Our exposure to Depleted Uranium is posing a danger that is being wilfully downplayed and ignored. John Couzin investigates
A new report has found that during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign in Iraq, radiation levels in Britain quadrupled, leading to fears that Depleted Uranium weapons used in the desert state may have affected most of Europe.
Chris Busby, of Liverpool University’s department of human anatomy and cell biology, obtained the results from testing stations at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston and other stations within a 10-mile radius.
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 aerosolises 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.
Around 20-30 tonnes 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.
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. From 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 tonnes of uranium 238.
These weapons were also used in both attacks on Iraq. The Gulf War 1 in 1991 resulted in 350 metric tonnes 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, multi-organ 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.
Uranium isotopes have been detected in urine samples of Gulf War veterans 10 years after inhalation exposure. Rageh Omaar, a journalist reporting from Basra stated that Iraqi doctors have reported a 20-fold increase in cancers since the end of the first Gulf war.
It is obvious that DU is a highly dangerous substance. 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.