Sunday, March 11, 2007

DU and You

by Bluebear2

From the faint murmur about depleted uranium (otherwise known as DU) in the news lately, it’s starting to seem as though it might be some pretty nasty stuff. I recall being told DU was used during the 1991 Gulf War for anti-tank weapons because its weight and hardness made it an excellent penetrator. It actually burns its way through steel, which then also makes it, ironically, great for armor plating tanks.

The impression I had was that since it was depleted it wasn’t dangerous beyond its intended purpose of blowing up tanks. My perception was that “depleted uranium” meant the radioactivity was all used up. Turns out that was a very optimistic outlook. There are articles on the Internet blaming DU for Gulf War Syndrome and other illnesses popping up in veterans of that war. Also, cancers and birth defects in the populations near the battlefields are being reported.

It had never even occurred to me that the United States would use anything that was radioactive enough to harm its own troops and innocent civilians. I decided to dig a little deeper, trade-in what I’ve only been assuming for some facts.

What is Depleted Uranium?

Since the military are the ones who use DU, I figured I’d see what they had to say about it. The Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network says:
Depleted uranium results from the enriching of natural uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Natural uranium is a slightly radioactive metal that is present in most rocks and soils as well as in many rivers and sea water.
Doesn’t that give you a warm cozy feeling? It’s natural and it’s everywhere! While that is true, for the most part it is in very minute amounts in nature.
They go on to explain:
Natural uranium consists primarily of a mixture of two isotopes (forms) of uranium, Uranium-235 (U235) and Uranium-238 (U238), in the proportion of about 0.7 and 99.3 percent, respectively. Nuclear reactors require U235 to produce energy, therefore, the natural uranium has to be enriched to obtain the isotope U235 by removing a large part of the U238. Uranium-238 becomes DU, which is 0.7 times as radioactive as natural uranium. Since DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, there is very little decay of those DU materials.
So DU is actually the removed material that was inhibiting the radioactivity needed for power generation, only 70% as radioactive as in nature. Somehow that 30% reduction doesn’t strike me as depleted enough, especially when you’re producing it in quantities greater than I’d run into walking around Niger. And! It’s not going to become measurably less harmful for hundreds of millions of years. Great.

Is it harmful? The “Official” response.

The World Health Organization, which I have always thought to be very credible, treats it with frightening understatement:
The main difference between DU and natural uranium is that the former contains at least three times less 235U than the latter.

Did you catch that one? “Three times less” -- charming. Let me know when it gets a little closer to zero.

They go on to tell us:
Under most circumstances, use of DU will make a negligible contribution to the overall natural background levels of uranium in the environment. Probably the greatest potential for DU exposure will follow conflict where DU munitions are used.
Oh,it’s hunky-dory lying around in the the reactor’s scrap heap, but people in the vicinity of DU munitions, if they can even think to look it up and remember there won’t be any warning signs, better beware. Thank you WHO.
They also give us these seemingly conflicting statements:
A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report giving field measurements taken around selected impact sites in Kosovo (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) indicates that contamination by DU in the environment was localized to a few tens of metres around impact sites. Contamination by DU dusts of local vegetation and water supplies was found to be extremely low. Thus, the probability of significant exposure to local populations was considered to be very low.
Levels of DU may exceed background levels of uranium close to DU contaminating events. Over the days and years following such an event, the contamination normally becomes dispersed into the wider natural environment by wind and rain. People living or working in affected areas may inhale contaminated dusts or consume contaminated food and drinking water.
Oh! So it stays localized and disperses into the wider natural environment! Did the Weather Channel take over WHO?

Then they give us this wonderful advice:
• Following conflict, levels of DU contamination in food and drinking water might be detected in affected areas even after a few years. This should be monitored where it is considered there is a reasonable possibility of significant quantities of DU entering the ground water or food chain.
• Where justified and possible, clean-up operations in impact zones should be undertaken if there are substantial numbers of radioactive projectiles remaining and where qualified experts deem contamination levels to be unacceptable. If high concentrations of DU dust or metal fragments are present, then areas may need to be cordoned off until removal can be accomplished. Such impact sites are likely to contain a variety of hazardous materials, in particular unexploded ordnance. Due consideration needs to be given to all hazards, and the potential hazard from DU kept in perspective.
• Small children could receive greater exposure to DU when playing in or near DU impact sites. Their typical hand-to-mouth activity could lead to high DU ingestion from contaminated soil. Necessary preventative measures should be taken.
I wonder how much cleanup is going on in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is it harmful? Real world observations.

The Depleted Uranium Education Project has a whole other view on the subject. It is their opinion that it is responsible for illnesses related to Gulf War Syndrome as well as other health problems of our troops. In this article they also tell us of the impacts of our use of DU in the current war in Iraq:
Has U.S. use of depleted-uranium weapons turned Iraq into a radioactive
danger area for both Iraqis and occupation troops?

This question has already had serious consequences. In hot spots in downtown
Baghdad, reporters have measured radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal background radiation levels.

DU-caused radiation had already raised alarms in Europe after studies
showed increased rates of cancers, respiratory ailments and other disabilities of
occupation troops from NATO countries stationed in Bosnia, Kosovo and

By now, half of all the 697,000 U.S. soldiers involved in the 1991 war have reported serious illnesses. According to the American Gulf War Veterans Association, more than 30 percent of these soldiers are chronically ill and are receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration.
The film by Depleted Uranium Education Project detailing the problems being suffered by our veterans which formerly occupied this space has been removed from Google. I am unable to find it elsewhere. Also the links to streaming videos at their website no longer work. 1/9/10

This article by Dan Fahey first published in 1999 tells us of the contamination created by the weapons used in the Gulf War:
U.S. Army testing found that 18 to 70% of a depleted uranium penetrator rod burns and oxidizes into extremely small particles during impact. The impact of one 120mm depleted uranium penetrator fired from an American Abrams tank therefore creates between 900 and 3,400 grams (roughly 2 to 7 pounds) of uranium oxide dust. U.S. Army testing further found "[t]he DU oxide aerosol formed during the impact of DU into armor has a high percentage of respirable size particles (50 to 96%)," and 52 to 83% of those respirable size particles are insoluble in lung fluids. Respirable size particles (less than 5 microns in diameter) are easily inhaled or ingested. Insoluble particles are not readily excreted from the body, and may remain in the lungs or other organs for years.
The Chugoku Shimbun details the human toll of DU use in the Gulf War:
As of July 1999, of the 579,000 American veterans who participated in the Gulf War, 251,000 (43%) were seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 182,000 (31%) were seeking compensation for medical disabilities or damage related to illness or injury. The illnesses for which claims are being filed include leukemia, lung cancer, chronic kidney and liver disorders, respiratory ailments, chronic fatigue, skin spotting, and joint pain.

To date, more than 9,600 veterans have died, and quite number of their children, born after the war ended, suffer from congenital defects. Similar health problems have appeared among the British soldiers who took part in the war.
Dennis Kyne, a Gulf War Veteran, combat medic and Nuclear Biological Chemical School graduate has established a website called Support the Truth with many articles exposing the scams being perpetrated on our recruits. He also explores the possibility that we are using weapons of enriched uranium as well.

He poses the question: Is the U.S. using Mini-Nukes in the Mideast?

In this video of a speech at Arizona State University, Dennis discusses his experiences with DU and the politics around it.

Media whitewashing the issue.

In spite of all this evidence, the media seems complicit in keeping the problem covered up. This BBC article is an example of the “official reports” which downplay the dangers even more than the WHO understates them:
Depleted uranium (DU) used in Nato weapons in the Balkans has no detectable effect on human health, according a European Union panel of experts.

The European Commission ordered the investigations after claims that veterans of peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo had developed illnesses, particularly cancer, after being exposed to depleted uranium used in armour-piercing weapons.

"I don't think there is any reason to be afraid," said Professor Ian McAulay of Dublin's Trinity University, who headed the panel.
They go on to tell us:
In the case of the average back garden, there is as much uranium as you would find in a shell.

How many gardens do you know of where you would find ANY percentage of respirable size DU particles?

At least the article rounds it out, neatly, in its conclusion with this caveat:
Some experts remain unconvinced.

Malcolm Hooper - emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Sunderland, and an adviser to UK Gulf War veterans - told BBC News Online that there was no safe level for DU.

"Any inhalation of insoluble depleted uranium is a health hazard. It emits alpha radiation.
"There is published work showing that there is no safety threshold for internal alpha radiation - one alpha particle is enough to cause a mutation in a gene.
He questioned the EU experts' conclusions.
"Are these researchers saying all this earlier work is wrong?"
Funny, they could have asked Alexander Litvinenko about the toxicity of alpha particles. He’d have set them straight right away.

Fairness In Reporting (FAIR) raised the issue of media cover-up early in the war:
According to a May 5 [2003] search of the Nexis database, there have been no in-depth reports about cluster bombs on ABC, CBS or NBC's nightly news programs since the start of the war. There have been, however, a few passing mentions of cluster bombs-- enough so that viewers may be aware of their existence. Not so with depleted uranium. Since the beginning of the year, the words "depleted uranium" have not been uttered once on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News, according to Nexis.
Little has changed since then, except of course the thousands of tons of additional DU we have spread across Iraq since Mission Accomplished.

Other experts speak out about the dangers.

Under the heading "But exposure to DU isn't a problem because its specific activity is low?" the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons agrees with Professor Hooper:
Researchers have proved through a variety of studies, that there is no safe threshold for many of the biological effects of radiation. Research Into A-bomb victims and nuclear Industry workers shows that exposure to even low levels of radiation can be more damaging to human health than previously thought. In assessing safety levels for human radiation exposure It Is necessary to start from the premise that there Is no 'safe level' of radiation.

It is scientifically and morally wrong to set a 'safe level' of radiation dose based on the 'balance between risk and benefit' as the International Committee on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been doing. The World Health Organization (WHO) should not follow them.

The internal dose estimate based on the model proposed by the ICRP does not accurately reflect the real health damage in an exposed human body. Small radioactive particles, and alpha radiation emitting particles In particular have the ability to cause severe localised damage within the body. The ICRP's 'whole organ' dose calculations are Irrelevant In these situations.
Ah yes, the old balance between risk and benefit canard. Nice if they’d ask the risked their opinions on the benefit, wot?
A study prepared for the US Army in July 1990, a month before Iraq invaded Kuwait, says:
"The health risks associated with internal and external DU exposure during combat conditions are certainly far less than other combat-related risks.”
Oh! Thank goodness! Nothing to see here. Move along.

Military Cover-up?

While the dangers are being miscalculated, underestimated, and predictions broadcast with as much concern and scholarship as the nightly weather report, by the sundry agencies, it appears as though the military is also trying to downplay any problem.

Professor of Physical and Earth Sciences at Jacksonville State College, Douglas Rokke, made a short video depicting the necessary precautions for protecting soldiers from DU particles when he worked for the army as a health physicist. Completed in 1996, the film and other supporting items of a training program took two years to produce. Professor Rokke had firsthand knowledge of DU, having worked with DU-damaged tanks from the Gulf War.

When he demanded that his program be implemented, the research center he operated was closed and his job terminated, the entire program mothballed and classified. The army has since made their own video.

Professor Rokke speaking on DU can be seen here and a copy of his training video can be seen here. (The video portion is poor, but the audio tells the story well.)

Warnings Prior to the Current Iraq War.

Even before the current Iraq war, doctors in Iraq and specialists from around the world were blaming DU for an increase in cancers and birth defects in the regions where the Gulf War was fought, as well as contributing to the Gulf War Syndrome suffered by many returning veterans:
Although the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium, Iraqi doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.
The same article from Stop Nato tells us of other places DU is prevalent, as well as offering a warning regarding what at the time was a still-impending war:
Depleted uranium is a problem in other former war zones as well. Yesterday, U.N. experts said they found radioactive hot spots in Bosnia resulting from the use of depleted uranium during NATO air strikes in 1995.
With another war in Iraq perhaps imminent, scientists and others are concerned that the side effects of depleted uranium munitions -- still a major part of the U.S. arsenal -- will cause serious illnesses or deaths in a new generation of U.S. soldiers as well as Iraqis.
Government Caught Trying to Cut Aid for Nuclear Workers
Just out is this article from the Rocky Mountain News exposing a government plot to hold up funds for sick and dying nuclear weapons plant workers:
Federal officials secretly schemed to limit payouts for sick and dying nuclear weapons workers, including thousands from the Rocky Flats plant outside Denver, newly released documents show.

The officials responsible for helping those workers went behind their boss's back, called on White House officials for help and tried to hide their efforts, according to internal e-mails and memos obtained by a congressional committee and posted on its Web site.
They go on to say:
More than 60,000 ill atomic bomb makers, including thousands from Rocky Flats, have sought help. About 16,000 workers nationwide have received a total of $2.6 billion. Far more have been denied or still are waiting for help.
Time for an End

It is time to put and end to the use of depleted uranium weapons and tank armor, and time to clean up the mess they have made before any more damage is done. This is not something that will just go away, at least not for a few billion years. It must be cleaned up or large areas will remain uninhabitable for millennia. Think of all those respirable particles whipping around in the sandstorms into the lungs of everyone around, and into the atmosphere to reach the lungs of those nowhere near the action.

Ramsey Clark has issued An International Appeal to Ban the Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons.

It’s time to take care of the workers and the soldiers that have been exposed to DU as well as their families and offspring. The costs will be enormous, but then what are we spending on producing and using these weapons? In the two weeks since I added the Cost of Iraq War counter to the Lair it has increased over $8 billion. Instead of using it for killing, let’s put that money toward something positive, something healing instead of lethal. We owe it to the world.

Further Research

Invisible War – Depleted Uranium and the politics of radiation.
Video in 10 minute segments:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Research sites:

Poison Dust
Campaign Against DU
Companies that Produce DU armaments.
More on the damage done by Radiation.
Crabtree Orchard - An attempt to reclaim polluted land,
Problems at Crabtree Orchard.

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