The Shameful Legacy of Radioactive Weaponry
Depleted Uranium Arms may pose risks
POLITICS | 6.14.2003

The Shameful Legacy of Radioactive Weaponry
Disturbing new evidence puts the US military's use of radioactive 
weaponry in the spotlight, casting doubt on the Bush administration's 
upbeat estimates on civilian war casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A study by the Washington, D.C. based Uranium Medical Research Center 
(UMRC) suggests coalition forces used Afghanistan as a testing ground 
for radioactive weaponry, thereby placing generations of civilians--not 
to mention US service members--at unspeakable future risk.

The UMRC study found "astonishing" levels of uranium in the urine of 
Afghan civilians living in Nangarhar province, one of many places 
coalition forces bombarded with a new generation of "cave-busting" and 
seismic shock warheads. Interestingly, none of the civilians tested at 
Nangarhar showed traces of depleted uranium (DU), yet hundreds exhibited 
symptoms resembling those of DU-exposed Gulf War veterans.

The implications are ominous. Independent studies show coalition forces 
used toxic uranium alloys and hard-target uranium warheads in 
Afghanistan, but if the "mystery" uranium in Nangahar isn't DU, what is 
it? What kinds of radioactive ammunition were used elsewhere in 
Afghanistan? What are the long-term health implications for civilians 
and service members? And what are the moral, let alone criminal, 
implications of radiating civilian populations?

Unfortunately, Afghanistan isn't the only country reeling under the Bush 
administration's idea of "liberation"--Iraq has arguably fared worse. 
New evidence suggests the US invasion may have killed up to 10,000 Iraqi 
civilians, many from cluster bombs dropped into densely populated 
civilian areas. Meanwhile, US and British occupying forces are accused 
of illegally detaining and torturing Iraqi civilians, and the US 
military has kicked around the idea of having Iraqi "hooligans ... 
either captured or killed."

Of course, if Iraq was used as a testing ground for radioactive 
weaponry, as appears to have been the case in Afghanistan, then the true 
civilian costs in cancers, birth defects and human suffering could be 

As might be expected, the US Department of Defense (DOD) has shown 
little interest in pinpointing the medical effects of radioactive 
weaponry. In the 1991 Gulf War, an estimated 320 tons of DU ammunition 
was dumped on Iraq, and the Pentagon later acknowledged over 900 
American soldiers had sustained "moderate to heavy" DU exposure. Few 
epidemiological studies have been conducted to assess the damage though, 
and even worse, US government officials have lied to cover up bad results.

For example, a Pentagon spokesperson recently told the NATO press corps, 
"We have seen no cancers or leukemia" in a group of 60 Gulf War vets 
involved in a DU-study program, despite the fact that two participants 
had in fact contracted cancer. And in a press briefing last March, a DOD 
spokesperson downplayed health risks associated with DU, claiming Iraqis 
complained about it only "because we kicked the crap out of them."

Fortunately, British researchers have taken the DU issue more seriously. 
Scientific studies in the UK have shown Gulf veterans can have up to 14 
times the normal level of genetic chromosome abnormalities, which means 
their children are also at increased risk for deformities and genetic 
diseases. It's also been proven that DU-exposed vets have a greater 
likelihood of contracting lymphatic or bone marrow cancer.

Findings like these have prompted the European Parliament to call for a 
moratorium on DU ammunition (and other types of uranium warheads) 
pending independent investigations into their possible harmful effects. 
Similarly, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) has announced plans to test 
the Iraqi environment for DU, and the World Health Organization (WHO) 
may begin similar testing on the human population.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that America may have used radioactive 
weaponry to justify invading other countries to search for radioactive 
weaponry. Bitter irony too that US service members were put at increased 
risk because of the weapons their government provided.

Depleted Uranium Arms May Pose Risks

June 14, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- The widespread use of depleted uranium weapons by U.S. 
and British forces in Iraq could pose serious health and environmental 
risks to troops and residents, nuclear and medical experts warned Saturday.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, 
which organized the gathering, said the hazards of using the radioactive 
material included severe consequences for kidney function and 
environmental pollution.

Some experts on the health risks of depleted uranium weapons called for 
them to be banned. Others came close to the Pentagon's assurances that 
so-called DU weapons do not pose an ``unacceptable health risk'' to U.S. 

Depleted uranium, which is left over from the process of enriching 
uranium for use as nuclear fuel, is an extremely dense material that the 
U.S. and British militaries use for tank armor and armor-piercing 
weapons. It is far less radioactive than natural uranium.

Most of the scientists, physicians and specialists in the field called 
for more study about the radioactive and chemical impacts of the 
material on the lungs, kidneys, lymph systems and other organs. They 
also demanded a full accounting of its use, not only in the recent war 
in Iraq but also in the 1991 Gulf War and in the NATO bombing of the 
former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Hari Sharma, a retired chemistry professor from the University of 
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, said ``as long as something is radioactive, 
you are going to do harm to human health.''

The Pentagon has said the use of depleted uranium weapons gives American 
forces a tremendous advantage on the battlefield. The Pentagon and many 
experts also contend that the material, because of its low 
radioactivity, poses no risk to the health of soldiers handling 
munitions made from it or to civilians living in areas where those 
shells were used.

The anti-nuclear institute, based in Washington and San Francisco, 
invited the Pentagon to send a speaker to the symposium but the Defense 
Department declined, Caldicott said.

Daniel Fahey, a former member of the Navy who has produced several 
reports on depleted uranium weapons, said the Pentagon exaggerates the 
need for them, especially in wars against armies with antiquated equipment.

He called for immediate disclosure of the amounts and locations of the 
weapons use in Iraq, a post-conflict assessment by the U.N. Environment 
Program, and cleanup of affected sites.

Experts at the Pentagon and the United Nations have estimated that 
1,100-2,200 tons of depleted uranium were used by U.S.-led coalition 
forces during their attack on Iraq in March and April.

This contrasts with about 375 tons used in the 1991 Gulf War, 11 tons 
fired during the 1999 war against Serbia over Kosovo and a much smaller 
quantity used against rebel Serb positions in Bosnia in 1995.

Sharma studied urine specimens from soldiers of several countries that 
fought in the 1991 Gulf War and later studied tissues samples from 
people in southern Iraq. All showed evidence that depleted uranium had 
lodged in the human body, he said.

However, scientists will not be able to say precisely what impact 
depleted uranium had in the recent war until more tests are done, he said.


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