George HW Bush made nuclear weapons cool again. This isn’t a partisan fact, Bill Clinton is known to have used more depleted uranium than tainted cigars, and George W Bush (Junior) carries on the torch. DU (short for depleted uranium) is “weakly radioactive” just as gravity is a “weak force” compared to electro-magnetism.
It’s true that DU has only 60 % of the radiation found in natural uranium – it’s also true that a single alpha particle is all that’s needed to “infect” a person with cancer, and that a gram of DU emits 14,000 alpha particles per second. Such a gram is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Unsurprisingly, the US, British, and German armies are saying that harm from DU is impossible, yet the facts and even the anecdotes tell a very different story.
Remember Gulf War Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue, nausea, birth defects, cancer, leukemia – just like the lesser known Balkan War Syndrome. The BBC reports
“Anecdotally, in a discussion with a military doctor, he told me that early indications from official surveys are that there’s a higher incidence of Thalidomide-type abnormalities in the children of Gulf veterans.”
Thalidomide, of course, was a medicine to prevent morning sickness, at the expense of paraplegic children. Many were born without limbs, just as many gulf war veteran’s children. The same is starting to show up for Kosovo and Yugoslavia vets. Birth defects in Kosovo are 166 % more common than before the US war. In Iraq, the figure is currently much harder to measure, but estimated at a 700 % to 1000 % rise.
Iraq has been concerned since the initial Gulf War. Italy – who sent volunteer peace keepers to the Balkans – has been echoing this worry
To his parents, he was the perfect son. At 23 years old, Dalvatore Vaccha was fit, healthy and happy. Until he went to Bosnia, that is. In 1999, he died from leukaemia, and his family suspect that the cause of his illness was depleted uranium.
Still more of the denial over the deadliness of DU comes from lack of data, aka ignorance
“And there’ve been massive birth defects in some cases. In one unit, 67% of children born to US Gulf veterans had severe illnesses or birth defects.”The Pentagon says studies of the group with the highest DU exposure show their levels are “still well below occupational exposure limits”.But it acknowledges that, of all the US troops sent to the Gulf, it has tested just 36 for DU contamination.
Casting doubt on the official denials, the EU has banned depleted uranium. Israel denies having used it to quelle the Palestinian intafada, although they have no qualms with the tactic of “targeted killings.” This alone should give one pause.
Why do we use It?
Depleted uranium is cheap. Instead of properly storing its nuclear waste, a country can start a war of choice and turn another country into a dumping grounds.
DU is very effective, in part for its weight (1.7x that of lead) and in part for its other metallurgic properties. Where other metals (like tungsten) dull themselves much like mushrooms when they reach impact, uranium tends to sharpen itself. A single round can pierce a tank like a knife through hot butter.
The trouble is, on impact, the uranium vaporizes. It turns into very fine dust particles on impact, which can easily be carried by the wind. Again contrary to official claims, DU has been found up to 43 km from an industrial accident in DU, showing a keen ability to travel and spread contamination. The particulate effect causes athesma with lesser substances, although in this case it may be the least of our worries. Still, it should be noted that DU is probably more dangerous as a chemical weapon than as a radioactive dirty bomb, even if its use was first suggested during the Manhattan Project.
The spread of disease and birth defects is very worrying, and corresponds perfectly with depleted uranium use. DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, which is only slightly shorter than our planet’s age, and far more than our life expectancy as a species.
DU is a WMD
Of course the bitter irony is that George Bush Junior declared war on Iraq (in violation of international law) and willfully polluted a nation almost to the point of inhabitibility, all for the guessed-at existence of weapons of mass destruction, not unlike depleted uranium.