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Nuclear Weaponry DU

Facts on Uranium Weapons

International Appeal to Ban Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons


"Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself." William Shakespeare

The United States and Britain rely heavily on weapons made with depleted uranium (DU) to penetrate tanks and other armored vehicles and structures. Veterans groups in the US, UK, Italy and Spain consider such weapons harmful to military personnel using them and demand study and treatment of veterans exposed to DU. A worldwide movement is growing to ban the use of uranium weapons as inhumane and dangerous to civilian populations for thousands of generations.

What Is Depleted Uranium?

  • Depleted Uranium (DU) is a radioactive and toxic by-product of the process that separates uranium for use in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. DU makes up 99% of the natural uranium ore. Since it is bulky and hazardous to store, it is available to the Pentagon at very low cost. While its radiation level is lower than natural uranium, it emits alpha radiation for billions of years (radioactive half-life is 4.5 billion years).

  • DU is an extremely heavy metal, 1.7 times more dense than lead, with unusual ability to shield or penetrate other metals. It burns easily, creating super-high temperatures (5400 degrees F) and filling the surrounding air with sub-micron ceramic particles that remain radioactive and easily breathed and ingested for billions of years.

How is DU Being Used?

  • DU is used in the armor of vehicles such as Abrams tanks and in armor-piercing and ground-penetrating ordnance.

  • When fired, the DU immediately begins to bum. As it strikes a target it sharpens, penetrates and makes a fireball, with 40-80% of the DU becoming tiny (sub-micron) breathable particles.

  • DU shells are fired by large artillery guns, tank cannons and Gatling-type fast-firing guns mounted on Warthog aircraft and helicopters, as well as light armored vehicles. The miss rate of firing from aircraft is 80-90%. DU munitions that miss their targets usually penetrate the ground, where they degrade in 5-20 years into soluble particles that can contaminate groundwater and soil for billions of years.

Is it Legal to Use DU as a Weapon?

  • A 2002 report of a UN Commission on Human Rights committee declares that use of DU shells and bombs violates numerous international conventions forbidding weapons "calculated to cause unnecessary suffering".

  • DU weapons violate the UN Convention on Human Rights, in the opinion of many international lawyers, because they impact civilians indiscriminately for many years after hostilities end and seriously impact ecosystems. The US is not a signatory of the Convention on Human Rights.

Where has DU Been Used?

  • Seventeen nations are developing DU weapons, many with sales from the United States, but so far only the US and UK have used such weapons in battle. Germany has rejected DU in favor of tungsten, which is metal-penetrating but not radioactive, and Germany urges all NATO powers to do so.

1991: Iraq - 286,000 kilos

1994-5: Bosnia - 3,260 kilos

1999: Kosovo - 9,450 kilos

2001-2004: Afghanistan - unavailable from the Pentagon

2003-2004: Iraq - unavailable, but use is much higher than in the 1991 war

What Are DU's Health Effects?

  • DU weapons usually destroy instantly the occupants of vehicles they penetrate by causing extreme heat and fire.

  • Radioactive DU particles can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion of contaminated food or water, and through wounds. Results of external exposure to DU have not been scientifically determined.

  • The Pentagon has done only limited testing on DU's health effects. It claims it cannot distinguish between the effects of DU' s chemical toxicity and its alpha radiation. It has made no comprehensive studies of veterans possibly exposed to DU. Nevertheless, the US Army concludes that DU exposure is not a serious health hazard.
  • Civilian researchers in the US and Europe, including some who previously worked for the military on DU, have determined that DU in the body causes damage by irradiating the brain, kidneys, immune system, nervous system, respiratory system, and reproductive system. It is both carcinogenic and mutagenic. (NATO troops in Bosnia and Kosovo where DU weapons were extensively used show unusually high cancer rates. Male veterans with exposure to DU are twice as likely and women vets are three times more likely than are unexposed vets to have babies with birth defects. Five out of 17 Iraq War vets tested had DU in their semen. Wives of some exposed vets complain of acute burning sensations during and after intercourse.)

  • Immediate health effects of DU exposure are from heavy metal toxicity and include rashes, open sores, respiratory distress, and kidney tissue damage.

  • Long-term consequences are potentially more severe, DU remains in the kidneys for up to three months and replaces calcium in the bones, where it can remain radioactive for an estimated 25 years. Research shows that alpha radiation alters blood cells in ways that can promote cancer cells. (NATO troops serving in Bosnia and Kosovo show unusually high rates of leukemia and other cancers.)

What is Being Done to Detect, Ameliorate and Document Human and Environmental Effects?

  • In 2002 the Pentagon issued regulations to military officers on protection against "contamination from DU munitions including combat vehicles damaged by DU fire or combat vehicles containing DU armor that have been damaged in anyway." (Army Regulation 700-48 27, September 2002) Veterans report, however, that they were not informed or trained to deal with DU-damaged tanks and other material.

  • The commanding medical officer of the Pentagon issued instructions to military physicians to test veterans from Iraq for DU, if the veterans think they have been exposed and request testing. Veterans' organizations report that returning veterans rarely report such exposure out of ignorance or eagerness to return home.

  • The US Department of Veterans' Affairs has granted disability claims to an unprecedented percentage of veterans from Gulf War I for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that have symptoms identical with those detected in the small number of veterans examined for DU exposure.

  • In US areas of military operation, there is no disclosure of where DU has been used. There is no sampling of ground water, soil or milk. Nor is there any clean-up in any areas of DU contamination. Military personnel are not warned to stay away from destroyed tanks and other targets of DU weapons.

Good Sources of More Information on DU Weapons. (Rokke and others: critique of Pentagon) (Durakovic: health effects on veterans and civilians) (Lewallen: anti-DU campaign) (British movement against DU)

International Appeal to Ban Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons

Drafted by Ramsey Clark

Depleted-uranium weapons are an unacceptable threat to life, a violation of international law and an assault on human dignity. To safeguard the future of humanity, we call for an unconditional international ban forbidding research, manufacture, testing, transportation, possession and use of DU for military purposes. In addition, we call for the immediate isolation and containment of all DU weapons and waste, the reclassification of DU as a radioactive and hazardous substance, the cleanup of existing DU-contaminated areas, comprehensive efforts to prevent human exposure and medical care for those who have been exposed.

During the Gulf War, munitions and armor made with depleted uranium were used for the first time in a military action. Iraq and northern Kuwait were a virtual testing range for depleted-uranium weapons. Over 940,000 30-millimeter uranium tipped bullets and "more than 14,000 large caliber DU rounds were consumed during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield." (US. Army Environmental Policy Institute)

These weapons were used throughout Iraq with no concern for the health and environmental consequences of their use. Between 300 and 800 tons of DU particles and dust have been scattered over the ground and the water in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers, have suffered the effects of exposure to these radioactive weapons.

Of the 697,000 U.S. troops who served in the Gulf, over 90,000 have reported medical problems. Symptoms include respiratory, liver and kidney dysfunction, memory loss, headaches, fever, low blood pressure. There are birth defects among their newborn children. DU is a leading suspect for a portion of these ailments. The effects on the population living in Iraq are far greater. Under pressure, the Pentagon has been forced to acknowledge Gulf War Syndrome, but they are still stonewalling any connection to DU.

Communities near DU weapons plants, testing facilities, bases and arsenals have also been exposed to this radioactive material which has a half-life of 4.4 billion years. DU-weapons are deployed with U.S. troops in Bosnia. The spreading toxicity of depleted uranium threatens life everywhere.

DU weapons are not conventional weapons. They are highly toxic, radioactive weapons. All international law on warfare has attempted to limit violence to combatants and to prevent the use of cruel and unfocused weapons. International agreements and conventions have tried to protect civilians and non-combatants from the scourge of war and to outlaw the destruction of the environment and the food supply in order to safeguard life on earth.

Consequently, DU weapons violate international law because of their inherent cruelty and unconfmed death-dealing effect. They threaten civilian populations now and for generations to come. These are precisely the weapons and uses prohibited by international law for more than a century including the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols Additional of 1977.

International Action Center

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