- In 1991, the US military introduced a new weapon that
the people of the worldwith hindsightwill
probably come to view as symbolic of America's failed leadership after
the Cold War. The introduced weapon was a new kind of munition: shells
and bullets made from depleted uranium (DU). It turned out to be extremely
effective in the first Gulf War against the forces of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately,
the DU weapons also proved nearly as dangerous to our own troops and to
Iraqi civilians. The military alliance cobbled together by George Bush
Sr. won a decisive victory in that war. But since its conclusion at least
13,000 American veterans have died from DU-related causes, far more than
the 148 who died in combat; and of the nearly 700,000 who served in the
war at least 250,000 are now (in 2007) permanently disabled; a percentage
far higher than in any previous war. Despite this, Pentagon generals
continue to insist that DU munitions pose no danger, and remain committed
to their use. Even as I write, the Department of Defense (DoD) moves ahead
with research that could lead to the deployment of DU weapons in space.
- Yet, a UN Sub-Committee has declared DU weapons illegal,
and last November the European Union (EU) issued its fourth call for a
DU moratorium. More and more frequently, one hears the charge that America's
use of these weapons in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia was a
war crime. In 2004, for example, a citizen's tribunal in Japan convicted
George W. Bush in absentia for crimes against humanity. Is America
headed for a showdown with the world over depleted uranium?
- Although hyperbole has muddied the issue, the bare facts
are shocking and need no amplification. Depleted Uranium (DU) is primarily
U-238, the isotope of uranium that remains after the fissionable isotope,
U-235, has been extracted from natural uranium ore. When enriched to 3%
the preferred isotope, U-235, is used to fuel nuclear reactors. When further
enriched to 90% or more it becomes "weapons grade" and is suitable
for use in nuclear weapons. Enrichment thus "depletes" the natural
uranium of its isotopic fraction of U-235. Depleted uranium (99.8% pure
U-238) is the by-product of this separation process and was long viewed
as a waste. Over the years hundreds of thousands of tons of the stuff accumulated
on US military reservations. In fact, because of its low-level radioactivity
and 4.5 billion-year half-life, DU presents a long-term storage headache.
- In the 1970s the US military got serious about utilizing
this waste after the Soviets introduced a superior kind of armor. Quite
suddenly, the Pentagon found itself in need of a new penetrating weapon.
DU offered attractive possibilities because it is extremely denseuranium
is 1.7 times as heavy as lead. For this reason, tank shells made of U-238
have formidable kinetic energy: they will slice through the heaviest steel
armor like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Quite simply, nothing
can withstand them. Although uranium is very soft, when alloyed with titanium
it becomes tough enough to retain its shape when fired out of a tank barrel.
Today, several companies make DU shells for the US military. These include
Starmet Corporation, based in Concord, Massachusetts, and Aerojet, with
plants in California and Tennessee. In the 1990s Alliant Techsystems (formerly
Honeywell), based in Minneapolis, also produced millions of DU rounds for
the US Air Force. In 2006 Alliant also received new orders worth $77 million
to produce 120mm tank shells.
- In addition to being an extremely effective penetrator,
U-238 is pyrophoric, meaning that it ignites at high velocity. When a ten-pound
uranium shell slices through a target vehicle it sheds a part of its mass,
causing a firestorm of burning and non-burning uranium fragments. These,
in turn, cause catastrophic secondary fires and explosions. In war footage
of Desert Storm the flaming DU shells can be seen arcing like tracers across
the night sky. The slender rounds are solid DUno explosive
charge is needed. Each has a plastic outer casing known as a sabot, which
centers the round in the bore and which falls away after the shell exits
the gun tube. The war footage is graphic. It shows that targeted Iraqi
vehicles stood no chance. Pity the poor Iraqi soldiers who came under DU
attack. Very few lived to tell about it. Within seconds, most were charred
beyond recognition in an incendiary fireball. US military jargon even coined
a new term, "crispy critters," to describe the grisly Iraqi corpses
- When DU burns it oxidizes, reaching extreme temperatures
(i.e., 3,000-5,000 C). On impact, between 40-70% of the depleted uranium
is transformed into an aerosol of extremely fine U-238 particles which
contaminate the battlefield long after the war. Geiger counter measurements
confirm that even years later, burned-out Iraqi tanks were still hot: 1,000-2,000
times as radioactive as background, with the surrounding desert contaminated
to a lesser degree. Continuous exposure to this level of irradiation
would be like having a chest X-ray every few minutes. U-238 produces
high energy gamma and beta radiation (which are electrons). But most of
the emission is in the form of alpha particles, which are charged helium
nuclei (i.e., He++). The alpha particles cannot penetrate human skin and
for this reason the Pentagon claims that DU is harmless. The claim is false,
however. As we will see, the dangers have been understated. Artillery and
tank crews who handled DU shells were exposed to continuous alpha, beta
and gamma radiation over weeks and months. But they probably had less exposure
than soldiers who inhaled DU-laden smoke and dust, whether in combat or
during clean-up operations after the war. Most US troops were unawareno
one bothered to inform themthat the use of DU rounds had
spread low-level radioactive waste across the battlefield. After the fighting,
tens of thousands of American soldiers frolicked among the burned-out Iraqi
tanks, gathering souvenirs and posing for photographs like curious tourists.
Others scavenged spare parts from US vehicles contaminated by "friendly
fire," oblivious that they were endangering themselves with every
- The Fire At Doha
- The contaminated zones were not limited to Iraq. Large
parts of Kuwait were also affected, including the infamous "highway
of death" where the US destroyed Saddam's army as it retreated north
out of Kuwait City. Several areas in Saudi Arabia were contaminated before
the war during training exercises. There was even a major accidental release
after the fighting ended, which I'm going to recount in detail because
it illustrates the problems. In July 1991 a fire broke out in a motor-pool
at the US base at Doha, north of Kuwait City. The fire started during refueling,
and was caused by static electricity. It spread first to parked vehicles
and then to a nearby ammunition dump. Witnesses later said that
explosions rocked the compound for six hours, scattering unexploded ordnance
and debris over much of the 500-acre base. The raging fires destroyed or
damaged dozens of buildings and more than 100 vehicles, including several
M-1 Abrams tanks fully loaded with DU shells.
- The fire consumed an estimated $14 million in munitions,
including 660 120mm DU rounds, about half of which were completely oxidized.
A thick fume of black and white smoke reportedly billowed hundreds of feet
above the base and drifted east-southeast toward Kuwait City. No warning
was ever issued about the toxic danger posed by the DU-laden smoke and
ash. After the fire, soldiers worked on the clean up without even
face masks or the standard protective clothing required by military regulations.
- The scene must have been surreal. Witnesses later reported
seeing hundreds of GIs sweeping up the compound with brooms. A team with
the equipment used to test for alpha radiation was dispatched to the base,
but for reasons that are still unclear no monitoring was ever done. During
a December 26, 1999 broadcast of the CBS weekly news show 60 Minutes, Morley
Safer reported that CBS had obtained copies of military communications
and incident log books which proved that the military was aware of the
hazards, yet, failed to follow its own safety protocols. The base remained
open despite DU contamination. Many thousands of US soldiers who transited
through Doha in the months and years after the fire suffered exposure,
as Kuwait's seasonal wind storms remobilized the DU ash and dust. In fact,
the contaminated base remains in operation to this day.
- Clean-up? Or Cover-up?
- But even if the military had issued respirators at Doha,
it's doubtful they would have protected our soldiers, given the lessons
learned during a limited clean-up operation after the war; whose purpose
was to dispose of about three-dozen DU-contaminated tanks and vehicles
destroyed during "friendly fire" incidents. This limited operation
was led by a reservist, Maj. Doug Rokke, a physicist in private life, who
says his orders were signed by the field commander, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
- There were no field manuals. Rokke's team had to develop
the procedures on their own, through trial-and-error. Their first chore
was the ticklish one of manually removing the unexploded DU ordnance still
on-board the contaminated Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting vehicles. To
accomplish this Rokke's men had to enter and work inside the contaminated
vehicles. There was no way to avoid stirring up the DU ash and dust that
covered every surface. The men wore standard military-issue face masks,
but according to Rokke they were useless. The problem was that the dust
came right through the filters. The men lived with the constant metallic
taste and smell of uranium oxide. The masks were of the cheapest design,
and did not even meet the HEPA standard current in US industry. (HEPA,
or High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, remove 99% of dust particles
down to .3 microns in size.) Particles of 5 microns or less are breathable.
But not even HEPA filters would have afforded full protection because the
aerosols produced on impact by DU rounds are loaded with 0.1 micron-sized
DU particles, as well as smaller nanoparticles ranging down to .01 microns.
No known filter can prevent inhalation of particles of this size. Within
72 hours everyone on Rokke's team developed skin rashes and began to complain
of respiratory problems.
- Although sick, his men persisted. But it took them more
than three months just to package 24 contaminated/destroyed vehicles for
shipment back to the states. This included 15 Abrams tanks and 9 Bradley
Fighting Vehicles. The team left behind a number of more badly contaminated
vehicles: buried in a large hole in the desert. The Army spent $4 million
to expand a facility in South Carolina for the purpose of decontaminating
the returned equipment, but what the Army ended up with was an expensive
holding facility: all for a mere 24 vehicles. The US military
had no plans at the time, and has no plans today, to clean up the thousands
of Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles destroyed
in the 1991 war. Later, the Kuwaiti government hired a private contractor,
the Halliburton Corporation, to move most of the burned-out hulks in the
vicinity of Kuwait City to a dump in the western desert, according to a
plan prepared by Rokke and his colleagues. The site became known as the
"Bone yard." Nothing was done for Iraq, however. Untold numbers
of contaminated tanks and vehicles still litter the southern part of the
country, to this day.
- In 1994 Maj. Rokke was named director of the Army's Depleted
Uranium Project, and was tasked to develop a training program to prepare
US soldiers to handle DU weapons. Rokke was also assigned to develop environmental
clean up procedures. After extensive research, including field trials at
the Department of Energy's (DoE's) nuclear test site in Nevada, Rokke put
together a comprehensive three-tier 40-hour educational program that employed
videos and was based on the best available science, including work done
by the DoD's own scientists. Rokke and his team also prepared the reports
and documents that became standard Army regulations about how to handle
DU. The Pentagon even saw fit to award Rokke two medals for this
work. One citation commended him for "meritorious service while assigned
as the depleted uranium project leader...Your outstanding achievements
have prepared our soldiers for hazards and will have a vast payoff in the
health, safety, and protection of all soldiers."
- But the Pentagon never used Rokke's training program
and videos, not even during the run-up to the second Gulf War. Instead,
in 1996 Maj. Doug Rokke was fired. Why? Simple: His training program and
validating research acknowledged a plain truth that the general staff found
politically unacceptable: that once DU is released as an aerosol into the
environment it is virtually impossible to clean up. The Pentagon feared
and probably still fears that such an admission will fuel opposition to
its continued use of DU weapons. As Rokke put it: "They'd wanted 'proponency'
[sic] for DU weapons, and I was giving them the opposite."
- A notorious 1991 memorandum by Lt. Col. M.V. Ziehmn of
the Los Alamos Lab had cautioned the Department of Defense (DoD) that "if
no one [i.e., at the Pentagon] makes the case for the effectiveness for
DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and
thus, be deleted from the arsenal...I believe we should keep this sensitive
issue in mind when after-action reports are being written." Rokke
interpreted the memo as an instruction to be less than candid about DU's
health and environmental impact. When he refused, he was terminated.
- Rokke and his men paid a heavy price for the service
they rendered to the nation trying to clean up the DU mess created during
Desert Storm. According to Rokke, almost every member of his 100-man team
is now either sick or dead from various diseases, including lymphoma and
other cancers. It's a charge the Pentagon has denied, but which
the affected veterans and their families can easily confirm. Rokke also
claims the Veteran's Administration (VA) refused medical care to his men,
even while they were dying; and he further accuses the military of willfully
destroying medical records and personnel files to avoid liability. Rokke's
own health was seriously impaired. When the VA finally tested him he learned
that he has 5,000 times the permissible level of uranium in his body. Rokke,
currently retired/disabled, has endured 18 kidney operations, as well as
eye and gastrointestinal surgery, and he continues to have medical problems
directly related to his exposure to DU.
- The 1999 RAND Study
- Even as tens of thousands of veterans became sick after
the Gulf War, the Department of Defense stubbornly denied that DU was responsible.
Many vets were told they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Pentagon took the position that because DU is only 60% as radioactive
as natural uranium, it is harmless. After 1999, military spokespersons
also frequently cited a study completed that year by the RAND Corporation,
which found no evidence of harmful DU exposure during Desert Storm. The
RAND team conducted no research of its own. It merely reviewed the peer-reviewed
scientific literature on uranium toxicity. As RAND conceded, there were
few published DU studies, as most of the early research was driven by the
need to establish standards for the uranium milling/mining industry; for
which reason most of the literature deals with exposure to natural or enriched
uranium. While all uranium is hazardous inside the human body, dust particles
of natural unprocessed uranium tend to be less invasive because they are
relatively large in size; hence, are not inhaled as easily. Moreover,
the tiny cilia in the bronchial passages are efficient at removing particles
of this size during breathing. When swallowed in food or water, natural
uranium also tends to pass through the GI tract attached to organic matter
without much absorption.
- Critics countered that the Pentagon itself funded and
even partly staffed the RAND study, for which reason it cannot be regarded
as an independent assessment. Critics also pointed out that the RAND report
is far from comprehensive. A peace activist named Gretel Munroe identified
70 pertinent scientific papers that RAND failed to consider.
- Some of these were DU studies conducted under contract
to various branches of the US military, including a comprehensive DU investigation
completed just six months before Desert Storm by none other than the Army
itself. This latter study accurately foresaw that the use of DU
penetrators in combat would release large amounts of depleted uranium oxides.
It noted that DU is a "low-level alpha radiation emitter which is
linked to cancer when exposures are internal." The Army study warned
that aerosol exposures to both soldiers and civilians "could be significant
with potential radiological and toxicological effects." It also correctly
predicted that exposed soldiers would suffer cancers and kidney problems.
The Army's prescient report acknowledged that "some form of remedial
action in a post-combat environment" would be needed after the war,
in other words, a clean up. It even warned that the long-term health risks
could make the continued use of DU weapons socially and politically unacceptable.
How did the Pentagon react to its own study? Simple. By ignoring it; and
RAND did likewise. Both also ignored a 1993 study by the US Government
Accounting Office (GAO), which concluded that "the health hazards
[from DU] occur primarily due to internal exposures. Soluble forms present
chemical hazards to the kidneys, while insoluble forms present hazards
to the lungs from ionizing radiation, with particle size being an important
factor." Importantly, these studies also acknowledged that
exposure to DU particulates is very different from exposure to natural
uranium dust, for which reason RAND's reliance on studies of natural uranium
was inappropriate, and its conclusions dubious.
- According to the Pentagon, DU is so inert you can eat
the stuff without harm. Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen
made a statement to this effect in 1996. And while it's probably true that
U-238, if ingested, will pass through the gut like natural uranium, without
much absorption, nonetheless, Cohen's statement ignored the fact that when
high-velocity DU shells impact hard objects the DU is transformed into
a much more invasive substance. Once aerosolized, DU is loose in the environment
and it's only a matter of time before it finds its way into water and food;
in which case, DU particles, due to their small size, are easily absorbable
through the intestinal lining. They are even more easily inhaled, and will
even pass through the skin, making exposure unavoidable in contaminated
areas. Submicron-sized DU particles behave like a gas. They are too small
to be removed by the cilia in the bronchioles and have no trouble reaching
the tiny alveolar sacs in the lungs. In fact, particles of this size can
pass directly into the blood and will cross every blood-barrier in the
body. Naomi Harley, one of the authors of the RAND study, demonstrated
her ignorance of the serious implications of this size factor in her July
1999 testimony before the Presidential Special Oversight Board, where she
stated that DU will not cross the blood-brain barrier. Nonsense.
Aerosolized DU particles move with ease into the brain, which, no doubt,
explains the many neurological problems reported by Gulf War veterans. DU
particles also cross the placenta into the unborn child, which is extremely
serious because the fetus is especially vulnerable to both radiological
and chemical toxicity. No doubt, this explains the increased level of birth
abnormalities reported in the children of Gulf War vets, and the even higher
incidence in Iraq, where mothers no longer ask, "Is it a boy, or a
girl?, but rather: "Is my baby normal?"
- Aerosolized DU is also different from unprocessed natural
uranium in another important respect. Under the conditions of extreme temperature
and high velocity impact, DU particles are rendered ceramic-like, which
makes them insoluble. The body has trouble excreting them, for which reason
they tend to persist. This explains why 8-10 years after the war veterans
of Desert Storm were still excreting DU in their urine, semen, and even
in their sweat. This retention of DU poses serious health risks
for a number of reasons: firstly, because radiation, even low-level radiation,
is cumulative. In fact, the term "low-level radiation" is a misnomer.
It is misleading because it wrongly suggests that low-level radiation is
not dangerous. Recent studies show just the opposite: that a low-level
alpha source inside the body is even more dangerous per unit of exposure
than higher levels of radiation. While it is true that an alpha particle,
due to its vastly greater size and mass, does not travel nearly as far
as an X-ray, the new research indicates that a single alpha particle can
cause 1,000 times as much damage.
- Low-level alpha emission in the lung causes scar tissue
and greatly increases the risk of lung cancer. Some of the insoluble DU
is also scavenged from the lung into the thoracic lymph nodes, where it
damages the immune system and also causes lymphoma and leukemia. Many DU
nano-particles are also absorbed into the blood and transported via cholesterol
and lipids throughout the body. Some DU is excreted by the kidneys, but
not all. Much of it accumulates in organs, tissues and bones, and even
in human semen. In fact, DU's affinity for the sexual organs is an especially
serious problem because DU is known to cause chromosomal damage, thus burdening
future generations with birth abnormalities. The problem is a double whammy:
DU is a mutagen due to its radiological properties, and also due to its
chemical properties because it is a heavy metal. It turns out that uranium
has a chemical affinity for phosphate. Diane Stearns, a biochemist at Northern
Arizona University, recently showed that when living cells are exposed
to uranium the uranium binds to the phosphate structure in the DNA and
causes mutations from chemical effects, quite apart from the radioactive
- Finally, new research indicates that DU's radiological
and chemical effects are not additive, but act in synergy. The combination
of the two is much worse than the sum of both. A 2002 paper by Dr. Alexandra
C. Miller, a chemist at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute
(AFRRI), described an in vivo study that found DU to be much more damaging
to DNA than would be expected solely on the basis of U-238's radiolytic
properties. Miller attributed this to a synergistic multiplier effect.
- In a 2003 interview she told the Guardian: "you
can get more than an eight-fold greater effect than you'd expect." Miller's
findings are potentially explosive because they flatly contradict the official
position of the Department of Defense (her boss) that DU presents no serious
dangers. This probably explains why the Pentagon subsequently muzzled one
of their top scientists. In 2006 the DoD refused to allow the BBC to interview
Dr. Miller. The BBC reported that the Pentagon also turned down
Miller's repeated requests for funding to continue her DU research (in
2004, 2005 and 2006). Obviously, if you don't look, you won't discover
- Gulf War Sickness:
- A Progressive Wasting Condition
- All of the above helps to explain why Gulf War sickness
is not a single malady, but a progressive wasting condition. One physician
defined it as "a complex incapacitating multi-organ system disorder."[32[ The
many symptoms and associated conditions read like a litany of horrors:
fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, bleeding gums and lesions, headaches
and neurological problems, memory loss, kidney dysfunction, bloody stools,
flu-like symptoms, pneumonia, gynecological infections in female soldiers,
unsteady gait, rashes and, ultimately, cancer and premature death. Nor
is this a comprehensive list. Put simply: DU trashes the body.
- Although nearly 700,000 American soldiers served in the
first Gulf War, we still don't know how many were exposed to DU because
the Pentagon refused to screen and test our veterans. Although Army regulations
require the testing/treatment for GIs wounded by, or exposed to, radioactive
materials, including DU, not even one of the hundreds of thousand of soldiers
with known or suspected exposure to DU was tested or treated after the
war. The Pentagon obviously shrank from a full accounting because it feared
the fiscal liability of caring for so many sick vets. The Veteran's Administration
(VA) even dragged its feet caring for the most obviously affected, i.e.,
the unfortunate troops exposed to large amounts of DU in so-called "friendly
fire" incidents. Seven years after the war the Pentagon was still
grossly under-reporting the actual number of US soldiers who had come under
DU attack by our own side. Why fudge the numbers? Well, probably because
the many self-inflicted casualties were an embarrassment.
- But fiscal liability and public embarrassment were not
the only, nor even the primary, reasons why the Pentagon sought to conceal
the facts about DU weapons. The main reason is that the generals fully
intended to use them again. Certainly the Pentagon was not keen on giving
them up. Let us remember: During the 1990s Iraq was a free-fire zone. No
doubt, the US military continued using DU weapons through this period,
in which case the actual expenditure was much greater than the officially
acknowledged 340 tons. During the 1994-95 Bosnian War the US used DU weapons
again, some 10 tons, and another 3 tons in Kosovo in 1999. The US Air Force
A-10 Thunderbolt, nicknamed the "Warthog," accounted for most
of the DU expended in these wars, as in Desert Storm. The attack plane's
main weapon is an advanced Gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger, mounted in
the nose of the plane. The gun is so enormous that the plane literally
had to be designed around it. This accounts for its ungainly appearance,
and the nickname. But the Warthog was never designed for good looks. Its
rotating cannon is all business, and lays down a devastating barrage of
thousands of 30mm DU rounds per minute.
- Horror In Basra
- Beginning in 1993, Iraqi doctors reported a disturbing
increase in the incidence of malignancies around Basra, in southern Iraq.
Basra is Iraq's second largest city and is located near the battlefields
where most of the DU was expended in the first Gulf War. An epidemiological
study conducted by Dr. Alim Yacoub, a British-educated trained doctor and
dean of the medical school at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, and his
colleague, Dr. Jenan Hassan from the Women's and Children's Hospital in
Basra, found that between 1990-2001 all types of malignancies quadrupled.
During this same period the number of birth defects increased six-fold.
Moreover, the incidence of childhood leukemia jumped from just 2 cases
in 1990 to 41 in 2001, a shocking twenty-fold increase. Even more disturbing
was a further spike to 53 cases of leukemia in 2002, a 22% increase in
a single year; which suggested that an acceleration was underway.
- The observed onset in 1993 jibes with the known latency
period of leukemia, which can be as short as 2-3 years. The cancer epidemic
was exacerbated by the UN embargo, which prevented urgently needed medicines
from reaching the victims. Although the Iraqi doctors did not have access
to western medical journals, Dr. Thomas Fasy of the Mount Sinai School
of Medicine presented their research at a 2003 health conference in New
York City. Dr. Fasy had traveled to Basra some months before. Although
the Iraqi physicians lacked the necessary scientific equipment to establish
a firm link to inhaled or ingested DU, Dr. Hari Sharma, a Canadian radio-chemist,
later confirmed the link. When Dr. Sharma examined tissue samples of 38
dead Iraqis from Basra using a supersensitive instrument known as a mass
spectrometer, he found DU in the lungs, thoracic lymph nodes and kidneys.
Some of the cadavers also had DU in their livers. In a 2003 interview
with the San Francisco Chronicle Dr. Yacoub complained that international
sanctions prevented the Iraqi doctors from from importing the necessary
medical technology. According to Yacoub, the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) refused to approve the equipment on the excuse that
Saddam Hussein might divert it for military use. Once again, the children
of Iraq were the principal victims of the US-led embargo.
- Most disturbing of all were reports from Basra of extreme
birth deformities, as well as a new phenomenon: multiple cancers. By now
(in 2007), photos of the Iraqi birth defects have been widely posted around
the internet, and the pictures must be seen to be believed. As
for the multiple cancers, they were first reported in 2003 at a medical
conference in Japan by Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, an oncologist at Basra's largest
hospital. Dr. Al-Ali told the conference: "Two strange phenomena have
come about in Basra which I have never seen before. The first is double
and triple cancers in one patient: for example, leukemia and cancer of
the stomach. The second is the clustering of cancers in families. We have
58 families here with more than one person affected with cancer." The
reports from Basra were alarming, but the Pentagon dismissed them as Iraqi
propaganda. The Kuwaiti government did likewise, and even banned Dr. Al-Ali
from crossing the border. Other skeptics cast doubt in a different way.
They pointed out that southern Iraq suffered contamination by numerous
toxic agents during the 1991 war. DU, after all, was only one among many
possible causes. In the absence of compelling evidence linking DU to the
leukemias and birth defects it was more likely that some other agent was
responsible. The cynics even suggested that Saddam Hussein had poisoned
his own people by his past use of chemical weapons.
- The skeptics had a point. It's certainly true that the
first Gulf War unleashed numerous toxic substances. The 1991 battlefield
was probably the most polluted in history. In addition to DU, soldiers
contended with experimental and/or impure vaccines. Soldiers and Iraqis
alike breathed acrid black smoke from burning oil wells and were exposed
to a wide array of chemical emissions due to the bombing of Iraqi infrastructure.
Destroyed factories and industries can spew large amounts of toxic substances.
Moreover, after the war US units destroyed at least 100 Iraqi munitions
dumps, including an enormous complex at Khamisiyah which according to eyewitnesses
included stores of chemical and biological agents (some supplied by the
US and other western nations). It was even reported that
the US command ordered the bombing of Iraqi nuclear research reactors. This
evidently occurred during the "Shock and Awe" phase of the war.
The Pentagon has since released few details, but assuming the reports are
correct the order to blow up these sites was incredibly stupid, arguably
even insane, as it no doubt had the effect of dispersing dangerous chemicals
and possibly radioactive materials across the Iraqi landscape. All of these
factors surely increased the level of toxic exposure; and for some years
this caveat allowed the US military to deflect some of the criticism regarding
its use of DU weapons.
- Transuranic Elements And Fission By-Products
- The Pentagon's case was not helped in 1999 when the Department
of Energy (DoE) was forced to admit that America's DU weapons were not
pure U-238, but were laced with small amounts of U-236, plutonium, neptunium,
americium, and nearly 200 other unstable transuranic elements and fission
by-products, including strontium-90 and Cesium-137. It seems that
for many years Union Carbide, Martin Marietta, and Lockheed Martin, the
companies that produced the enriched uranium for Uncle Sam, made a practice
of recycling spent reactor fuel back into the enrichment process. They
did so for purely economic reasons. When the price of U-235 rose enough,
it became profitable to recover more of the preferred U-235 fraction in
this way. As a result, the DU waste stream became a witches brew of unstable
isotopes and daughter products, none of them naturally-occurring. All are
created in reactors and every one is thousands of times more radioactive
- The Pentagon took pains to emphasize that the presence
of plutonium and the other transuranics presented no additional health
risk, since the amounts were tiny. Only trace amounts were involved. What
the Pentagon failed to mention is that there is no safe level of exposure.
For instance, consider plutonium: the most toxic substance known to man.
The element was discovered by the chemist Glenn Seaborg, who named it after
"Pluto," the Greek god of death (or hell). And for good reason:
unlike uranium, plutonium is not found in Nature. It is produced only in
the irradiated bowels of nuclear reactors by neutron bombardment of U-238;
and it is 200,000 more radioactive than uranium. In fact, it is so nasty
that the tiniest speck in the lung is a death sentence. A pound of plutonium,
if uniformly distributed, could wipe out the entire human race. Plutonium
is the preferred fissile material for nuclear weapons because so little
of it is needed. A mere ten pounds, a lump the size of a grapefruit, is
enough to make a hydrogen bomb.
- But the dangers are not limited to nuclear weapons. For
many years both the US and Russian governments, as well as the former Soviet
regime, utilized one of the isotopes of plutonium, Pu-238, in their space
programs. Plutonium-238 is 280 times more radioactive than the more common
isotope, plutonium-239, and is used in small reactors to generate electrical
power for space probes. Though controversial, the practice has continued
in recent years. NASA, for example, powered the 1997 Cassini Saturn probe
with a U-238-fueled reactor. This use faced considerable scientific opposition
at the time because the lengthy mission required 72 pounds of U-238 fuel,
by far the largest amount NASA had ever sent into space. The launch involved
a Titan-4 military rocket, an old and unreliable design with a less than
reassuring history of 10% failed launches. Fortunately, the Cassini lift-off
was successful; but the risks were not limited to the launch phase. After
first circling Venus, Cassini returned and made a second dangerous pass
around earth to gain the necessary momentum to "slingshot" the
probe in the direction of Saturn. Again, we were lucky and there was no
disastrous spillage of plutonium. The mission went according to plan; however,
other space shots have amply demonstrated the principle that if something
can go wrong, it will. Since 1964 several plutonium-powered satellites
have crashed to earth, spreading a total of a few pounds of plutonium-238
around the planet. The amount seems trivial, but it was enough, according
to Dr. John Gofman, to cause a small but measurable increase in the world-wide
rate of lung cancer. This sobering fact gives some idea of plutonium's
- Gofman is a leading authority on radiation. While still
a graduate student at UC Berkeley he codiscovered U-233, one of the isotopes
of uranium. During World War II Gofman assisted the Manhattan Project at
the behest of J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was the first to extract significant
amounts of plutonium, then needed for the Bomb program. Many years later,
as Biomedical Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Gofman
ran afoul of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) when his research on low-level
radiation became an inconvenience to the nuclear establishment. In 1969,
building on the work of British radiation expert Alice Stewart, as well
as the American scientist E.B. Lewis, Gofman, estimated that the cancer
risk to the general population from America's nuclear programs was much
greater than most physicists believed at the time. Gofman
charged that the AEC had underestimated the number of cancers by a factor
of at least twenty times, which meant an excess of 32,000 cancers. Even
though he had provided crucial assistance to the Manhattan Project and
was regarded as a nuclear loyalistGofman supported weapons
developmenthe was sacked because the government disapproved
of his conclusions about low-level radiation. Gofman lost his research
staff and funding and had to go back to teaching.
- The case is no exception. Other top scientists have endured
similar treatment. The list is long, and includes Linus Pauling, the famous
chemist whose 1957-58 petition, signed by thousands of scientists world-wide,
helped to bring about a moratorium on atmospheric nuclear testing. In 1962
Pauling won a second Nobel Prize for his peace work; but, thereafter, was
shunned by the US government, which repeatedly refused Pauling's requests
for federal grant money. This went on for many years. Not even
J. Robert Oppenheimer was above attack. Indeed, the former director of
the Manhattan Project suffered an even worse fate when he opposed Edward
Teller's H-Bomb program in the 1950s. Oppenheimer became the target of
a McCarthy-era witch-hunt, which ended his career, tarnished his reputation,
and brought about his early death. It is of interest that Andrei Sakharov,
the leading Soviet nuclear scientist, was similarly humiliated by Nikita
Khrushchev for speaking out against the arms race. Even after Sakharov
won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, he was placed under house arrest when he
spoke out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The lesson is clear:
East or West, the War Machine brooks no deviation from its central aims.
When great scientists speak out or cease to be useful, they are punished
- But time proved Gofman correct about low-level radiation.
Over the years the accepted standards have become more stringent, not less.
On three separate occasions the International Commission for Radiation
Protection (ICRP), which draws up the rules for the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), has tightened up the standards. The ICRP did this
in 1965, in 1986 (the year of the Chernobyl disaster), and again in 1990,
when it cut the maximum safe dose by a factor of five. Incidentally, the
US did not accept the latest revision and today, as a result, has a standard
five times less stringent than in the rest of the world. But even the international
trend toward an increasingly strict "permissible dose" misses
the point. In 2005 Gofman was finally vindicated in full when the National
Academy of Sciences, after a five-year comprehensive investigation, released
a 700-page report that endorsed what he and a few other brave scientists
have been saying for many years, namely, that all radiation exposure is
cumulative and adds to the risk of cancer. The notion of a safe
dose is an oxymoron.
- The Standard Risk Model
- But what led AEC scientists to seriously underestimate
the radiation dangers in the 1950s and 1960s? The question is important
because it bears on the depleted uranium issue. At the time there were
no studies of the internal effects of low-level radiation. The presumed
risk was an extrapolation from studies of the incidence of cancer and leukemia
in the atomic survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In both cases the primary
source of exposure was assumed to be external: a brief but intense shower
of neutrons and gamma radiation. The burst was extremely penetrating and
distributed over the human body as a whole, for which reason physicists
calculated cancer risk as an average whole-body dose. This approach led
them to estimate zero-risk for low-level radiation, i.e., radioactive fallout.
Why? Because when a low-level dose is averaged over the body, or even over
an organ, the calculated risk is vanishingly small. This is why many scientists
in government and industry insist, even today, that something other than
leaked radiation must be causing the cancer clusters frequently reported
downwind from nuclear plants. The same approach led Frank von Hippel, an
authority on nuclear weapons, to conclude that the health risks from depleted
uranium are "statistically undetectable," except in cases of
embedded DU shrapnel wounds.
- This standard method of determining radiation risk is
flawed, however. In the first place, because the explosions at Hiroshima
and Nagasaki were unmonitored, the calculated release of radiation was
not based on firm numbers, but on estimates; and by 1981 it was clear that
the estimates were in error. In fact, physicists had over-estimated the
release of neutrons by as much as ten times. This meant that the
impact per unit of radiation was actually worse, since a much lower level
of radiation had caused the cancers and leukemias. This was not good news
for nuclear advocates. Furthermore, the follow-up studies of atomic survivors
of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts were not designed to capture information
about low-level effects. The sampling was geared to screen for burst effects,
hence, was much too limited. One 30-year study, for example, tracked only
those survivors who happened to be within 2,000 yards of the epicenter.
This guaranteed that many of the subsequent cancers and birth defects due
to fallout would go undetected.
- The more fundamental problem is that the standard risk
model was developed before the discovery of DNA. It's interesting that
in his memoirs Andrei Sakharov mentions the tremendous impact that Watson
and Crick's discovery of the double helix had on him. In the mid-1950s
Sakharov began to worry that nuclear fallout was causing genetic damage
and killing babies. In 1957 he warned that nuclear testing up to that point
had already caused 500,000 deaths from "non-threshold," i.e.,
low-level effects, and this was a conservative estimate. Linus
Pauling's estimates were even higher. On this basis Sakharov, Pauling and
others began to call for an end to atmospheric testing. This was finally
realized in 1963 with the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty; after
which, interestingly, the world infant mortality rate began to drop again,
after leveling off from 1950-1963. Indeed, after studying the figures on
infant mortality an American scientist, Dr. Ernest Sternglass, shocked
the scientific community when he announced in 1968 that atmospheric testing
had caused the deaths of 375,000 babies in the US alone, mainly from the
effects of radioactive iodine-131. His estimate triggered a fierce
debate that sunk to the level of personal attacks against Sternglass. However,
in retrospect, his estimate may well have been correct.
- It is a fact of biology, not physics, that living cells
are variably sensitive to radiation. This is why continuous emission from
a radioactive source within the body, even a low-level source, can have
a comparable or even greater impact than a brief burst of high-level radiation.
When cells are quiescent, the usual state in an adult, cells are much more
resistant to radiation than when undergoing cell division or repair, both
of which involve DNA replication. In fact, during DNA replication cells
are 600 times more sensitive. This explains why continuous internal
low-level radiation caused by nuclear fallout or DU is so serious. It's
no wonder that infants and children are so vulnerable. Their rapidly growing
bodies are adding many new cells, hence, are replicating DNA at a much
faster rate. Photomicrographs of "hot particles" in lung tissue
also illustrate why the standard approach of averaging a low-level dose
over the whole body is wrong. In the photos the particles assume
a characteristic star pattern. The rays are the many tracks of alpha particles
in process of irradiating nearby cells. Compared with x-rays and gamma
rays, alpha particles are large and massive, hence, do not travel far in
the body. Yet, for this very reason all of their energy is deposited near
the point of emission. Over time, the local impact of low-level radiation
is more than enough to account for the mutagenic effects of falloutand
- Leukemia In The Balkans
- In 2001, news reports of cancer clusters in the Balkans
were not so easily dismissed as nothing but Serbian propaganda; and when
twenty-four NATO peacekeepers died from leukemia that same year a wave
of concern swept across Europe. Portugal accused NATO of a DU cover-up
and pulled its troops out of Kosovo. Italy called for a moratorium on the
use of DU weapons; and this was echoed by France, Germany, Norway and Greece. Some
nations began to screen their soldiers for DU exposure. In Kosovo a UN
a team sent to investigate found low-level beta radiation at eight of eleven
sites where DU weapons had been used. According to Pekka Havisto, the former
Finnish minister of the environment who headed up the team, the sites included
villages where children were seen playing. In Bosnia-Herzegovina
the UN team detected airborne DU particles at two sites, and confirmed
DU contamination of a local water supply. They also discovered that spent
DU rounds were corroding rapidly in the soil. Seven years after the Bosnian
war, the fragments had already lost 25% of their mass. The team estimated
that within 25-35 years the shells would disintegrate completely, and thus
posed a serious threat to ground water. The UN team prudently
recommended that all the fragments be promptly collected and removed. They
also urged precautionary measures, such as the monitoring of air and water
supplies. In 2003 Britain's most prestigious scientific body, the Royal
Society, repeated their advice when it called on the US and UK to clean
up the DU fragments scattered across Iraq during the two Gulf wars. But
Washington refused. During a BBC interview the Pentagon's spokesperson,
Lt. Col. David Lapan, reiterated the by-now familiar position that "there
are no long-term effects from DU;" hence, no need for a clean-up.
- In August 2001, after many invitations by the Iraqi government,
the World Health Organization (WHO) sent a delegation to Baghdad to investigate
the reported increase in cancer rates and birth defects. The initial
WHO visit prompted discussions at the United Nations, and proposals for
continued monitoring and research in order to confirm whether DU was responsible.
The result was a UN resolution, which came before the General Assembly
in November 2001. However, in the emotionally charged aftermath
of the September 11 attack, the US used its considerable influence to defeat
the resolution. Soon after, the Bush administration launched a round-the-clock
media blitz to persuade the American people that Saddam Hussein was linked
to Al Qaeda, hence, to the events of 9/11. This media circus had the unfortunate
effect of diverting attention from the growing concerns about the use of
DU. Even though the Bush administration offered not a scrap of evidence,
only rhetoric and innuendo, by the onset of the second Gulf War in March
2003, polls showed that a majority of Americans stood firmly behind the
president. A shocked international community looked on in disbelief, and
who can blame them, for the world knew better. The US mass media's spectacular
success in persuading a free society of this blatant lie was a propaganda
triumph far beyond the dubious achievements of the Nazi Third Reich. Indeed,
the episode is sufficiently horrifying that it should motivate all of us
who care about our country to take sober stock of what America has become.
- It's likely that the Bush administration also had a hand
in blocking the release of a 2001 World Health Organization (WHO) paper
on the effects of DU. The monograph was the work of Dr. Keith Baverstock,
the WHO's top radiation expert for 11 years. In 2004, after his retirement,
Baverstock charged that the WHO had suppressed his study. He told the London
Sunday Herald that "...the widespread use of depleted uranium weapons
in Iraq could pose a unique health hazard to the civilian population. There
is increasing scientific evidence that radioactivity and the chemical toxicity
of DU causes more damage to human cells than is assumed." Later,
in a BBC interview Baverstock described DU as "a potentially dangerous
carcinogen." He also hinted that political interference had prevented
his paper from being released in 2001. The doctor emphasized that
his report, had it not been suppressed, would have increased pressure on
the US and its UK ally to sharply limit their use of DU weapons in Afghanistan
- DU Health Crisis In Afghanistan?
- This begs the question: Just how much DU has the US expended
since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001? The estimates range
from 100-200 tons to 2,200 tons, or more. Unfortunately,
today the actual amount is unknown because the Pentagon has refused to
release this information, no doubt, because of mounting criticism. Yet,
there are indications that the upper DU estimates may be closer to the
true figure. A medical team dispatched to Afghanistan in May 2002 found
"astonishing levels" of uranium in the urine of everyone they
- Dr. Asaf Durakovic, who organized this monitoring effort,
is a former professor of medicine at Georgetown University. Years earlier,
in 1999, he had reported DU in the urine of US Gulf War veterans. Eight
years after Desert Storm the vets were still excreting copious amounts
of uranium. However, the level in the samples from Afghanistan was many
times higher, in fact, an astounding 100-400 times higher. Durakovic
concluded on this basis that the US military used even greater quantities
of DU weapons in Afghanistan than during the first Gulf War, perhaps including
a new class of DU penetrators. His team gathered the samples in Nangarhar
province, a strategically important area that includes Kabul, Jalalabad
and also Tora Bora, where the US probably used bunker-buster and seismic
shock weapons. A second batch of samples taken in September 2002 confirmed
the first survey, and also demonstrated contamination over a "potentially
much broader area." The team found sick Afghanis everywhere US bombing
had occurred, and the sick displayed the by-now familiar symptoms of Gulf
War illness. Durakovic told the BBC he was "stunned" by the results.
He made it clear he believes DU is implicated, since "in Afghanistan
there were no oil fires, no pesticides, and nobody had been vaccinated."
Then, he added, "if [the lab's] Nangarhar findings are corroborated
in other communities across Afghanistan, the country faces a severe public
health disaster. Every subsequent generation is at risk."
- At the time of the first Gulf War Dr. Durakovic headed
up a nuclear medicine program at a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital
in Wilmington, Delaware. Then an Army Colonel, Durakovic only learned after
the war that DU weapons had been used. "I was horrified," he
said. "I was a soldier, but above all, I am a doctor." When
sick veterans approached him in 1993 Durakovic attempted to care for them,
but soon got into trouble with his superiors and lost his job. He says
two other doctors, Dr. Burroughs and Dr. Slingerland at a VA facility in
Boston, also ran into trouble when they tried to order the medical equipment
needed to test for DU in the body.
- Durakovic eventually had to leave the United States after
warnings that his life was in danger because of his work on behalf of sick
veterans. In September 2000 Durakovic told a conference of nuclear scientists
in Paris that tens of thousands of American and British soldiers were dying
from their exposure to depleted uranium. He presented evidence
obtained with a mass spectrometer, documenting the presence of DU in the
lungs, bones and other organs of dead veterans. The findings confirmed
his suspicion that inhaled particles of DU move throughout the human body.
Durakovic has not minced words about DU. He says these are radiological
weapons that kill indiscriminately. He also emphasizes that infants
and children are the most affected because their developing bodies are
especially sensitive to the effects of ionizing radiation.
- An Indiscriminate Weapon?
- Recent evidence that aerosolized DU particles can travel
long distances supports Durakovic's assertion that DU has indiscriminate
effects. In February 2006 the London Sunday Times reported that within
days of the Shock and Awe phase of the second Gulf War radiation detectors
in the UK recorded a four-fold spike in air-born uranium.
- Since the 1980s Britain's Atomic Weapons Establishment
(AWE) has been required to monitor air samples at five nuclear plants (Aldermaston,
Green Audit, Castle Cottage, Sea View Place, and Aberystwyth) following
the discovery of a child-leukemia cluster near one of the facilities. The
samples are regularly collected by special high-volume air filters. After
the second Gulf War Dr. Chris Busby, a professor at Liverpool University,
sought to obtain the sampling data for analysis, in order to scrutinize
the government's position that depleted uranium used in combat does not
travel more than a few tens of meters before falling out of the air. Busby,
a well-known government advisor on low-level radiation, eventually did
obtain the samples, but only after a lengthy freedom-of-information battle.
Although the Halliburton Corporation, which currently manages the UK's
nuclear plants for the British government, refused to release the data,
in the end Busby obtained the recordings from a separate government agency.
Laboratory analyses of the samples then showed that within nine days of
the start of the March 2003 bombing of Iraq all five sites in the UK registered
a sudden rise in the level of uranium. On two occasions the levels exceeded
the threshold requiring notification of the UK's Environmental Agency.
In March 2006 Busby's research was published in a European science journal. In
his paper Busby and co-author Saoirse Morgan also presented meteorological
data supporting their contention that the prevailing winds had carried
the DU-laden dust/ash first northward from Iraq, then westward across Europe.
- Their charge that the use of DU shells during the war
exposed much of Europe to breathable uranium dust touched a raw political
nerve in the UK. Negative reaction was swift. Britain's Ministry of Defense
(MoD) summarily dismissed the charge. A number of experts agreed with the
MoD, and insisted that the uranium had to be of local origin. However,
no one was able to identify a source in the UK. One of the experts who
took issue with Busby's paper, Brian Spratt, offered a different hypothesis.
Spratt, who had chaired a DU study for the Royal Society, conceded that
the uranium might have come from Iraq on the wind. He argued, however,
that the probable source was not DU but natural uranium from the Iraqi
desert: stirred up by the US-UK invasion force. Spratt's hypothesis
was absurd, since Iraq has no significant deposits of natural uranium.
Yet, it was typical of the hasty responses occasioned by Busby's controversial
paper, as officials and experts scurried about frantically trying to explain
why the highest levels of uranium ever detected in the atmosphere over
Britain just happened to coincide with the March 2003 attack on Saddam
Hussein. Busby was not the first, however, to present hard evidence that
DU dust is highly mobile. Air monitors in Hungary and Greece detected a
similar spike in airborne uranium in the 1990s after the NATO bombing of
Kosovo and Bosnia; and, like Busby they too concluded it had arrived on
the wind, an ill omen.
- Genetic Mutilation?
- It is well-known that smoke and dust can travel long
distances. Dust from the Gobi desert frequently blows across the Pacific
to the American West, and ice cores taken from glaciers and ice sheets
provide a historical record of global volcanic activity. Certainly DU particles
in the soil can be re-suspended by desert wind-storms, which are common
in the Mideast. But re-suspension is not the only concern. According to
Leuren Moret, a geologist and former employee of the Lawrence Livermore
Laboratory, DU particles less than a micron in size can remain suspended
in the atmosphere for long periods. Moret has studied wind transport
systems and she says Busby is quite correct. DU particles can circle the
globe within a matter of weeks, hence, are likely to contaminate food and
water supplies thousands of miles from the point of origin, just as nuclear
fallout did in the era of atmospheric testing. Moret warns
that the long-term consequences of DU dispersal are likely to be similar.
The effects may also mimic the Chernobyl disaster, by now well-documented
despite a Russian cover-up and continuing efforts by the IAEA to downplay
the extent of the tragedy. In Belarus, even districts not in the direct
path of the radioactive plume later suffered a disturbing increase in cancers,
birth defects, infant mortality, and a drop in IQ scores and life expectancy.
Diseases formerly seen only in the elderly are now commonplace in younger
age groups. In fact, by every measure the health of the population has
declined. Moret calls this "genetic mutilation" and
she warns that because of DU's 4.5 billion year half-life, the impacts
will only grow more serious over time. Five-hundred years from now, assuming
the human race survives, no one will remember why the first and second
Gulf Wars were fought, but depleted uranium will still be wreaking havoc
with the human gene pool and in the wider biosphere. Moret points out that
shortly after America's 2003 invasion of Iraq the World Health Organization
(WHO) predicted a doubling of world cancer rates by 2020. What
prompted the dire prognostication? Did the US military's expenditure of
DU weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan have something to do with it? Moret
thinks the timing was not just a coincidence.
- Obviously, the US general staff is blind to the simple
truth that nothing, certainly not short-term military expedience, can justify
the long-term consequences of using DU weapons. The Pentagon cannot plead
ignorance, because, in addition to the sources already mentioned, a leaked
official document proves that the general staff was informed about DU's
toxic effects as early as 1943, when three top US scientists sent a report
to Brigadier Gen. Leslie R. Groves, director of the Manhattan Project. Their
report was titled the "Use of Radioactive Materials as a Military
Weapon" and it was signed by Drs. James B. Conant, Arthur. H. Compton,
and Harold C. Urey. Dr. Conant chaired the Chemistry department at Harvard
and went on to become president of that prestigious university. During
World War I he helped to develop mustard gas for the US Army. Compton,
even more famous, discovered Compton scattering of electromagnetic radiation
by electrons, also known as the Compton effect, for which he won the Nobel
Prize for physics in 1927. Harold Urey discovered deuterium, one of the
isotopes of hydrogen, and demonstrated the existence of "heavy"
water, for which he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1934. During the
Manhattan Project, Urey also helped to develop the gaseous diffusion method
of enriching uranium, the preferred method still in use today. In short,
all three men were extremely capable scientists, and in their 1943 report
to Groves they described how depleted uranium could be made into a gas
warfare agent by grinding the substance into particles of microscopic size.
Their report explained that DU weapons would be delivered using "ground-fired
projectiles" and "distributed in a dust or smoke form so finely
powdered that it will permeate a standard gas mask filter in quantities
large enough to be extremely damaging." The report mentioned that
such weapons could be used as a "terrain contaminant," that is,
to deny the enemy access to large areas of territory. It even predicted
the kinds of respiratory problems experienced by Doug Rokke's team. In
short, the 1943 report described in chilling detail the very weapon later
developed by the US Department of Defense.
- A number of disturbing conclusions follow from all of
this. They are unpleasant but must be faced squarely. In recent years,
White House spokespersons and national security advisers have repeatedly
warned that Islamic terrorists could strike cities in the US with radiological
weapons. In recent days we've heard these same warnings repeated,
again, this time in especially shrill tones. Based on the above evidence,
however, it's clear that America's leaders have already done what we've
accused terrorists of only planning to do. Worse, they've done it on a
greater scale. America's use of DU weapons has already caused the deaths
of hundreds of times more Iraqi and Afghani civilians, including women
and children, than died in the 9/11 attack. Moreover, it is likely that
the DU particles already released into the environment, given their insidious
effects and 4.5 billion year half-life, will go on killing innocent people
for a very long time, indeed, perhaps for the rest of human history, essentially
for all of time. In short, our leaders have permanently fouled our nest:
the ultimate atrocity. They cannot plead ignorance. As I have shown, the
toxic effects of DU were understood even at the time of the Manhattan Project.
Our leaders knew the facts, but used the weapons anyway, probably because
they just didn't carea breach of trust with the American
people so odious it can only be compared with an earlier US government
policy of utilizing American GIs as guinea pigs during the period of atmospheric
testing. We know that at least 300,000 American soldiers were willfully
exposed to high levels of radiation during dozens of nuclear tests; not
to mention the millions of American civilians who were also exposed to
- In short, our leaders are guilty of not merely incompetence,
nor even malfeasance, but of outright terrorism. Indeed, if the use of
DU weapons is not terrorism, the word has no meaning. No doubt, for this
reason, in June 2007, at a conference in Vancouver, BC, a gathering of
9/11 scholars and peace activists called for the creation of an international
tribunal to hold America's leaders accountable for crimes against humanity
and the environment. Their brave initiative deserves our support, because
it is absurd to think the US government will police itself. Thus far, the
US Congress has shown no sign of providing the necessary leadership. What
is clear is that if we fail to end the use of these weapons and bring the
guilty to justice, the people of the world will hold all Americans collectively
responsible; and rightly so. Our leaders' reckless and immoral use of DU
weapons in the name of freedom has seriously undermined not only America's
standing in the world, but also her security. Far from enhancing our security,
DU weapons have made us much more vulnerable. When the peoples of the earth
learn the terrible truth about what we've done, they will hate us more
than ever; and if they insist on retribution we will be lucky to escape
retaliatory strikes against American cities.
- With regard to 9/11, a further conclusion also appears
inescapable. Given that our leaders knowingly used weapons certain to kill,
injure and maim tens of thousands of our own soldiers, is it not likely
they are also capable of murdering a smaller number of American civilians
on 9/11 for similar reasons, i.e., out of political expedience? Given the
naked facts, it would be hard to conclude anything else.
- Mark H. Gaffney's latest book, Gnostic Secrets of the
Naassenes, was a finalist for the 2004 Narcissus Book Award. Mark can be
reached for comment at <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit his web site at www.GnosticSecrets.com
- 1 Beyond Treason, a film by William Lewis, American Gulf
War Vets. <http://www.beyondtreason.com>http://www.beyondtreason.com/
- 2 The DoD program is known as "Rods from God,"
and would involve the deployment in earth orbit of 20-foot long DU penetrator
rods, which could be fired at targets on earth, reaching 7,000 mph before
impact. Helen Caldicott and Craig Eisendrath, War in Heaven, The New Press,
New York, 2007, p. 82.
- 3 Nao Shimoyachi, "Citizens find Bush guilty of
Afghan war crimes," Japan Times, March 14, 2004. posted at
- 4 John Byrne, "US signs $38 million deal for depleted
uranium tank shells," The Raw Story, March 2, 3006. posted at http://rawstory.com/news/2006/U.S._signs_38_million_deal_for_0302.html
- 5 Scott Peterson, "The Monitor finds high levels
of radiation left by US armor-piercing shells," Christian Science
Monitor, May 15, 2003.
- 6 Interview with physicist Michio Kaku, in Poison Dust,
a 2005 film by Sara Flounders and Sue Harris, available from the Peoples
Rights Fund Poison Dust Project, 212-633-6646, or at
- 7 email from Doug Rokke, July 14, 2007.
- 8 According to Maj. Doug Rokke, former director of the
Army's Depleted Uranium Project, at the time of the fire the 3rd U.S. Army
Materiel Command's (AMC) DU assessment recovery team was well aware of
the hazards. So were the commanding officers on the scene who, unfortunately,
failed to implement the safety procedures specified in US Army Technical
Bulletin 9-1300-2378. Email from Doug Rokke, July 14, 2007.
- 9 The pertinent document is U.S. Army Technical Bulletin
9-1300-278, Guidelines for Safe Response to Handling, Storage and Transportation
Accidents Involving Army Tank Munitions or Armor Which Contain Depleted
Uranium, July 21, 1996.
- 10 email from Doug Rokke, July 14, 2007.
- 11 "Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted
Uranium Use in the US Army," US Army Environmental Policy Institute
(AEPI), June, 1995, p. 87.
- 12 Roke's team also prepared several reports and documents,
including: US Army Regulation 700-48, US Army PAM 700-48, and the DU CTT: Task
number: 031-503-1017 "RESPOND TO DEPLETED URANIUM/LOW LEVEL RADIOACTIVE
MATERIALS (DULLRAM) HAZARDS", STP 21-1-SMCT: Soldiers Manual of Common
Tasks, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, D.C.
- 13 David Rose, "Weapons of Self-Destruction,"
Vanity Fair, November, 2004.
- 14 David Edwards, "Army made video warning about
dangers of depleted uranium but never showed it to troops, February 6,
2007. posted at
- 15 David Rose, "Weapons of Self-Destruction,"
Vanity Fair, November, 2004.
- 16 Lt. Col. M.V. Ziehmn, "The Effectiveness of Depleted
Uranium Penetrators," Los Alamos National Laboratory memorandum, March
- 17 In April 2003 Assistant Secretary of Defense William
Winkenwerder claimed that only two members of Rokke's team had died. See
his letter "Depleted uranium poses no risks to troops," Miami
Herald, April 14, 2003.
- 18 Harley, N., Foulkes, E., Hilborne, L., Hudson, A.,
Anthony, C.R., "A Review of the Scientific Literature as it Pertains
to Gulf War Illnesses: Vol. 7 Depleted Uranium," National Defense
Research Institute (RAND), 1999. Also see Berlin, M., and B. Rudell, "Uranium,"
in L. Friberg, G. F. Nordberg, V. B. Vouk, eds., Handbook on the Toxicology
of Metals, 2nd ed., New York: Elsevier, 1986, pp. 617-637.
- 19 Spencer, H. S., D. Osis, I. M. Fisenne, P. Perry,
N. H. Harley, "Measured Intake and Excretion Patterns of Naturally
Occurring 238U and Calcium in Humans," Radiation Res, 24, 1990, pp.
90-95. The RAND team conceded, however, that in studies of rats GI absorption
was greater in juvenile rats, compared with adults, which suggests that
children are more vulnerable than adults. Foulkes, E. C., and D. Bergman,
"Inorganic Mercury Absorption and Mature and Immature Rat Jejunum:
Transcellular and Intercellular Pathways in Vivo and in Everted Sacs,"
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 120, 1993, pp. 89-95.
- 20 Gretel Munroe, "Health Effects of Depleted Uranium,"
Grassroots Actions for Peace, Military Toxics Project, October 2004.
- 21 "US Army Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term
Strategy Study," AMCCOM, 1990: D(1); also see J.A. Glissmeyer et al.,
Characterization Of Airborne Uranium From Test Firings Of XM774 Ammunition.
This study may be viewed on line at
- also see J.A. Glissmeyer, J. Mishima, and J.A. Bamberger,
"Prototype Firing Range Air Cleaning System," 19th DOE Nuclear
Airborne Waste Management and Air Cleaning Confer., Baltimore, Maryland
12-16 August, 1984, pp. 846-872.
- 22 "Army not Adequately Prepared to Deal with Depleted
Uranium Contamination," US General Accounting Office , GAO/NSIAD-93-90,
- 23 Hearing of the Presidential Special Oversight Board,
George Washington University, July 13, 1999, posted at
- 24 Pelmar, et al, "Distribution of uranium in rats
implanted with depleted uranium fragments," Toxicological Sciences,
Vol. 49, pp.2-39, 1999; McDiarmid, et al, "Health effects of depleted
uranium on exposed Gulf War veterans," Environmental Research, Vol.
82 (2) February, 2000, pp. 168-80.
- 25 Elizabeth Neuffer, "Iraqis Trace Surge in Cancer
to US Bombings," Boston Globe, January 26, 2003.
- 26 Larry Johnson, "Iraqi cancers, birth defects
blamed on US depleted uranium," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November
- 27 This is the work of Dr, Eric Wright, professor of
Experimental Haematology at the University of Dundee. For an overview of
his work go to
- 28 "When Cells are exposed to uranium they acquire
mutations," Medical News Today, April 9, 2006. Strearn's research
was published in the journals Mutagenesis and Molecular Carcinogenesis.
- 29 Alexandra C. Miller, et al, "Depleted uranium-catalyzed
oxidative DNA damage: absence of significant alpha particle decay,"
Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Vol. 91 (2002), pp. 246-252.
- 30 Ian Sample and Nic Fleming, "When the dust settles,"
The Guardian, April 17, 2003.
- 31 BBC Press Release: US and UK military continued to
use depleted uranium weapons despite cancer warnings, October 10, 2006.
- 32 Asaf Durakovic, "Undiagnosed Illnesses and Radioactive
Warfare," Croatian Medical Journal, 2003, Vol. 44, pp. 526.
- 33 Dr Thomas Fasy presented the results of the Basra
study on June 14, 2003 at the NPRI conference on "The Health Effects
of DU" at the New York Academy of Medicine. Dr. Fasy is an Associate
Professor of Pathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and had traveled
to Basra some months before where he met with the Iraqi doctors. The title
of his talk was "The Recent Epidemic of Malignancies and Congenital
Malformations in Southern Iraq: the biological plausibility of DU as a
carcinogen and teratogen."
- 34 Dr. Hari Sharma, "Investigations of Environmental
Impacts from the Deployment of Depleted Uranium-Based Munitions, December
2003. The paper is available through the Military Toxics Project at www.miltoxproj.org
- 35 Robert Collier, "Iraq Links Cancers to Uranium
Weapons," San Francisco Chronicle, January 13, 2003.
- 36 Some shocking photos are posted at
- 37 Doug Westerman, "Depleted Uranium - Far Worse
Than 9/11," Global Research, May 3, 2006.
- 38 Beyond Treason, a film by William Lewis, available
from Gulf War Vets. <http://www.beyondtreason.com>http://www.beyondtreason.com/
- 39 Rick Atkinson and Ann Devroy, "US Claims Iraqi
Nuclear Reactors Hit Hard," Washington Post, January 21, 1991.
- 40 DoE press release: Past Recycled Uranium Programs
Under Review as Energy Department Investigation Continues (provides updated
information on Cold War era operations), September 29, 1999. NATO was forced
to make a similar admission in 2001 after the UNEP team independently assayed
DU fragments from Kosovo. NATO press release, January 18, 2001
- 41 Karl Grossman, "US Plans to Wage War in Space,"
presentation in Toronto, Canada, October, 2000.