Ex-military doctor decries use of depleted uranium weapons

The Japan Times

Staff writer

The depleted uranium rounds the U.S. and British forces were believed to have used in the war on Iraq may have subjected parts of the country to heavy radioactive contamination, a visiting U.S.-based doctor of nuclear medicine has warned. Asaf Durakovic, director of the Uranium Medical Research Center, an independent organization with offices in the United States and Canada, said his research team conducted a three-week field trip to Iraq last month. It collected about 100 samples of substances such as soil, civilian urine and the tissue from the corpses of Iraqi soldiers in 10 cities, including Baghdad, Basra and Najaf.

Durakovic said preliminary tests show that the air, soil and water samples contained "hundreds to thousands of times" the normal levels of radiation. But he must wait another three months before getting the final results, he said.

Durakovic spent 19 years as a military doctor for the U.S. Defense Department, and studied the health of veterans after the 1991 Gulf War.

"This high level of contamination is because much more depleted uranium was used this year than in (the Gulf War of) 1991," Durakovic told The Japan Times.

The Pentagon has admitted using some 300 tons of depleted uranium during the Gulf War. Durakovic puts the amount used in the latest war on Iraq at 1,700 tons.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium-enrichment process in nuclear reactors. Due to its extreme density, it is used on armor-piercing rounds, and is also used to enhance tank armor.

Depleted uranium rounds release fine radioactive particles upon impact, Durakovic said. If the particles are inhaled, they enter the lymph nodes and bones and can remain within the body for years.

"We analyzed the urine of American war veterans" of the 1991 Gulf War, he said. "Nine years after (my initial tests), they are still positive."

Depleted uranium was first used during the Gulf War by U.S. and British forces. It is believed to have also been used in NATO airstrikes on Kosovo in 1999 and the U.S-led antiterror campaign in Afghanistan that began in 2001.

Critics say the number of Iraqi cancer patients and children born with birth defects is rising, and they blame depleted uranium weapons.

The weapons are also suspected of being a contributing cause of "Gulf War Syndrome," which is reportedly suffered by tens of thousands of U.S., British, Canadian and French veterans who participated in Operation Desert Shield. Their ills include leukemia, chronic fatigue, swollen joints and depression.

Durakovic said he was forced to resign from his position at the Pentagon in 1996 because of his studies. The U.S. and British governments deny that depleted uranium can be harmful to human health, he said.

"They are hampering efforts to prove the connection between depleted uranium and the illness," Durakovic said. "They do not want to admit that they committed war crimes" by using weapons that kill indiscriminately, which are banned under international law.

He said he suspects that such factors as the huge cost of conducting thorough research into the effects of depleted uranium, which he said would take "billions of dollars," and the need to dispose of huge stockpiles of radioactive waste produced through nuclear power generation are contributing to the governments' unwillingness.

But Durakovic remains optimistic. "We will soon know more (about depleted uranium's effects) because the world is learning more and more about the hiding of the truth," he said.

The Japan Times: Nov. 22, 2003 (C) All rights reserved

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