27 rue des Gares, 1201 Geneva
"bruno vitale" <email@example.com>
In a recent paper on the Vietnam war and "the exceptional cruelty of
struggle that led to the death of 58,000 Americans and of more than 3
million Vietnamese", Ignacio Ramonet—the director of Le Monde
Diplomatique—wrote: "Some young ‘veterans’ (20 to 27 years old) coming back
from war became aware that they had been made to participate in a slaughter
and through conditioning had been dehumanized and given the status of
criminal ‘Terminators’. They now understand that the Vietnam war will never
have its International Criminal Tribunal; and that the political and
military leaders, who ordered the massacres, the spread of napalm, the
aerial bombing of civilian populations, the massive executions in the
prisons, and the ecological disasters provoked by the massive use of
defoliants will never be judged by a Court Martial and will never be
sentenced for crimes against humanity". (1)
This horror story will repeat itself. There will be no International
Criminal Tribunal for the new crimes against humanity perpetrated by the
political and military leaders of the United States (with the complicity of
their British allies) who used depleted Uranium (DU) weaponry against Iraq
(1991) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1999). In fact, the
committee established to review the NATO bombing campaign against the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the
International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) decided, in its final
report, that "In view of the uncertain state of development of the legal
standards governing this area, it should be emphasized that the use of
depleted Uranium or other potentially hazardous substance by any adversary
in conflicts within the former Yugoslavia since 1991 has not formed the
basis of any charge laid by the Prosecutor ... It is therefore the opinion
of the committee, based on information available at present, that the OTP
should not commence an investigation into the use of depleted Uranium
projectiles by NATO". (2)
It seems futile to emphasize the new wave of human and ecological suffering
that this new kind of "potentially hazardous substance" will introduce into
modern warfare. The simple use of traditional weapons, be they small arms
or standard bombs, is quite capable of destroying human life and of making
life in large regions of the world unbearable (3). But the development of
new, more powerful and more efficient weapons by the powers that dominate
our world is related to the development of a new, dangerous strategy:
"zero-death" warfare ("zero," of course, on the side of the aggressor; the
number of victims, soldiers and civilians can increase exponentially) that
leaves the vanquished country with its industrial, medical, and educational
structures destroyed, soil and water supplies polluted, and a sick
population that no one can take care of, since the so-called "international
community" would impose "sanctions" following the attack. Cluster bombs,
land mines, DU weapons, ...: the terror that the deployment of such an
arsenal of horrors can create should suffice to guarantee the control of
the world in the "new world order". It is in this framework of analysis
that I would like to develop a few considerations on the burgeoning DU
We should be sensitive to the fact that the development of these new
weapons demands a collaborative effort by the political, military,
industrial, and scientific establishments; we cannot limit blame or
responsibility to only one of these powerful forces in our societies.
Strategic imperatives find an enthusiastic response in the dirtiest
policies of international power, in the most powerful industrial interests,
and in the most ambitious dreams of the scientific community (4). An
active, polemical and efficient opposition to the development and
deployment of a new panoply of weapons should be able to analyze and attack
all of these power ingredients together; to reach this aim, we should be
equipped with correct, up-to-date information and we should try to go
beyond pure denunciation and moral outcry. But how? it is easy to talk, but
difficult to find avenues of action.
DU weapons are, of course, only a small part of this strategy of terror.
Not all nuclear states have declared explicit and unambiguous support for
the principle of "no first use".(5). The massive use of defoliants by the
United States during the Vietnam war has never led to any stated policy of
abandoning of this kind of warfare, notwithstanding the grave, diffuse and
permanent damage to people, crops, water, and the whole environment (6).
So if we now concentrate on DU weapons, it is not to ignore the global
grave responsibility the major powers bear for the terror that they
exercise through the use of other sophisticated means of control and
destruction, And it is not merely to protest (7). It is to better inform
ourselves about a subject that deserves vigilant attention in the future,
and at the same time, to give ourselves some clues about the forces and
interests that shape our lives.
One last justification for this kind of reflection: We in the so-called
"industrialized" (or "democratic") nations live immersed in a cloud of
permanent, if hypocritical, references to "human rights". Other countries,
with older social systems or tentative new economic structures, are judged
by our leaders and moral censors on the basis of the defense of "human
rights". But these new weapons, inherently disrespectful of human life,
human suffering and the long-range destruction of the environment, are
"inhuman wrongs". Recognizing this, we citizens would relate differently to
the lies of our leaders.
I have gathered much of the data discussed below from the sources listed
Table 1. I give the Contents of these references in some detail, since the
interested reader might find it useful to refer directly to the original
2. Depleted Uranium and the development of depleted Uranium weaponry
You can find on the Internet a very candid offer of DU manufactured
objects. "Joint-Stock Company Chepetsky Mechanical Plant, Laureate of
Government for Quality" presents, on its nicely designed website
its "Depleted Uranium - reliable biological irradiation shielding". It
takes some time to discover that the "Laureate" refers to a "Premium of
Government of Russian Federation for Quality" (1998). You can even learn
that "JSC ‘Chepetsky Mechanical Plant’ had no claims from the customers
during all its history" and that it "is part of the Russian Federation
What is a bit more surprising is that "Application of our depleted Uranium
by your company will be an important step forward in producing first-rate
articles: flaw-detectors, freight containers [!], scientific and medical
equipment ... We are ready to produce the required quantity of various
depleted Uranium articles in the shortest time at purchaser's request".
This "civilian" reconversion of the enormous stocks of DU produced by
nuclear countries as a byproduct of the military use of "weapon grade
Uranium" and of the nuclear power-plants’ use of "enriched Uranium" (see
Tables 1 and 2) is economically comprehensible, but full of dangers. The
Chepetsky's web site does not mention either the extreme chemical toxicity
of DU or its weak—but not negligible—radioactivity. How to protect workers
from these dangers, how to handle these "first-rate articles", how to
dispose of their broken or discarded parts—there is not a single word to be
found on the Chepetsky web site.
However, it would be enough to glimpse through the Appendices of UNEP/UNCHS
(1999) to see that these dangers are very real and reasonably well known.
"As alpha and beta radiation has very limited range in tissue, the dust or
particles of DU have to be inhaled or ingested to contribute to the
received [radioactive] dose. In case of skin contamination through contact
with solid pieces of DU, there will be some external beta radiation to the
skin. ... In short-term toxicity studies it was shown that the kidney is
the target organ for Uranium [chemical] toxicity" (Appendix 4).
The dangers of these civilian applications of DU are minimal, however,
compared with the dangers of the military applications in the production of
weapons (8). The range of DU weaponry already available to NATO countries
(U.S., British and French forces) is large: it goes from the penetrating
tips and counterweights of cruise missiles to the DU rounds for the U.S.
A-10 Warthog airplanes (used against tanks), the Apache helicopters, and
the Harrier airplanes, and to the 120 mm cannon shells used by the U.S.
M1A1 Abrams tanks, etc.
The main reason for the development of these applications (apart from
need to dispose of the thousands of tons of the very expensive "nuclear
waste" stocked by all nuclear countries) lies in the very high density of
DU, together with its extreme hardness when in alloys. These two
characteristics make it an ideal component of hard, penetrating projectiles
against both armored tanks and deeply hidden military fortifications, and
at the same time a very powerful component of the shields of armored tanks.
On the other hand, the main danger of the military use of DU—to human
beings, to the soil and the atmosphere, and in general to the whole
ecosystem—is to be found in the chemical properties of DU. Remember that
the chemical properties of all isotopes of an element are the same, so that
what follows is valid as much for "natural" Uranium" as for "spent" Uranium
and "depleted" Uranium; but apart from the use of "weapon grade" Uranium in
the fission bomb of Hiroshima, it is only DU, and its consequences, that
entire populations have recently confronted.
"When a DU bullet impacts on a hard object [as the armored plates of
or the concrete ceiling of a fortification], it is crushed into fragments
and dust. Normally 10-35% (maximum of 70%) of the bullet becomes aerosol on
impact or when the DU dust catches fire. Most of the dust particles are
less than 5 microns in size, and spread according to wind direction. ... If
the area attacked consists of rocks and stony soil, most of the DU will be
crushed and aerosolized, and thus there will be fallout from DU dust"
(UNEP/UNCHS (1999), Appendix 5). "Uranium that has leaked from fragments
and dust particles of DU will be transported in the soil or the bedrock as
U(2+)-ions in precipitating water. Under oxidizing conditions, most of the
dissolved Uranium ions are in the form of soluble unary ions that can move
through the environment and living organisms" (UNEP/UNCHS (1999), Appendix 6).
The kind and the amount of risk — to the target soldiers who survive
blast and to the civil population — depend therefore on the chemical form
of the DU pollution. When the DU-polluted particles in the aerosol are
soluble in water, DU enters the body by ingestion; in this case, the
kidneys are the organ that is most easily and rapidly damaged by the
chemical toxic effects of Uranium. When these particles are insoluble, the
danger comes from the radioactive dust that, entering the lungs by
respiration, deposits there and can contribute later to the development of
lung cancer (9).
Michael Clark, an expert not very sympathetic with what he calls "extreme
claims" against DU ("DU is not the extremely lethal danger that some would
like to claim it is") states: "Any sizeable bare fragment [of DU] has
appreciable contact beta dose rate, typically 2 mSv/h. ... Inhalation or
ingestion of DU will incur an enhanced radiation dose internally, but the
general scientific/medical consensus is that DU is more of a chemical
problem than a radiological one. Ingestion of significant amounts of DU can
cause kidney damage due to its chemical toxicity ..." (10).
Those who are responsible for the military deployment of DU weapons
always minimized both the chemical and the radioactive dangers that it
creates for the civil population. It is therefore particularly interesting
to read the "Response statement" distributed on February 15, 1999 by the
U.K. Minister of Defence, after a fire broke in a Royal Ordnance factory
handling DU: "On Monday morning, 8 February, a fire occurred at a Royal
Ordnance Speciality Metals factory at Featherstone in Staffordshire. The
factory handles depleted Uranium and there was initial concern that the
fire could have led to the release of radioactivity. The emergency services
therefore advised local residents to stay indoors and close the windows"
(11). No warning of the sort was ever given to Iraqi or Serb civilian
populations, both amply showered by DU weapons, after the bombing raids!
It is therefore evident that all of the available chemical, physical,
medical information on DU should have made it clear that the development of
DU weapons would have been disastrous, and that the inevitable spreading of
DU aerosols and dust on a country as a result of their military use would
have led to perfectly characterized "crimes of war" and "crimes against
humanity". Nonetheless, see what has been happening during the last two
decades in the United States We lack detailed information about the DU
weapons’ projects of the other nuclear powers, but we can rely on their
industrial-military-scientific complex to predict that they are not too
different! CADU—the UK Campaign Against Depleted Uranium—is "currently
attempting to research manufacture of depleted Uranium in the UK" (see
their website at
Here are a few examples.
The development of DU weapons by the United Sates started very early.
Livingstone writes: "The use of DU in weapons which can be spread around
the test ranges and battlefields of the world is an ingenious solution to
the nuclear industry’s paralyzing problem of what to do with nuclear waste"
(12). The extent of this "ingenious solution" can be judged by an official
USA document relative to the decommissioning (i.e., closing) of a DU
munitions test area at Jefferson Proving Ground, Indiana:
"From 1984 to 1994, the licensee conducted accuracy testing of depleted
Uranium (DU) tank penetrator rounds at the site ... The DU penetrate rounds
vary in size but can be generally described as rods comprised of a DU
Titanium alloy with a diameter of approximately 2.5 cm and a length as much
as 61 cm. The DU munitions testing contaminated approximately 5,100,000
square meters (1260 acres) on the site with an estimated 70,000 kg [70
tons!] of DU ... Currently, the licensed material is kept onsite in the
restricted area known as ‘Depleted Uranium Impact Area'. This area ... is
located north of the firing line, and consists of approximately 12,000,000
square meters (3000 acres)" (13).
The decommissioning of this test facility does not imply that the
development and testing of DU weaponry is stopped or suspended in the
United States; in fact:
"The United State Air Force is reconstituting DU air-to-ground training
activities at the Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada. The Nellis Air
Force Base, Nevada, 99th Air Base Wing propose to resume the employment of
30 mm depleted Uranium armor piercing incendiary rounds ... This is the
only remaining air-to-ground gunnery range in the United States licensed
for DU use" (14).
So much for developing and testing; the military had to have their "ground
tests" in a real battle, against real people, which led to the use of DU
ammunitions in both the Gulf War and the NATO bombing campaign against
3. Utilization of depleted Uranium weaponry against Iraq during the
DU weapons were first used openly in the Gulf War. According to the
American Gulf War Veterans Association, hundreds of tons of ammunition
employing DU were used against Iraqi artillery and armored vehicles (15).
The veterans estimate that around 600,000 (Western coalition) troops were
exposed to DU in the Gulf.
There is a growing literature concerning the "Gulf War illnesses" among
soldiers of the Western alliance against Iraq, illnesses that are partly
blamed on long-term effects of DU exposure. For instance:
"As a result of ‘friendly fire’ incidents during the Persian Gulf War,
[U.S.] Department of defense has reported that DU munitions struck a number
of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks [in addition, three Abrams
tanks were intentionally destroyed to avoid enemy capture]. The friendly
fire incidents killed 13 soldiers and wounded many more. The total number
of soldiers wounded by DU is not known; however, the Office of the Army
Surgeon General identified 22 soldiers whose medical records indicate they
have embedded fragments that might be DU ... Although (the veterans) with
embedded fragments have elevated urinary Uranium levels, researchers to
date do not find adverse health effects that relate to radiation from DU,
but several perturbations in biochemical and neuropsychological testing
have been correlated with elevated urinary Uranium the clinical
significance of which is unclear" (16).
There has been, on the contrary, no serious attempt to study the "adverse
health effects" on the thousands of Iraqi soldiers who were directly
exposed to DU bullets (if and when they have survived) and of the millions
Iraqi people who have been polluted—through inhalation and ingestion—by DU
aerosols and dust. It is true that the possible negative effects of DU
pollution are difficult to separate from the several other health risks
that now confront the Iraqi population: industrial pollution from the
destruction of oil wells and refineries, lack of adequate hospital
structures, difficulties in finding badly needed drugs because of the U.S.
and U.K. imposed embargo, etc. A preliminary report on a "Child and
maternal mortality survey, 1999" by UNICEF—jointly with the Iraq Ministry
of Health—gives the "Infant and under-5 mortality rates in Iraq" as growing
from 5.4% and 6.7%, respectively, in 1979–1984 to 10.8% and 13.1%,
respectively, in 1994–1999 (17) .
A coordinated set of very intense international projects should be launched
to estimate the level of DU pollution in Iraq, its possible adverse health
4. Use of depleted Uranium weaponry on Kosovo and Serbia during the
war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1999)
In a letter dated February 7, 2000 (almost one year after the beginning
NATO's bombing on Yugoslavia!), the NATO Secretary General G. Robertson
confirmed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that DU weaponry had been used
"DU rounds were used whenever the A-10 engaged armor during Operation
Allied Force. Therefore, it was used throughout Kosovo during approximately
100 missions. The GAU-8/A API round is designated PGU-13/B and uses a
streamlined projectile housing a sub-calibre kinetic energy penetrator
machined from DU, a non-critical byproduct of the Uranium refining process.
The A-10s used DU rounds as part of their standard load. A total of
approximately 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition was used in operation Allied
Force. The major focus of these operations was in an area west of the
Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, in the area surrounding Klina, in the area
around Prizren and in an area to the north of a line joining Suva Reka and
Urosevac. However, many missions using DU also took place outside these
areas. At this moment it is impossible to state accurately every location
where DU ammunition was used" (19).
News about the use of DU bombs on Yugoslavia (in particular, on Kosovo)
were already to be found in the media; in particular, A. Kirby of the BBC
published a number of well-documented "Scientific/Technical" news items on
this topic (20). However, the United Nations Environment Program/United
Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNEP/UNCHS), (Habitat) Balkans Task
Force, in its preliminary assessment of "the potential effects on human
health and the environment from the possible use of depleted Uranium during
the 1999 Kosovo conflict" (October 1999, five months after the end of the
bombing campaign!) was still obliged to state that: "... there are no
official documents confirming that depleted Uranium was, or was not, used
in the Kosovo conflict". And further: "The lack of official confirmation
from NATO that depleted Uranium has, or has not, been used, distorts the
prerequisites of this study" (UNEP/UNCHS (1999); see also UNEP (1999) and
in particular UNEP/UNCHS (1999a) for a more comprehensive analysis of the
environmental consequences of the Balkans war).
So an official UN Task Force had to wait until February 7, 2000 to be
informed about an important aspect of a war action that was launched in
March 1999 with the consent and as part of the policy of the United Nations
(this at least is the folklore knowledge instilled by the media!).
The human and environmental consequences of the use of DU weapons on
Yugoslavia are still largely unknown. How much the population in Serbia and
in Kosovo is aware of the dangers that it incurs by handling broken pieces
of DU or in inhaling dust from sites polluted by DU explosions is unclear.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense is worried, however: "There are a number of
ways in which either UK troops or civilians could be exposed to DU during
or after these conflicts. The most likely risk would be if people enter
areas that have been damaged and contaminated by DU ammunition ... People
visiting or working in Kosovo, for instance press and relief agencies [it
seems that Kosovars are not considered significant ‘people working in
Kosovo’], should seek advice from appropriate authorities on the disposal
of damaged vehicles or areas of D.U. contamination and avoid disturbing
these areas. If access to potentially contaminated areas is deemed
essential, then advice should be sought from the Ministry of Defence or the
Foreign Office on any protective measures required" (22). How far we are
from the reassuring tone of the Harley, et al. (1999) RAND report!
5. Conclusions: Perspectives for action
The "concluding remarks and future research" of the "hostile witness"
report I have often quoted do not leave room for much optimism:
"In conclusion, the use of DU munitions and armor is likely to expand
greatly over the coming years, both in the U.S. military and in other
countries. It is therefore important to continue research to further our
knowledge of any potential health risks that might result from different
levels and pathways of exposure" (23).
And so, first you engage into a program to "expand greatly" DU weaponry,
and then, if and when possible, you engage into a research program to see
what could be its "health risks"!
The Chepetsky's offer of "first-rate (DU) articles", machined from Russian
DU arriving from the "Russian Federation nuclear-power complex", seems to
imply that we shall be confronted in the future with a market of civilian
goods that will analogously "expand greatly". This too will require some
vigilance and some careful watching. But the great expansion of the DU
weaponry is, of course, even more of a danger. Its use in modern warfare
reminds us of the very old technique of the "scorched earth" of the enemy
after victory; and of the symbolic, and perhaps efficient, old technique of
covering its land with salt, to make it infertile. The development of DU
ammunition may have been suggested by the high density and hardness of DU,
but how do we avoid suspecting that the grave consequences of their use
(chemically polluted land for years, radioactively polluted land for
centuries) have not played an important role in the strategic choice? Toxic
aerosols and radioactive dusts are so much more efficient than salt!
Pure denunciation is of course depressing; we should do more. DU weapons
not descend on us from the sky: they are actively researched by scientists,
tested by the military, produced by workers in our factories, used by
soldiers in our armies. How to address the arrogance of scientists in their
closed laboratories? How to address trade unions and workers, interested in
saving their jobs, even when they produce napalm, or nuclear,
fragmentation, or DU bombs? How to address the people around us, make them
aware of what is being prepared for us all?
Depleted Uranium Education Project (1997): Depleted Uranium; How the
Pentagon radiates soldiers and civilians with DU weapons. New York: IAC, 1997.
GRIP (1999): Proposition de résolution du Parlement européen,
interdire l'usage d'armes à u.a., présentée par P. Lannoye, groupe des
Verts, June 10, 1999 (www.grip.org).
N.H. Harley, E.C. Foulkes, L.H. Hilborne, A. Hudson and C. Ross Anthony
(1999): A Review of the scientific literature as pertains to Gulf War
illnesses, vol.7: Depleted Uranium. RAND Corporation, 1999
(www.rand.org/publications). For details on the contents, see Table 1.
M. Mccgwire (2000): Why did we bomb Belgrade?. International Affairs
(U.K.), vol.76, no. 1, January 2000.
Ministry of Defence, U.K (1999): Testing for the presence of depleted
uranium in UK veterans of the Gulf conflict; The current position, 24-3-99
UNEP (1999): UNEP-LED assessment of the environmental impact of the
conflict concludes work in Yugoslavia. UNEP/46 Press Release, September 14,
UNEP/UNCHS (1999); The potential effects on human health and the
environment arising from possible use of depleted uranium during the 1999
Kosovo conflict: A preliminary assessment. United Nations Environment
Program/United Nations Center for Human Settlements, (Habitat) Balkans Task
Force, October 1999 (balkans.unep.ch; with extensive appendices and a rich
UNEP/UNCHS (1999a); The Kosovo conflict: Consequences for the environment
and human settlements. United Nations Environment Program/United Nations
Center for Human Settlements, (Habitat) Balkans Task Force, October 1999
VISIE (1999): Depleted Uranium hazard. Holland, 2002
(http://www.xs4all.nl/~stgvisie/VISIE/ud_main.html). For details on the contents, see
WISE (2000): Uranium project. World Information Service on Energy, 2000
(www.antenna.nl/wise/uranium). For details on the contents, see Table 1.
V.S.Zajic (2000): Review of radioactivity, military use, and health
of depleted Uranium (members.tripod.com/vzajic). For details on the
contents, see Table 1.
Table 1: Main sources
N.H.Harley, E.C.Foulkes, L.H.Hilborne, A.Hudson and C.Ross Anthony (1999):
A Review of the scientific literature as pertains to Gulf War illnesses;
vol.7: Depleted Uranium. RAND corporation, 1999
(www.rand.org/publications). This is a scientific report whose main aim
seems to be to underplay the dangers of the civilian and military uses of
D.U.; nevertheless, it contains quite a lot of useful information and can
help in avoiding useless, catastrophic statements; the very fact that it
can be taken as a "hostile witness" gives more weight to its relevant
Ch.2: Health effects
Ch.3: Concluding remarks and future research
Appendix A: Principal decay scheme of the Uranium series
Appendix D: Single-particle lung dosimetry
Appendix G: Measured deep dose rates for M60A3 and M1 tanks
VISIE (1999): Depleted Uranium hazard. Holland, 1999
J.Rendon: Concerns about DU
Part of the Executive Summary of an internal UN report about
the environmental consequences of the war against
The effects of using depleted Uranium by allied forces on men
and the biosphere in selected regions of the southern area
Proposed independent study about depleted uranium
DU and other environmental impacts of the Balkans war
Bone accumulation, lung damage; misleading scientific study
Molecular basis for effects of carcinogenic metals on
inducible gene expression
J.M.Eaton: Ecological catastrophe and health hazards of the
NATO bombing; An annotated URL referenced list of internet
articles, news, press releases
WISE (2000): Uranium project. World Information Service on Energy, 2000
Uranium: its uses and hazards
Uranium radiation and health
Uranium radiation properties
Uranium mining and milling
Uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication
Current issues: waste management of depleted uranium
P.Diehl: Depleted Uranium: a by-product of the nuclear
chain (Laka Foundation)
Depleted Uranium processing and storage facilities
Civilian use of depleted Uranium
Radiation exposure from denture containing Uranium
Radiation exposure from depleted Uranium counterweights
Military use of depleted Uranium
Current issues: depleted Uranium weapons
H.Livingstone: Depleted Uranium weapons
30 mm DU bullet image; GAU-8/A ammunition
L.A.Dietz: Contamination of Persian Gulf War veterans
and others by depleted Uranium
Depleted uranium; A post-war disaster for environment
and health (Laka Foundation)
D.Fahey: Depleted Uranium weapons; Lessons from the
1991 Gulf War
R.Bertell: Gulf War veterans and depleted Uranium
D.Robicheau: The next testing site for depleted Uranium
R.Bristow: Thoughts of the first British Gulf War veteran
found poisoned with depleted Uranium
F.Arbuthnot: The health of the Iraqi people
H.van der Keur: Uranium pollution from the Amsterdam 1992
Organisations involved in campaigns against depleted
Radioactive battlefields of the 1990s (The Military
Radiation exposure from depleted Uranium weapons
Uranium radiation individual dose calculator
Bibliography: Military use of depleted Uranium
Related information sources; Depleted Uranium
Tailings dam safety; Phosphate tailings
V.S. Zajic (2000): Review of radioactivity, military use, and
health effects of depleted Uranium (members.tripod.com/vzajic).
1. Radioactivity; 2. Origins; 3. Applications;
4. Manufactures; 5. Ammunition testing;
6. Combat and accidents; 7. Radiological effects;
8. Chemical toxicity; 9. Gulf War illness; 10. Conclusions
Table 2: Data on natural Uranium
(UNEP/UNCHS (1999), Appendix 4;
www.dne.bnl.gov: Table of nuclides, Uranium;
www.nndc.bnl.gov/htbin/nudat.cgi: Decay radiations;
Z (atomic number) = 92
A (atomic weight): isotopes known from A = 218 to A = 242;
the isotopes U, U and U are found in
nature, the remaining 22 Uranium isotopes are
"natural" Uranium, isotopic composition:
U .005% lifetime 250.000 years
U .720% 700 millions years
U 99.275% 4.5 billions years
Density: 17 - 19 g/cm3 (almost double of the density of Lead)
Fusion point: > 1130°
Highly toxic, like all heavy metals
Radioactivity of "natural" Uranium: when uranium ore is processed into
"natural" Uranium, the decay products of U and U remain in the
waste product; immediately after "natural" Uranium is produced, it
therefore consists only of the three natural, radioactive isotopes; after a
few months their daughter products will be in radioactive equilibrium with
their parents. The end-products of all these radioactive processes will be
stable Lead isotopes.
Table 3: Data on depleted Uranium (D.U.)
(Diehl, in WISE (2000); UNEP/UNCHS (1999), Appendix 4)
"depleted" Uranium (D.U.) is the residual product obtained from the
production of Uranium fuel ("enriched" Uranium, containing in general more
than 3.5% of U) for nuclear reactors and the preparation of Uranium
explosive ("weapon grade" Uranium) for nuclear bombs.
While large quantities of D.U. are obtained by the above-mentioned
industrial processes, only a very limited amount of it is used in some
nuclear reactors; the rest if considered as "industrial waste". In some
cases, the possibility of "re-enriching" D.U. has been explored.
Its isotopic composition:
However, if D.U. is produced by the recycling of "spent" Uranium extracted
from nuclear reactors, it also contains some Plutonium.
Density: 19.07 g/cm3; to achieve better strength and greater resistance
corrosion, Molybdenum, Titanium or Zirconium + Tungsten alloys can be used.
Fusion point: 1130°
Highly toxic, like all heavy metals
Fast neutron absorption: better than that of Lead
Radioactivity of D.U.: the decay products of the U present in D.U.
form a series of radioactive elements down to U; the decay product of
the U present in D.U. is Thorium Th; the final fate of all
Uranium isotopes is some stable isotope of Lead. The radioactivity of the
different components of D.U. produces alpha (helium nuclei), beta
(electrons), and gamma (electromagnetic) radiation, the last one being only
of limited importance.
(1) "Filmer le conflit du Vietnam". Le Courrier (Geneva), 28 April 2000.
(2) ICTY (2000): Final report to the Prosecutor by the Committee
established to review the NATO bombing campaign against the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia. International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Republic of Yugoslavia, June 2, 2000, section A.ii
The whole document should be considered carefully, as it gives a blanket
absolution to all possible crimes committed during the NATO war: "(The
committee) has tended to assume that the NATO and NATO countries's press
statements are generally reliable and the explanations have been honestly
given ... The committee has not spoken to those involved in directing or
carrying out the bombing campaign ... NATO has admitted that mistakes did
occur during the bombing campaign; errors of judgement may also have
occurred. Selection of certain objectives for attack may be subject to
legal debate. On the basis of the information reviewed, however, the
committee is of the opinion that neither an in-depth investigation related
to the bombing campaign as a whole nor investigations related to specific
incidents are justified ... On the basis of the information available, the
committee recommends that no investigation be commenced by the OTP in
relation to the NATO bombing campaign or incidents occurring during the
campaign" (Final recommendations).
(3) According to the ICTY — see note (2) — the NATO bombing campaign
against Serbia has left at least 495 civilians killed and at least 820
(4) I have tried to develop this analysis, which privileges the
of "scientific institutions", rather than "science", in the power interplay
of politics/industry/science in capitalistic societies, in three somewhat
old papers: B. Vitale: The neutron bomb. End Papers, no.1, 1981-1982;
Scientists as military hustlers. Radical Science Journal (Issues in radical
science), no.17, 1985; Military funded research: The institution of science
and the military. Current Research on Peace and Violence, 8, 65-73, 1985.
(5) See, for instance, the "NATO Alliance Strategic Concept"
(www.state.gov/www/regions/eur/nato), approved by the heads of state and
government, April 24, 1999 (50th Anniversary Washington Summit). No "no
first use" of nuclear weapons will be found in this document; on the
contrary, paragraph 62 reads: "The fundamental purpose of the nuclear
forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion
and any kind of war ... "; paragraph 63: " ... Nuclear forces based in
Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military
link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance";
paragraph 64: " ... NATO will maintain, at the minimum level consistent
with the prevailing security environment, adequate sub-strategic forces
based in Europe which will provide an essential link with strategic nuclear
forces, reinforcing the transatlantic link".
(6) During the Vietnam war, more than forty million liters of
were spread over fields and forests; almost 2/3 of this was "Agent Orange",
a mixture of two herbicides (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T), containing dioxin. As a
reminder of the powerful industrial interests in modern warfare: Agent
Orange was produced mainly by Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Uniroyal. See in
particular: A. Schecter: Agent Orange and the Viêt-namese. American J.of
Public Health, April 1995. A dramatic, if saddening, photographic
exhibition on the long-range health effects of defoliants in Vietnam has
been recently touring Switzerland; see the book that accompanies the
exhibition: P.Jaeggi (ed.): Quand mon enfant est né, j'ai ressenti une
grande tristesse; Vietnam: Quand les armes chimiques frappent à
retardement. Bâle: Lenos, 2000.
(7) But remember the powerful Protest and survive by E.P.Thomson
Penguin, 1980), a booklet that played an important role during the European
protests against the Cruse and Pershing missiles.
(8) Appendix 5 of UNEP/UNCHS (1999) gives precious information on the
development of the military use of D.U. ammunition. See also: Military use
of depleted Uranium, in WISE (2000) as well as Zajic (2000).
(9) See, for instance: Depleted Uranium. Ministry of Defence, U.K.,
(10) Michael Clark: Depleted Uranium. Radiological Protection Bulletin,
218, December 1999. It should be noted that "a single day of skin contact
with a 2 mSv/h source is equivalent to the maximum dose of radiation
acceptable during a whole year", says an expert of the British National
Radiological Protection Board quoted by The New Scientist (1 May 1999). On
the other hand, "a chest X-ray has a radiation dose of about 0.02 mSv" (see
Ministry of Defence, U.K. (1999), p.9, note 22); therefore, a one-hour long
skin contact with such a source is equivalent to receiving almost 100 chest
(11) Ministry of Defence, U.K., February 15, 1999 (www.nrpb.org.uk/R2-99.htm)
(12) H.Livingstone: Depleted Uranium weapons, in WISE (2000).
(13) [U.S.] Federal Register, December 16, 1999; see "Decommissioning
D.U. munitions test area at Jefferson Proving Ground (Indiana)", Current
issues — Depleted Uranium weapons, in WISE (2000).
(14) See "Resumption of use of D.U. rounds at Nellis Air Force Range,
Nevada", Current issues — Depleted Uranium weapons, in WISE (2000).
(15) See www.gulfwarvets.com; other important sources: The Military
Project: "Radioactive battlefields of the 1990s", January 16, 1996, in WISE
(2000); J. Shirley: "Nukes of the Gulf War", 1996
(www.parascope.com/articles); R. Fisk: "The evidence is there; We caused
cancer in the Gulf", The Independent, October 16, 1998; U.S.Defense
Department: "Annual report by the Office of the Special Assistant to the
Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War illnesses", November 1998
(www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/annual); Ministry of Defence, U.K. (1999);
Harley, et al. (1999); D. Fahey: "Depleted Uranium weapons; Lessons from
the 1991 Gulf War", in WISE (2000).
(16) Harley, et al. (1999).
(17) "Child and maternal mortality survey, 1999: Preliminary report".
UNICEF-Iraq Ministry of Health, July 1999.
(18) An interesting and growing initiative in this direction is
the Italian group "Un ponte per l'Irak" ("A bridge to Iraq";
www.unponteper.eu.org; firstname.lastname@example.org). A number of NGOs organized on
August 18, 1999—at the UN headquarters in Geneva—a "Round Table" on the
health situation in Iraq, mainly concerned with the presence of D.U.
pollution and its consequences; a document has been published:
"L'assassinat d'un peuple" ("The murder of a people").
(19) Quoted in: "Current issues: Depleted Uranium weapons, Depleted
use in Kosovo", in WISE (2000).
(20) A.Kirby: BBC News, April 9, May 5, June 6, June 7, 1999.
(22) "Depleted Uranium", Ministry of Defence, U.K., July 5, 1999.
(23) Harley, et al. (1999).
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