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Depleted Uranium

First extensively used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, depleted uranium (DU) weapons are made from nuclear waste products produced by enrichment of uranium for light water reactor fuel and nuclear warheads. The American nuclear industry’s stockpiles of depleted uranium provide cheap material for munitions production, and spare the nuclear industry the expense having to place the waste in long-term storage.

Serious health problems, including birth defects and cancers, have been attributed to the use of depleted uranium weapons. DU, which is composed of 99 percent Uranium 238, is highly pyrophoric (fine particles of DU are capable of spontaneously igniting). On impact DU produces uranium dioxide dust which is both chemically toxic and radioactive and can readily be carried in the wind. These airborne particles are small enough to be inhaled.

Some of the information below was first posted during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Since that time, concerns about the health impacts of depleted uranium exposure have continued to grow. In spite of such concerns, it has been confirmed that DU munitions were used by the United States in combat during the 2003 invasion of Iraq ("Operation Iraqi Freedom").

Additional Information
Articles and Reports: 1996 to 2004

Sierra Club of Canada Background Document
Backgrounder on Depleted Uranium


Links

  • WISE
    Current Issues - Depleted Uranium Weapons


  • Gulf War Syndrome, Depleted Uranium and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation
    Dr. Rosalie Bertell



  • CounterPunch - November 17, 2004
    America's Radioactive War
    "There has been virtually no mention of the use of depleted uranium (DU) in this latest Gulf War, yet the US military has scattered this radioactive substance all over the desert in even larger quantities than it did in the Gulf War of 1991. The US department of defense has disclosed that US forces utilized DU munitions in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the US army deployed several fighting vehicles capable of releasing DU in Iraq. Dan Fahey, writer and representative at 'Swords to Plowshares'--a veterans advocacy group, estimates that the US and UK released between 100 and 200 tons of DU during combat which took place in populated areas last year. This material was fired by invading US forces into buildings, homes, streets and gardens all over Baghdad alone, but the US government says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from DU ammunition and refuses to permit Iraq to import the clean-up equipment that they desperately need to decontaminate their country of the DU.

    "This is another violation of International Law, since the UN banned the use of DU in the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Resolution 1996/16 August 29. The use of DU was banned because its safety is in question, therefore the use of DU by US and UK forces should be halted, and existing contaminated sites cleaned-up, until we can be clear on the long term health and environmental consequences of this substance.

    "A study done by the Pentagon's GAO itself stated, "Ingested DU dust can pose both a radioactive and a toxicity risk." The Green Party of the UK fears that another outbreak of "Gulf War Syndrome" may be imminent as troops are returning home with a range of illnesses including degeneration of the nervous system and various cancers, as well as less easily defined immune system failings. Key findings by Dr. Fahey reveal that the rate of malignancies in children in Basra, Iraq, has quadrupled since the last Gulf War 12 years ago. Scientists fear that exposure to DU may lead to a host of health problems such as congenital abnormalities, brain tumors, leukemia and other cancers, cases of which have dramatically risen in Iraq over the past ten years. Dr. Ahmad Hardan, scientific adviser to the World Health Organization, states, "This has caused a health crisis that has affected almost a third of a million people..."


  • The Guardian (UK) - September 24, 2004
    MoD accused of dragging feet over uranium test for Gulf war veterans
    "The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association has accused the Ministry of Defence of deliberately dragging its feet in waiting 14 years to implement a screening test to detect uranium in the bodies of Gulf war soldiers.

    After the announcement by the MoD that a new test would be offered to 500 military and civilian personnel who served in the Gulf war, veterans are saying that the procedure is too little, too late for the thousands who have suffered unexplained ill-health for years.

    Many veterans who had been exposed to radiation from battlefield shells believe they may have levels of depleted uranium in their bodies that can no longer be detected, and that may have caused kidney failure or leukaemia..."


  • The Observer (UK) - July 11, 2004
    Briton sues US giant over 'uranium poison'. Landmark court case could establish critical link for Gulf war veterans
    "A former British defence worker has won legal aid to sue the giant US military corporation Honeywell over claims that he was poisoned by depleted uranium while working at its Somerset factory.

    The case is likely to have far-reaching implications for Gulf war veterans, aerospace workers and civilians living in former war zones.

    Richard ‘Nibby’ David, 49, suffers from serious respiratory problems, kidney defects and finds it extremely painful to move his limbs. Medical tests have revealed mutations to his DNA and damage to his chromosomes which he alleges has been caused by depleted uranium poisoning (DU), a radioactive waste product from the nuclear power industry that is used for shells because it can smash through tank armour.

    Hundreds of tonnes of DU shells have been fired by US and British forces in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also been used as ballast in aircraft and counterweights on helicopter blades. While it is believed to be relatively harmless lying in the soil, a growing body of scientists believe that when its fine dust is inhaled it can cause a range of cancers, kidney damage and birth defects.

    It has been alleged that DU used in the 1991 Gulf war was responsible for abnormally high levels of childhood leukaemia and birth defects in Iraq. France, Spain and Italy claim soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo, where Nato used DU shells, have contracted cancers. It is also believed to be a possible cause of Gulf war syndrome, which has left thousand of veterans with mysterious health problems..."


  • New York Daily News - April 3, 2004
    Poisoned? Report reveals U.S. soldiers in Iraq may be victims of America's high-tech weapons
    "Four soldiers from a New York Army National Guard company serving in Iraq are contaminated with radiation likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells fired by U.S. troops, a Daily News investigation has found.
    ... A nuclear medicine expert who examined and tested nine soldiers from the company says that four "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from exploded American shells manufactured with depleted uranium.
    ... Laboratory tests conducted at the request of The News revealed traces of two manmade forms of uranium in urine samples from four of the soldiers."


  • New Scientist - 15 April 2003
    Depleted uranium casts shadow over peace in Iraq
    "Last week, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced it wanted to send a scientific team into Iraq as soon as possible to examine the effects of depleted uranium (DU). People’s fears that DU leaves a deadly legacy must be addressed, says UNEP. Some scientists go further. Evidence is emerging that DU affects our bodies in ways we do not fully understand, they say, and the legacy could be real."

    "The idea that chemical and radiological damage are reinforcing each other is very plausible and gaining momentum, says Carmel Mothersill, head of the Radiation and Environmental Science Centre at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. “The regulators don’t know how to handle it. So they sweep it under the carpet.”

    "During the Gulf war in 1991, the US and Britain fired an estimated 350 tonnes of DU at Iraqi tanks, a figure likely to be matched in the course of the current conflict. In the years since then, doctors in southern Iraq have reported a marked increase in cancers and birth defects, and suspicion has grown that they were caused by DU contamination from tank battles on farmland west of Basra."


  • WISE - November 16, 2002
    The use of Depleted Uranium in Afghanistan
    "The role of DU munitions by the US and its allies in the war in Afghanistan remains unclear. According to news reports, the US Air Force A-10 aircraft has shot 30mm ammunition in combat in Afghanistan on at least five occasions between March and November 2002. While the A-10 typically shoots a mix of DU and high explosive rounds, it is not clear whether and how many DU rounds might have been shot during these attacks...."

    "Recent reports suggest DU may be a component in some bunker busting weapons and guided missiles used by US forces in Afghanistan, although there is no direct evidence to support this claim."

    "The use of DU munitions by Al Qaeda, Taliban, Northern Alliance or other Afghan forces is unknown given currently available public information, although the US Department of Defence has stated that DU munitions were found in December 2001 among captured al Qaeda weapons near Kandahar. On three occasions, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed the discovery of DU ammunition, although the quantity, caliber, and origin of the rounds remain unclear. On 20 March 2002, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense stated these rounds were being 'tested', and additional information would be forthcoming, but no further information has been released."


  • Cursor.org - November 13, 2002
    Uranium Wars: The Pentagon Steps Up its Use of Radioactive Munitions
    "Ever since the first Gulf War the U.S. military has increasingly used radioactive Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions. Against Iraq in 1991 they proved very effective at penetrating enemy armor (tanks). More recently in the Afghan campaign they were used extensively for destroying underground facilities and caves. The following table summarizes estimated usage of radioactive DU in three of America's recent wars. All these weapons will be almost certainly be heavily used should Gulf War II take place."

    "The widely-used Lockheed Martin GBU-28 5,000 lb. 'bunker-buster' bomb with a BLU-109 penetrator head carried only by the Air Force's F-15E's and B-2s, contains 1.5 metric tons of depleted uranium..."


  • eoslifework - updated October 2002
    Depleted Uranium weapons in 2001-2002, Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan?
    Preface to report
    "This Report is based on analysis of public domain sources on the Internet, published news reports and correspondence concerning known and suspected Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons collected from January 2001 to date."

    "The report raises public policy questions and offers facts and sources as briefing materials for social, medical, environmental, legal and political debate and research. It concerns health and safety risk assessments for employers with civilian or military personnel in Afghanistan."


  • The Observer (UK) - August 11, 2002
    Gulf veteran babies ‘risk deformities’
    "Children of British soldiers who fought in wars in which depleted uranium ammunition was used are at greater risk of suffering genetic diseases passed on by their fathers, new research reveals. Veterans of the conflicts in the Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo have been found to have up to 14 times the usual level of chromosome abnormalities in their genes. That has raised fears they will pass cancers and genetic illnesses to their offspring. The study is the first to analyse chromosome deformation in soldiers."


  • CommonDreams.org - July 9, 2002
    Radioactive Shells Spiked with Plutonium
    “As early as January 2000, the DOE admitted that its DU munitions are spiked with plutonium, neptunium and americium – "transuranic" (heavier than uranium) fission wastes from inside nuclear reactors.(19) The health consequences here are fearsome: americium -- with a half-life of 7,300 years -- decays to plutonium-239, which is more radioactive than the original americium....”

    “(As stated) ... in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ... plutonium-239 is 200,000 times more radioactive than U-238. Plutonium "is probably the most carcinogenic substance known," according to Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of IEER, writing in his 1992 book Plutonium.”


  • Le Monde Diplomatique - March 2002
    Depleted Uranium in Bunker Bombs: America's big dirty secret
    "On 5 December (2001), when a friendly-fire bomb hit coalition soldiers, media representatives were all immediately removed from the scene and locked up in a hangar. According to the Pentagon, the bomb was a GBU-31, carrying a BLU-109 warhead. The Canal+ documentary shows an arms manufacturer's sales representative at an international fair in Dubai in 1999, just after the Kosovo war. He is presenting a BLU-109 warhead and describing its penetration capabilities against superhardened underground targets, explaining that this model had been tested in a recent war."

    "Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence, on 16 January this year admitted that the US had found radiation in Afghanistan (10). But this, he reassured, was merely from DU warheads (supposedly belonging to al-Qaida); he did not explain how al-Qaida could have launched them without planes. Williams points out that, even if the coalition has used no DU weapons, those attributed to al-Qaida might turn out to be an even greater source of contamination, especially if they came from Russia, in which case the DU could be even dirtier than that from Paducah."


  • The Independent (UK) - 28 March 2002
    Depleted uranium found at Yugoslav bomb sites
    "The United Nations said yesterday its scientists had found widespread traces of depleted uranium (DU) at six sites in Serbia and Montenegro left behind by munitions used in Nato bombardments in the mid-1990s."

    "While UN officials insisted that the traces were too small to represent any immediate danger to human health, the risks could be greatly increased if the material was disturbed."


  • The Independent (UK) - 12 March 2002
    Children at risk from uranium in army shells
    "Scientists have warned that children could suffer long-term damage to health if they play on former battlefields that are contaminated with depleted uranium (DU) shells. The Royal Society, Britain’s eminent body of scientists, called yesterday for the monitoring of soil, water and milk in regions of the world where DU rounds were fired, notably Iraq and Kosovo."

    "It is estimated that between 70 and 80 per cent the depleted uranium rounds fired in the Gulf War and Balkans conflicts still lie buried. About 340 tons of DU munitions were used in the Gulf and 11 tons were fired in the Balkans. Professor Brian Spratt of Imperial College London, who chaired the Royal Society working party, said two of the main concerns were leaching of uranium into local water supplies and localised contamination of soil where children played."


  • New Scientist - 12 March 2002
    Depleted uranium may stop kidneys "in days"
    “Soldiers who inhale or swallow high levels of depleted uranium (DU) on the battlefield could suffer kidney failure within days, according to a new report from the one of the UK's premier scientific bodies, the Royal Society. There are also long term risks for children who play in heavily contaminated areas, it says.”

    “The high density of DU helps shells pierce armour and about 270 tonnes of it have been fired during wars in the Gulf and the Balkans in the last decade. Arguments over the potential risks to human health and the environment have raged ever since.”


  • The Independent (UK) - 01 December 2001
    A chamber of horrors so close to the ‘Garden of Eden’ (in Basra, Southern Iraq)
    "During the Gulf war, Britain and the United States pounded the city and its surroundings with 96,000 depleted-uranium shells. ...Depleted uranium has an incubation period in humans of five years. In the four years from 1991 (the end of the Gulf war) until 1994, the Basrah Maternity Hospital saw 11 congenital anomalies. Last year there were 221.”

    “Then there is the alarming increase in cases of leukaemia among Basrah babies lucky enough to have been born with the full complement of limbs and features in the right place. The hospital treated 15 children with leukaemia in 1993. In 2000 it was 60. By the end of this year that figure again will be topped. And so it will go on. Forever. (Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.1 billion years. Total disintegration occurs after 25 billion years, the age of the earth.)”


  • The Independent (UK) - 29 May 2001
    Australia says servicemen may have been exposed to depleted uranium
    "British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen may have been exposed to depleted uranium, which has been blamed for higher cancer rates in Gulf War veterans, during British nuclear tests in Australia and the Pacific in the 1950s."

    "The Australian government yesterday confirmed that more than eight tonnes of depleted uranium were blasted into the air during weapons tests in the South Australian desert. The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted that the material was also dispersed during explosions at Christmas Island in the Pacific. ... It had been thought that depleted uranium - a radioactive heavy metal that is used in shells and can pierce the armour of a tank - was first used during the Gulf War in 1991."


  • The Guardian (UK) - February 5, 2001
    Islanders take on US navy
    "The inhabitants of a Caribbean island which the US navy has used for 60 years as a bombing range, including firing depleted uranium shells, are seeking $100m in damages for an abnormally high cancer rate."


  • The Irish Times - February 1, 2001
    Deception over health risks of depleted uranium / (original link)
    "Is depleted uranium, the waste product of the nuclear industry used to make tank-piercing weapons, responsible for Gulf War syndrome and Balkans syndrome?"

    "The US Department of Defence and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation both still deny it. But in July 1990 - the month before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait - a report submitted to the US army by Science Applications International Corporation compared the merits of tungsten and depleted uranium (or DU) as armour penetrators. DU is a "lowlevel alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal, and chemical toxicity causing kidney damage", the report said."


  • The Independent (UK) - 23 January 2001
    Bosnians fall victim to Nato’s deadly legacy
    “This is a medical horror story. Especially for those Nato officials who still claim that depleted uranium is virtually harmless. The victims, in this case near Sarajevo, are Bosnian Serbs, many of them former soldiers. But their punishment is a sinister story of haemorrhages and tumours and cancers long after the Bosnian war has ended. You only have to visit the Kasindo hospital to learn the truth.”


  • Reuters - January 20, 2001
    Bid to Bury Plutonium Factor Dismays NATO / (original link)
    “Just when it thought it had the depleted uranium (DU) scare under control, NATO may face a fresh onslaught of concern as the United States belatedly confirms that some DU munitions contain minute traces of plutonium.”


  • The Ottawa Citizen - January 18, 2001
    Military had early alert to uranium danger (inactive link)
    "Two ailing Canadian peacekeepers, who served in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf, tried unsuccessfully almost two years ago to warn the government that depleted uranium may have made them sick."


  • BBC News - 18 January, 2001
    Depleted uranium: The next generation
    "Most UK tanks in the Gulf War carried depleted uranium rounds Some UK Gulf War veterans fear their children are suffering because of their own exposure to depleted uranium (DU) weapons."


  • The Guardian (UK) - January 17, 2001
    UN finds Kosovo nuclear danger, US ammunition may have been made with ‘dirty’ depleted uranium
    “Fragments of depleted uranium ammunition found in Kosovo were made with reprocessed fuel from nuclear reactors, the United Nations confirmed yesterday, raising new fears about the risks of contamination.”


  • The Ottawa Citizen - January 17, 2001
    Blast exposed troops to radiation, Gulf War rescue mission put soldiers’ health at risk (inactive link)
    “At least 50 Canadian soldiers may have been directly exposed to depleted uranium debris and ashes after a massive 1991 explosion at a Persian Gulf ammunition dump. But Canadian military officials say there is no need to specifically test those troops, as well as another 250 who were in the area, for exposure to depleted uranium, saying that would cause undue stress among the soldiers. That stress, in turn, could cause other illnesses, military medical specialists say.”


  • The Independent (UK) - 8 January 2001
    The truth about depleted uranium
    “Bosnians investigating a growth in cancers can get no information from Nato. This is not a scandal. It is an outrage”


  • The Guardian (UK) - January 7, 2001
    Tests reveal weapons dust danger
    “Radioactive dust from depleted uranium weapons remains in the atmosphere at potentially dangerous levels for up to a decade after their use. Research by British expert Dr Chris Busby emerged as Italy’s military watchdog officially linked the leukemia deaths of five Italian peacekeepers who served in Kosovo to exposure to the heavy metal.”


  • The Guardian - March 22, 2000
    UN raises alarm on toxic risk in Kosovo
    "Nato warplanes used 10 tonnes of depleted uranium in shells"


  • Depleted Uranium Education Project


  • CBC News - 1999
    Silver Bullet: Depleted Uranium


  • BBC News - December 17, 1999
    Depleted uranium ban demanded
    “Two leading authorities on the effects of depleted uranium (DU) have told UK Members of Parliament of their fears for those exposed to the substance in Iraq and Kosovo.”


  • BBC News - October 14, 1999
    Balkans environment ‘seriously damaged’


  • CBC News -September 22,1999
    Waters off Halifax conceal radioactive shell casings
    “The Canadian navy fired thousands of low-level radioactive shells into a target range near Halifax. Fishermen in the area say they had no idea depleted uranium was scattered over the fishing grounds.”


  • BBC News - August 27, 1999
    Depleted uranium study ‘shows clear damage
    “The controversy over the reported dangers of depleted uranium (DU) has intensified, with a Canadian study said to show “unequivocal” evidence of damage to health.”


  • Guardian Unlimited - July 31, 1999
    “Uranium shells warning for Kosovo...
    Nato bombing may hit future generations, scientists tell conference”


  • BBC News - July 30, 1999
    Depleted uranium “threatens Balkans cancer epidemic”
    “A British scientist says the Americans’ use of depleted uranium weapons in the war with Serbia is likely to cause 10,000 deaths from cancer.”


  • Mother Jones - June 23, 1999
    Depleted Uranium: The Invisible Threat
    “NATO used depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo. Now, critics are concerned that DU contamination may cause serious health problems for returning refugees.”


  • Guardian Unlimited - May 9, 1999
    Depleted uranium – deadly weapon, deadly legacy?


  • Laka Foundation - May 1999
    Depleted Uranium - A Post-war Disaster for Environment and Health / (original link)


  • Christian Science Monitor - April 29, 1999
    The Trail of a Bullet
    “The armor-piercing wonders of depleted uranium helped win the Gulf War. As it is loaded for use in Kosovo, questions about its long-term dangers linger.”


  • Sierra Club of Canada News Release - April 28, 1999
    Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons Threatens Environment in Kosovo Region


  • Guardian Unlimited - January 10, 1999
    Victims of a war they never saw
    “Since the Gulf war in 1991, the number of Iraqi children born with congenital deformities has soared”


  • The Nation Digital Edition - May 26, 1997
    Pentagon Poison: The Great Radioactive Ammo Cover-Up / (original link)
    “Rounds made of depleted uranium have exposed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of G.I.s to radiation without warning -- here’s evidence the army knew the danger.”


  • The Nation - October 21, 1996
    The Pentagon's Radioactive Bullet
    "It is about two feet long, cylindrical and far denser than steel. When fired from a U.S. Army M1 Abrams tank, it is capable of drilling a hole through the strongest of tank armors. The makers of this tank-killing ammunition say it is the best in the world. But there is one problem with the Pentagon's super bullet: It is made of radioactive waste."


  • A New Kind of Nuclear War (Excerpt)
    Dr. Helen Caldicott
    “The United States has conducted two nuclear wars. The first against Japan in 1945, the second in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991. The first nuclear war fissioned a plutonium bomb and one made of uranium. The second nuclear war utilized depleted-uranium weapons, but nuclear fission was not involved.”


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