Depleted Uranium Creating International Concerns

* Evidence continues to mount on the health and environmental hazards of depleted uranium, or DU weapons that were used by mainly the United States military in Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo causing a growing uproar in Europe. Most recent reports state seven Italian soldiers who served in the Balkans have died of leukemia, while 30 are seriously ill, 12 with cancer. France, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Spain also have soldiers who have developed malignancies.

In England, facing strong pressures from sick and angry military veterans, the British Government has reluctantly agreed to study the issue.

Here in the United States, however, the Pentagon, continues to maintain that DU poses no threat to health.

What is depleted uranium? DU is actually uranium 238. It is what is left after the fissionable (pronouced fishonable) element uranium 235 is extracted from the ore used as fuel for weapons and nuclear reactors. This contaminated uranium also contains traces of plutonium and uranium 236, neptunium and americium (pronounced ameresium) elements which are extremely carcinogenic.

Over the past half century, about 700,000 tonnes of this once useless but hazardous radioactive material had accumulated throughout the United States. Then the U.S. military discovered that it was not so useless after all.

The military found that DU is almost twice as dense as lead, and could easily slice through the armor of tanks. Best of all, it was free. Uranium 238 is extremely pyrophoric, (piroforic) meaning it bursts into flames when it hits a tank at great speed, so when the fire oxidises the uranium, turns into dust. Inhaling the DU dust, can damage cells in the lungs. If ingested through coughing it can go into the intestines and into the blood, finding its way to bone, kidney, and lymph glands, causing cancer in those organs as well as cancer of the white blood cells, leukemia. It can also damage ones DNA, which can show up in severe birth defects of future generations.

Several doctors in Bosnia have detailed near-epidemic levels of cancer deaths among ethnic Serbs who were near U.S. bomb-sites in 1995. Many find it upsetting that the U.S. denies any adverse health effects related to DU when as far back as 1943, scientists working on the Manhattan Project were talking about using uranium on the battlefield as an air and terrain contaminant.

Media Officer of the Australian-Iraqi Friendship Bureau, said in a Melbourne radio broadcast that continuing attempts by the United States and Britain to deny responsibility for unexplained rise in leukemia's in Iraq and the Balkans were now in absolute disarray. The pollution caused by toxic and radioactive DU shells has caused a storm of protest internationally.

Iraq with wide international support had requested a full investigation by the UN-based World Health Organization. The investigation was vetoed by the United States and Great Britain. Many members of the U.S. Congress who had supported the idea of an investigation protested the U.S. veto as a cover-up.

Recently, the Council of Europe demanded a ban on the production, use, testing and sale of munitions containing depleted uranium or plutonium. Editorials in papers around the world are also calling for a ban of DU. Almost every NATO nation, except the U.S. has promised to conduct health tests on military personnel who had been in Kosovo. Several countries have sent teams of scientists and doctors to investigate radiation levels at and around bomb-sites.

The mainstream media in the U.S. is not talking about DU, but the media abroad is reporting extensively on what they call the new plague. Almost all the uranium munitions used in the war against Yugoslavia in 1999, in Bosnia in 1995, and the heavy bombing of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 were produced in three plants in the United States -Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Paducah, Kentucky; and Portsmouth, Ohio.

With mounting evidence that the uranium arms in question have contributed to malignant diseases, neurological disorders and birth defects in Iraq and Bosnia among both local inhabitants and former troops and their families, the demand that the nation that produced and used these deadly weapons be held accountable for their consequences. The demand for U.S. accountability is growing worldwide.

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