nukewatch banner

News & Information on Nuclear Weapons,
Power, Waste & Nonviolent Resistance



Nukewatch Quarterly

Depleted Uranium: Weapon of Mass Destruction

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. forces used depleted uranium as both armor piercing bullets and as tank armor for the first time. These weapons are both radioactive and toxic. Uranium Oxide particles formed during production, testing, and battlefield use pose a long term threat to human health and the environment.

Uranium weapons are effective antitank "penetrators" because they are extremely dense. A slug of uranium weighs twice as much as a piece of lead the same size. When alloyed with titanium, uranium is extremely hard. Uranium is also "pyrophoric", which means it burns upon impact.

The U.S. Military chose to develop uranium weapons not only because they are promised to be effective, but because the metal itself is very cheap. Depleted uranium is material that remains when enriched fissionable uranium- that is, capable of generating a nuclear explosion or nuclear power- is separated from natural uranium. The U.S. stockpile exceeds a billion pounds. Uranium weapons production is the nuclear bombmakers' idea of "recycling".

The Agent Orange of the 90's

Depleted Uranium is not capable of an atomic chain reaction. It is not considered a high-level radioactive material. As a metal slab, like the armor plates in the U.S. Army's M1 Abrams tanks, it is a relatively harmless. Though constant exposure could cause problems. But especially in particulate form, it can be extremely hazardous.

When uranium weapons burn, when they corrode, and when they are machined, uranium oxide dust is created. When inhaled, small particles-those less than 5 millionths of a meter-can lodge in a human lung tissue, exposing the host to a growing dose of alpha radiation. This can cause lung cancer in people of all ages, and is particularly hazardous to children.

Uranium, like lead and other heavy metals, is a chemical poison. The ingestion of minute quantities of uranium in food or drinking water can cause irreparable damage to the kidneys. Some experts consider this is a greater risk than radiation from depleted uranium.

Uranium weapons may be the "Agent Orange of the 90's" because large numbers of people, friend and foe are being exposed to uranium oxide dust. We won't know for 20-30 years the full significance of that exposure, but by then it will be too late. Here are a few examples of that exposure:

The U.S. Military, which fired thousands of uranium shells during the Persian Gulf War, left at least 387 tons of spent uranium munitions in Kuwait and southern Iraq after the war. The U.S. Government believes, based upon weapons tests in the U.S. and general knowledge about wind patterns, that there is no health or environmental hazard, but it has not undertaken any study of battlefield areas.

After the Persian Gulf War, contaminated U.S. armored vehicles were prepared for disposal in the United States. The U.S. soldiers--at least 25-- who handled those vehicles were not warned of DU hazards or wore any protective gear.

Army weapons testers at the Jefferson Proving Ground in Indiana fired DU rounds at soft targets-cloth or plywood- to avoid combustion. Still, only 22,000kg of the 91,000kg fired there between 1984 and 1992 were recovered in biannual clearance operations. The Army will have to strip away several feet of soil during decontamination. This will increase soil erosion and the migration of DU.

The NRC permitted Nellis Air Force Base to receive and process up to 77,000 lbs. of DU rounds. These rounds were used in testing on the base's Range 63 using tanks as targets. In 1980, NL Industries Uranium Weapons factory in Clonie, New York was forced to close. Uranium particles were found as far as 26 miles downwind.

In 1981, workers at Aerojet's TNS Uranium Weapons Plant in Jonesborough, Tennessee went on strike because of plant conditions that caused an epidemic of uranium poisoning.

At Nuclear Metals Inc., which manufactures uranium weapons in Concord, Massachusetts, radioactive materials have contaminated surface water, ground water, and land. Independent testing done by Citizens Research and Environmental Watch(CREW), a local grassroots organization, found DU 18 times the background level and up to 9/10ths of a mile away. Concord has the second highest level of thyroid cancer in the state, 2 1/2 times the state average. -- Military Toxics Project


Alexandra C. Miller is a senior scientist with the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Miller has numerous publications in the area of depleted uranium health hazards and is the author of Depleted Uranium, Properties, Uses, and Health Consequences from the CRC Press.

Urinary and serum mutagenicity studies with
rats implanted with depleted uranium or
tantalum pellets

Miller - Mutagenicity in Rats - 1998
pdf file

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War several US military personnel were wounded by shrapnel fragments consisting of depleted uranium. These fragments were treated as conventional shrapnel and were not surgically removed to spare excessive tissue damage. Uranium bioassays conducted over a year after the initial uranium injury indicated a significant increase in urine uranium levels above natural background levels. The potential mutagenic effects of depleted uranium are unknown. To assess the potential mutagenic effects of long-term exposure to internalized depleted uranium, Sprague-Dawley rats were implanted with depleted uranium and their urine and serum were evaluated for mutagenic potential at various times after pellet implantation using the Ames Salmonella reversion assay. Tantalum, an inert metal widely used in prosthetic devices was used for comparison. Enhancement of mutagenic activity in Salmonella typhiurium strain TA98 and the Ames II™ mixed strains (TA7001-7006) was observed in urine samples from animals implanted with depleted uranium pellets. In contrast, urine samples from animals implanted with tantalum did not show a significant enhancement of mutagenic activity in these strains. In depleted uranium-implanted animals, urine mutagenicity increased in a dose- and time-dependent manner demonstrating a strong positive correlation with urine uranium levels (r = 0.995, P < 0.001). There was no mutagenic enhancement of any bacterial strain detected in the sera of animals implanted with either depleted uranium or tantalum pellets. The results suggest that uranium content in the urine is correlated with urine mutagenicity and that urinary mutagenicity might be used as a biomarker to detect exposure to internalized uranium.

Depleted uranium-catalyzed oxidative DNA damage: absence of significant
alpha particle decay

Miller - DNA Damage - 2002
pdf file

Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense heavy metal used primarily in military applications. Published data from our laboratory have demonstrated that DU exposure in vitro to immortalized human osteoblast cells (HOS) is both neoplastically transforming and genotoxic. DU possesses both a radiological (alpha particle) and a chemical (metal) component. Since DU has a low-specific activity in comparison to natural uranium, it is not considered to be a significant radiological hazard. In the current study we demonstrate that DU can generate oxidative DNA damage and can also catalyze reactions that induce hydroxyl radicals in the absence of significant alpha particle decay. Experiments were conducted under conditions in which chemical generation of hydroxyl radicals was calculated to exceed the radiolytic 6 generation by 10 -fold. The data showed that markers of oxidative DNA base damage, thymine glycol and 8-deoxyguanosine could be induced from DU-catalyzed reactions of hydrogen peroxide and ascorbate similarly to those occurring in the presence of iron catalysts. DU was 6-fold more efficient than iron at catalyzing the oxidation of ascorbate at pH 7. These data not only demonstrate that DU at pH 7 can induced oxidative DNA damage in the absence of significant alpha particle decay, but also suggest that DU can induce carcinogenic lesions, e.g. oxidative DNA lesions, through interaction with a cellular oxygen species. Published by Elsevier Science Inc.


Effect of the militarily-relevant heavy metals, depleted uranium and heavy metal tungsten-alloy on gene expression in human liver carcinoma cells (HepG2)

Miller Human Liver Cancer 2004
pdf file

Depleted uranium (DU) and heavy-metal tungsten alloys (HMTAs) are dense heavy-metals used primarily in military applications. Chemically similar to natural uranium, but depleted of the higher activity 235U and 234U isotopes, DU is a low specific activity, high-density heavy metal. In contrast, the non-radioactive HMTAs are composed of a mixture of tungsten (91–93%), nickel (3–5%), and cobalt (2–4%) particles. The use of DU and HMTAs in military munitions could result in their internalization in humans. Limited data exist however, regarding the long-term health effects of internalized DU and HMTAs in humans. Both DU and HMTAs possess a tumorigenic transforming potential and are genotoxic and mutagenic in vitro. Using insoluble DU-UO2 and a reconstituted mixture of tungsten, nickel, cobalt (rWNiCo), we tested their ability to induce stress genes in thirteen different recombinant cell lines generated from human liver carcinoma cells (HepG2). The commercially available CAT-Tox (L) cellular assay consists of a panel of cell lines stably transfected with reporter genes consisting of a coding sequence for chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) under transcriptional control by mammalian stress gene regulatory sequences. DU, (5–50 μg/ml) produced a complex profile of activity demonstrating significant dose-dependent induction of the hMTIIA FOS, p53RE, Gadd153, Gadd45, NFκBRE, CRE, HSP70, RARE, and GRP78 promoters. The rWNiCo mixture (5–50 μg/ml) showed dose-related induction of the GSTYA, hMTIIA, p53RE, FOS, NFκBRE, HSP70, and CRE promoters. An examination of the pure metals, tungsten (W), nickel (Ni), and cobalt (Co), comprising the rWNiCo mixture, demonstrated that each metal exhibited a similar pattern of gene induction, but at a significantly decreased magnitude than that of the rWNiCo mixture. These data showed a synergistic activation of gene expression by the metals in the rWNiCo mixture. Our data show for the first time that DU and rWNiCo can activate gene expression through several signal transduction pathways that may be
involved in the toxicity and tumorigenicity of both DU and HMTAs.

Transformation of Human Osteoblast Cells to the Tumorigenic Phenotype by Depleted Uranium-Uranyl Chloride

Miller - Human Tumor - 1998
pdf file

Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense heavy metal used primarily in military applications. Although the health effects of occupational uranium exposure are well known, limited data exist regarding the long-term health effects of internalized DU in humans. We established an in vitro cellular model to study DU exposure. Microdosimetric assessment, determined using a Monte Carlo computer simulation based on measured intracellular adn extracellular uranium levels, showed that few (0.0014%) cell nuclei were hit by alpha particles. We report the ability of DU-uranyl chloride to transform immortalized human osteoblastic cells (HOS) to the tumorigenic phenotype. DU-uranyl chloride-transformants are characterized by anchorage-indeendent growth, tumor formation in mice, expression of high levels of the k-ras oncogene, reduced production of the Rb tumor-suppressor protein, and elevated levels of sister chromatid exchanges per cell. DU-uranyl chloride treatment resulted in a 9.6 (± 2.8) -fold increase in transformation frequency compared to untreated cells. In comparison, nickel sulfate resulted in a 7.1 (± 2.1) -fold increase in transformation frequency. This is the first report showing that a DU compound caused human cell transformation to the neoplastic phenotype. Although additional studies are needed to determine if protracted DU exposure produces tumors in vivio, the implication from these in vitro results is that the risk of cancer induction from internalized DU exposure may be comparable to other biologically reactive and carcinogenic heavy-metal compounds (e.g., nickel). Environ Health Perspect 106:465-471 (1998). [Online 6 July 1998]

Genomic instability in human osteoblast cells after exposure to depleted uranium: delayed lethality and micronuclei formation

Miller - JER - Genomic - 2003
pdf file

It is known that radiation can induce a transmissible persistent destabilization of the genome. We have established an in vitro cellular model using HOS cells to investigate whether genomic instability plays a role in depleted uranium (DU)-induced effects. Transmissible genomic instability, manifested in the progeny of cells exposed to ionizing radiation, has been characterized by de novo chromosomal aberrations, gene mutations, and an enhanced death rate. Cell lethality and micronuclei formation were measured at various times after exposure to DU, Ni, or gamma radiation. Following a prompt, concentration-dependent acute response for both endpoints, there was de novo genomic instability in progeny cells. Delayed reproductive death was observed for many generations (36 days, 30 population doublings) following exposure to DU, Ni, or gamma radiation. While DU stimulated delayed production of micronuclei up to 36 days after exposure, levels in cells exposed to gamma-radiation or Ni returned to normal after 12 days. There was also a persistent increase in micronuclei in all clones isolated from cells that had been exposed to nontoxic concentrations of DU. While clones isolated from gamma-irradiated cells (at doses equitoxic to metal exposure) generally demonstrated an increase in micronuclei, most clonal progeny of Ni-exposed cells did not. These studies demonstrate that DU exposure in vitro results in genomic instability manifested as delayed reproductive death and micronuclei formation.
Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.

Leukemic transformation of hematopoietic cells
in mice internally exposed to depleted uranium

Miller - Leukemia in Mice - 2005
pdf file

Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense heavy metal used in military applications. During military conflicts, US military personnel have been wounded by DU shrapnel. The health effects of embedded DU are unknown. Published data from our laboratory demonstrated thatDUexposure in vitro can transform immortalized human osteoblast cells (HOS) to the tumorigenic phenotype. Results from our laboratory have also shown that DU is genotoxic and mutagenic in cultured human cells. Internalized DU could be a carcinogenic risk and concurrent alpha particle and heavy metal toxic effects complicate this potential risk. Anecdotal reports have suggested that DU can cause leukemia. To better assess this risk, we have developed an in vivo leukemogenesis model. This model involves using murine hematopoietic cells (FDC-P1) that are dependent on stimulation by granulocytemacrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) or interleukin 3 (IL-3) and injected into mice to produce myeloid leukemia. Although immortalized, these cells are not tumorigenic on subcutaneous inoculation in mice. Intravenous injection of FDC-P1 cells into DU-implanted DBA/2 mice was followed by the development of leukemias in 76% of all mice implanted with DU pellets. In contrast, only 12% of control mice developed leukemia. Karyotypic analysis confirmed that the leukemias originated from FDC-P1 cells. The growth properties of leukemic cells from bone marrow, spleen, and lymph node were assessed and indicate that the FDC-P1 cells had become transformed in vivo. The kidney, spleen, bone marrow, muscle, and urine showed significant elevations in tissue uranium levels prior to induction of leukemia. These results demonstrated that a DU altered in vivo environment may be involved in the pathogenesis of DU induced leukemia in an animal model. (Mol Cell Biochem 279: 97–104, 2005)

Nukewatch Quarterly:

Spring 2016
"The most toxic war in history"--25 Years Later

Winter 2015-16
US Seeks Safer Munitions, Citing Opposition to Depleted Uranium

Spring 2015
Pentagon Announces U-turn on Depleted Uranium Attacks Against Iraq & Syria

Winter 2014-15
US A-10 Gunships Armed with Depleted Uranium Re-Join War on Iraq
Coordinates Needed for Clean-up of Dangerous Sites in Iraq

Fall 2014
Depleted Uranium's Toxic Legacy: Perpetually Endangering Exposed Populations

Spring 2014
A Flawed WHO Study of Iraqi Birth Defects
Study: Uranium Weapons Debris Long-lived in Target Zone

Winter 2012-2013
UN General Assembly Slams Uranium Weapons, Urges Precaution & Transparency

Summer 2013
Depleted Uranium Updates

Fall 2011
"Depleted" Uranium, by Any Other Name...

Winter 2010-2011
UN Wants Target Data from Depleted Uranium Shooters
Minnesota DU Profiteer, Worn Down, Allows Critics into Meeting

Fall 2010
Depleted Uranium Updates

Summer 2010
Uranium Weapons Update

Spring 2010
Manual Challenges Denial of DU Use in Afghanistan
US Set to End Use of Some DU
Costa Rica Bans Production of DU Weapons in Zonas Francas

Fall 2009
Depleted Uranium Weapons Under Siege
      German Armed Forces Contradict U.S. Denials Over DU in Afghanistan
      Pentagon Think Tank Urges Accelerated Search for DU Replacement
      Uranium Travels Nerves From Nose to Brain
      Belgian Parliament Votes Unanimously to Ban Depleted Uranium Weapon Investments
Vieques Aghast at Navy Exploding, Burning of live DU and Other Munitions
DU Activists Busted for Nothing, Again

Summer 2009
Uranium Weapons Update
       Norway to Fund ICBUW Research
       Charges Dismissed Against Shareholders Arrested at ATK
       Feds Ignore Risks of Dumping Tons of DU in Trenches

Spring 2009
"Depleted" Uranium Weapons Update

Winter 2008

Uranium Weapons Under Scrutiny Around the World

Fall 2008
National Academy of Sciences Slams Pentagon's Studies of
      Uranium Weapons Health Effects
New Hypothesis for DU - Cancer Link
UN Members Submit Tepid DU Warnings to Sec. Gen., Urge Study
New Law Book on Combat use of DU Urges
      Militaries to Approach with Caution

Summer 2008
Nukewatch on Uranium Weapons, Before the
      Dutch Parliament's Committee on Defense
13 Million Pounds of "Unimportant" DU Waste Sent From Kuwait to U.S.
European Parliament Strengthens Call for DU Moritorium
The U.S. Knew About Consequences of Depleted Uranium - British Expert

Spring 2008
Uranium Weapons

Winter 2007-2008
Uranium Weapons Updates

Summer 2007
Uranium Weapons Update ... Belgium, Maine, California, Hawaii, Oregon ...

Spring 2007
Scotland & England, an Anti-Nuclear "Jolly"
      by John LaForge
Uranium Weapons Updates
      by John LaForge
      European Parliament Passes Fourth Resolution Calling for DU Ban
      Charges Dismissed Against DU Protesters
      World Uranium Summit Promises Resistance
      DU "Killing Italian Troops"
Aerojet's DU Weapons Production Targeted by CPT

Plutonium in DU Weapons, a Chronology
Nukewatch Has a Word in the House of Commons

Winter 2006 - 07
Depleted Uranium Update
      78 Busted at DU Profiteer After War Resisters Conference
       Britain Spent Over $727.5 Million Developing DU
       BBC: The Government "Ignores" Depleted Uranium's Cancer Risk
       Peacemaker Teams Target DU Production At Two Sites

Are There Alliant Techsystems Protest Sites Near You?

Fall 2006
Depleted Uranium Update

Summer 2006 Pathfinder
Depleted Uranium Shuffle in the U.S.
   West Concord, Massachusetts
   Colonie, New York
   Gore, Oklahoma
   Vieques, Puerto Rico

Spring 2006 Pathfinder
PSR Minimizes Depleted Uranium's Health Hazards
By Henk van der Keur
British Radiation Jump Blamed on DU
Alliant Wins $38 Million DU Contract

Winter 2005 - 06 Pathfinder
'Depleted' Uranium Around the World

"Depleted" Uranium Weapons Update
    By John LaForge - Fall 2005 Pathfinder

Opponents Prevail Over U.S. Gene-Busting Dirty Bombs:
"Depleted" Uranium Munitions Get Third Legal Black Eye in 15 Months
    By John M. LaForge
    in Z magazine, July/August 2005

Summer 2005, The Pathfinder:
Depleted Uranium Update

Spring 2005, The Pathfinder:
‘ Not Guilty’

Not Guilty Continued
Contaminated DU site Evaluated for Cleanup

Winter 2004 - 2005, The Pathfinder:
Alliant Techsystems Profits Increase with War
Alliant’s Uranium Pollution Exposed
Iraq’s Provisional Government Seeks DU Cleanup; U.S. Denies Risks

Dec 21 2004, from John La Forge:
A Losing Streak Broken: Law Prevails Over Alliant's Poison Weapons

Dec 20 2004, from Nukewatch:
Two Groups of Weapons Protesters Found 'Not Guilty' of Trespass
Closing Argument from the Trial

Fall 2004: The Pathfinder:
Increased Cancer Risk from Plutonium

Summer 2004: The Pathfinder:
Radioactive warfare: DU update
British Gulf War Vets’ Babies 50 Percent More Likely to Have Birth Defects

December 14 2003, from the Guardian/UK:
Army Shells Pose Cancer Risk in Iraq
by Antony Barnett

December 4 2003, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Activists want depleted-uranium munitions labeled
by Larry Johnson

Winter 2003-04, from the Nukewatch Pathfinder:
Uranium Weapons Poisoning Iraq
by John LaForge

November 23 2003:
DU Munitions Transport Secrecy - An Action Plan

November 22 2003, from the Japan Times:
Ex-military doctor decries use of depleted uranium weapons
by Nao Shimoyachi

October 2003, from the Nukewatch Fact Sheet:

October 23 2003, from the World Uranium Weapons Conference:
The Trojan Horse of Nuclear War

October 22 2003, from ThePulse:
Alliant 28 found not guilty by jury of citizens
by Steve Clemens

October 6 2003, from the Traprock Peace Center:
FOIA Document shows Navy has been aware of problems associated with DU since at least 14 May 1984

September 21 2003, from the London Telegraph:
Army's new tank gun will end use of controversial uranium-tipped shells
by Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

September 9 2003, from Bring Them Home Now:
Why Weapons Containing Depleted Uranium Are Illegal
by Karen Parker, J.D.

August 4 2003, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
War’s Unintended Effects:
Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons Lingers As Health Concern

by Larry Johnson, Foreign Desk Editor

June 27, 2003, from In These Times:
Weapons of Mass Deception
by Frida Berrigan

June 3, 2003, from the BBC:
UK troops' depleted uranium tests 'invalid’

May 30 2003, from PANOS:
Depleted uranium: weapon of (long-term) mass destruction
by Felicity Arbuthnot in Baghdad

May 15 2003, from the Christian Science Monitor:
Less DU in this war?
by Scott Peterson

April 25 2003, from The Guardian:
Uranium hazard prompts cancer check on troops
by Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent

also April 25 2003, from The Guardian:
About Depleted Uranium
by Alok Jha

April 20 2003, from the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate:
Depleted uranium shells controversial in two wars
By Louis Porter, Staff Writer

April 17 2003, from The Guardian:
Scientists Urge Shell Clear-Up to Protect Civilians
by Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent

April 16 2003, from the Idaho Observer:
Death By Slow Burn - How America Nukes Its Own Troops
by Amy Worthington

March 10 2003, from Wired Magazine:
U.S. Stocking Uranium-Rich Bombs?
by Elliot Borin

March 2003, from Nukewatch:
DU Spiked with Plutonium

- a chart in .pdf format

Spring 2003, from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (UK):
Two Reports from CADU News

February 16 2003, from the Sunday Herald:
Gaffe exposes monitoring sham: Ministry of Defense admits officer's slip-up is ‘unhelpful’
by Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

January 2003, from the University of Belgrade,
Politics and Environmental Policy in the 21st Century:
Uranium Weapons Cover-ups - a Crime against Humankind
by Piotr Bein, Ph.D., M.A.Sc., P.Eng., and
Karen Parker, J.D., Diplome (Strasbourg)

January 31 2003, from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (UK) -
'What they publicized:
from Depleted Uranium Scare

..and what they didn't publicize:'

Some of the U.S. Government's Documentation of Harmful Effects of D.U. Weapons

January 17 2003, from the Times-Standard:
Arcata asks for ban on depleted uranium
by James Faulk

January 9 2003, from the Seattle Times:
Navy's ammo has environmentalists, others up in arms
by Ray Rivera and Craig Welch, Times staff reporters

January 7 2003, from the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action:
Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons fired by U.S. Navy on Washington coast

December 20 2002, from the Christian Science Monitor:
A 'Silver Bullet's' Toxic Legacy
by Scott Peterson

November 12 2002, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Iraqi Cancers, Birth Defects Blamed on U.S. Depleted Uranium
by Larry Johnson

Fall 2002, from the Nukewatch Pathfinder:
Depleted Uranium Weapons Tied to Genetic Damage & Leukemia
by John LaForge

March 2002, from LeMonde:
Depleted Uranium in Bunker Bombs
by Robert James Parsons

January 23 2001, from NATO - updated February 13 2003:
U.S. Information Paper on Depleted Uranium
by the AD HOC Committee on Depleted Uranium (AHCDU)

Recent articles on Depleted Uranium munitions

Groups Working on DU

Journalists Reporting on DU


Nukewatch email: