Uranium in War: The US in Kosovo
Every nation with a nuclear industry has access to depleted uranium (DU). In addition to the US and Britain, some 17 countries are known to have DU weapons, including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Thailand, Israel and France. Governments and the nuclear industry refuse to admit the human health effects of exposure to DU because this could force them to pay millions in compensation, and probably cause the closure of all nuclear industries that expose workers and the public to low levels of radiation.
A June 1994 US Army Environmental Policy Institute (AEPI) report critical of the use of DU in the Gulf War has not been widely distributed, even to members of the US Congress. Ignoring the danger, the US and UK used DU in Bosnia. The US alone used it extensively in Kosovo. Veterans and peacekeepers exposed to DU during these wars have reported severe illnesses including leukemia and cancers.
Depleted uranium is still radioactive. One gram of DU emits more than 12,000 cell-damaging alpha particles per second.
Although the public has been assured that this radioactive and toxic debris poses no hazard to human or environmental health, workers at the uranium enrichment facilities experience illnesses similar to those of Gulf War veterans. There are several problems with these assurances. They are based on epidemiological studies of uranium dust inhalation, whereas in battle, exploding DU shells create tiny aerosol particles called ceramic uranium. These radioactive particles remain in the body longer, thereby increasing their biological damage to tissues.
Physicists calculate the energy that a uranium atom releases into the surrounding tissue in a sphere of about 30 microns (0.03mm) and average it over the whole body. The reality is that the localized dose can cause serious rupture of the DNA and tissue lesions.
From the point of view of longevity, DU is worse than a land mine. The human senses cannot detect it and it can cause years of agony and death for women, men and children well into the future. There is no international law, treaty regulation or custom that requires the US to decontaminate and restore the poisoned Persian Gulf environment.
For more information: Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark's International Action Center [39 West 14th Street, No. 206, New York, NY 10011, ] has conducted hearings to hold the US and NATO responsible for violations of international law for its use of DU in Kosovo.
© Earth Island Journal,Winter 2001-2002
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