow death due to leukemia, cancers, and causes birth defects and congenital deformities.)
4) Weapons must not cause a long lasting, wide spread environmental damage. (D.U. contaminates the ground, water, and atmosphere over vast areas beyond the battle field.)
500 More Tons of D.U. Just Dropped On Iraq
In the face of all the mounting evidence of health hazards and deaths, the U.S. just used another 500 tons of D.U. in the "liberation of Iraq. I received this information from a Ranger Colonel who was in charge of plotting and selecting targets for D.U. munitions. He told me that the U.S and British forces used D.U. very heavily in urban, populated areas, on Iraqi government buildings and offices.
According to this Colonel, when the U.S. bombed the restaurant that Saddam Hussein was supposedly eating, at we hit it with a 5000 pound D.U. bomb. He also told me over 100 tons of D.U. was used in Baghdad and almost 70 tons in Basra.
Now our own soldiers are in highly contaminated areas. The Pentagon has admitted that any water or food that is in a D.U. area is considered contaminated.
Many major cities in Iraq were shelled with thousands of D.U. rounds. Watching the explosions on T.V. you could see the D.U. burning in the air after a target was hit. If you saw a large orange and white tinged mushroom cloud you have seen D.U. being dispersed into the atmosphere.
The "Shock and Awe" should come from the willful, deliberate contamination of a whole country and surrounding countries that had nothing to do with the war.
The Fight to Ban D.U. Rages On
The fight to ban D.U. rages on in many countries but the end results are clear. Birth defects, cancer, mutations, slow death, and a contaminated environment that many future generations not even involved will suffer from.
It looks like the U.S will continue to help D.U. use proliferate around the world and block every attempt to ban it.
The final solution to this problem is not clear, but the contamination goes on and many will die as an end result.
Jay Shaft, Editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media
Depleted Uranium: The Endless Legacy for the World
By: Jay Shaft 5/2/03
Coalition For Free Thought In Media
Posted on the Independent Newswire on 5 May 2003.