Depleted uranium weapons

In the months and years following the armed conflicts in the Persian Gulf (1991 and 2003) and Kosovo (1995), a large number of soldiers, UN peacekeepers, and civilians have exhibited unexpected and unexplained health problems, including excess leukaemias and other cancers, neurological disorders, birth defects, and a constellation of symptoms loosely gathered under the rubric "Gulf War Illnesses."

Depleted uranium (DU), because of its radioactivity and chemical toxicity, has been linked to these acute health effects in the press and in public forums. Some opponents of uranium weapons have categorically asserted that exposure to depleted uranium is the direct cause of these excess cancers. US and NATO officials, citing the published research on the health effects of uranium, have dismissed DU as a potential cause of the acute health effects for which it has been blamed.

The term “depleted uranium” is, however, misleading in that uranium-236, plutonium, americium and other transuranic elements are common contaminants, contrary to industry specifications. These extremely toxic and radioactive substances are spent nuclear fuels and other nuclear waste which enter the DU production stream at the ‘post-fission’ stage of the nuclear chain, i.e after the fuel has been through the reactor. Although they are present only in trace quantities, they significantly increase the toxicity and radioactivity of DU munitions.

Clearly, there is potential for human contamination by particles of uranium oxide.

Inhaled particles of less than 2.5 microns diameter can enter deep into the lungs and may move from the lung to the lymph nodes and bone. Embedded fragments in wounds may solubilise and redistribute in brain, lymph nodes, gonads, liver, kidney, and spleen, with the highest concentrations in skeletal tissue.

Uranium is also a heavy metal, with the attendant chemical toxicity.

The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, which reports to the US Department of Defence, has itself stated that DU can pose a chemical toxicity and radiological hazard under specific conditions. Moreover, any impurities that may have found their way into the DU munitions used in either the Gulf or the Balkans - including plutonium, actinides, and the highly radioactive manufactured isotope U-236 - pose unquestionably serious health threats. more...

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