An old article that I posted elsewhere some time ago, but always think it is worth repeating.
Depleted Uranium, (DU) is a radioactive waste product which is also chemically toxic and is used by the military in armour piercing shells and bullets. When it hits a hard target it ignites and aerolizies into a fine mist of radioactive particles, if inhaled or ingested can cause cancer, leukaemia, birth defects, Gulf War Syndrome and other illnesses. It can also enter the food chain through water and/or soil. The wind can send particles in all directions over a wide area. The area near the Dundrennan base in Scotland, where depleted uranium weaponry is tested, has the highest incidence of Leukaemia in the UK.
The UK MOD claim that they don’t hit hard targets at the range but only fire into the Solway Firth. Around 20-30 tons of DU waste is lying on the Solway seabed with the MOD making no attempt to retrieve this danger. As DU is a radioactive waste, it is in breach of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and other Matter, 1972. The MOD are therefore in breach of international law through the dumping of radioactive waste in the Solway Firth. There are also claims that they are creating environmental and health problems by hitting hard targets with DU weapons.
After the NATO invasion in former Yugoslavia evidence was found that NATO forces used DU on 8 sites. Seven of these sites were in the Republic of Serbia and one in the Republic of Montenegro. Remains of weapons with DU were taken from the soil in these regions and contaminated soil was registered in each of these regions. It is difficult to establish the amount of DU that contaminated these sites. However, Yugoslav Army reports compiled during the war, plus investigation of projectile fragments and data about these types of weapons and how they are used, it can be estimated that NATO fired approximately 3,000-5,000 shells which is the equivalent 1-1.5 tons of uranium 238.
After the US operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in the region of Tora Bora, it was found that urine samples taken from the local population contained uranium amounts 200 times higher than the population at large.
These weapons were also used in both attacks on Iraq. The Gulf War 1 in 1991 resulted in 350 metric tons of DU being deposited in the environment and 3-6 million grms of DU being released into the atmosphere. Its legacy to the troops involved in the war, Gulf War Disease, a progressive, incapacitating, multiorgan system disorder, its symptoms include, incapacitating fatigue, musculoskeletel and joint pains, headaches, neuropsychiatric disorders, confusion, visual problems, changes in gait, lose of memory, respiratory impairment, impotence and urinary tract morphological and functional alterations. The understanding of the disease is far from adequate. Uranium isotopes have been detected in urine samples of Gulf War veterans 10 years after inhalation exposure.
Rageh Omaar, a BBC journalist reporting from Basra stated that Iraqi doctors reported a 20-fold increase in cancers since the end of the 1st Gulf war. Internal contamination with DU isotopes were detected in British, American and Canadian veterans 9 years after inhalation exposure to radioactive dust in Gulf War 1. DU isotopes were also identified in a Canadian veteran’s autopsy samples of lung, liver, kidney and bone. DU danger is illustrated by the following example. In February 1980 a court order from the State of New York forced National Lead Industries, a manufacturer of DU tips, to stop production as they had exceeded the proscribed monthly limits of discharging radioactive material into the air of 150Ci. This value corresponds to 387g of DU. The tip of one shell in a 30mm gun contains 298g. Some time later in a letter to the Atomic Scientists’ Bulletin, Mr Dietz asks if the authorities were worried about discharges that were the monthly equivalent of the particles from 1 or 2 uranium projectiles, why wasn’t the US government worried about the effects of tens of thousands of projectiles fired in the several days of the Gulf War?
The US Army’s radiology unit suggested press releases should be issued to prevent possible negative international reaction to the use of DU due to public concerns. The report offers the use of tungsten or titanium as an alternative, stating that the only reason to use DU was a cheap way of getting rid of waste. It also outlines ways in which “using arms with depleted uranium is in violation of the basic principles of international law.”
It is obvious that DU is a highly dangerous substance and is indiscriminate in where it blows and who it affects. The fact that the states that use it are aware of this but continue to use it and put their own troops and the local populations at risk to further their own imperialist gains is just another example of the State’s disregard for the people. War is an arm of the state and it needs ordinary people as cannon fodder but has little interest in the resultant suffering. If we wish to put an end to war and its suffering we have to find a way round the state. We have to eliminate its power by organising at community level, bring power into the hands of the people, work in federation with other communities, creating a world of mutual aid, not profit, of co-operation, not competition, seeing to need, not greed.