.News Update 11/07/08

United Nations Supports New Depleted Uranium Weapons Resolution

November 7, 2008

A majority of United Nations states backed a UN resolution on October 31 to bring forth concerns over the use of depleted uranium in weapons and the effects it could have on human health and the environment. The resolution calls for the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency to further research the impacts of depleted uranium use in weapons.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process for manufacturing fuel for nuclear power plants. Depleted uranium is a high-density compound, about twice as dense as lead. Thus depleted uranium is used in weapons, such as missiles and land mines, designed especially for piercing armor. Upon impact, depleted uranium weapons ignite and bore through armor plating. In the process, the materials are volatilized; producing hazardous depleted uranium oxide, which is easily inhaled. When inhaled, this dust travels from the lungs, circulating throughout the body and is deposited in the lymph nodes, organs, bones and brain. There have been limited studies about the effects of depleted uranium dust on the body. However, depleted uranium is both radioactive and chemically toxic, creating synergistic activity that intensifies both the radioactive and toxic properties. Depleted uranium has been linked to lung cancer and damage to both the renal and reproductive systems.

This resolution follows on the heels of a 2007 UN General Assembly vote requesting that nations refrain from using depleted uranium in weapons until further studies could be conducted into their effects. At the time the vote was opposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and France, of which the US, UK and France all produce and use depleted uranium weapons. In May 2008, the governing body of the European Union passed a resolution calling for a global agreement to ban depleted uranium weapons, but European Union states have been slow to react.

The World Health Organization has not updated their information or position on depleted uranium weaponry since 2003 and has been criticized for excluding evidence from reports that suggests that depleted uranium is hazardous. The resolution addresses the need to rectify this situation.

Doug Weir, coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, said of last year's passing resolution on DU weapons, "States around the world are no longer content to accept the claims by the users of these weapons systems that exposure to uranium dust is not linked to ill health. The last few years have seen great advances in our understanding of the health hazards posed by depleted uranium, and it's high time that the international standards caught up with this research."

Locally, Sheri Kotowski, of the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, has been addressing the use of depleted uranium in open detonation experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). She said, "The position of the UN concerning depleted uranium weaponry will further support local community efforts to ban the open air experiments at LANL. Such a ban supports actions necessary to protect the public from depleted uranium exposure, which will result in the mandatory cleanup of these testing sites."

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