Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2014
Two major reports are bringing renewed international attention on the US military’s scandalous use against Iraq of munitions made of radioactive waste called “depleted uranium,” or DU. The Pentagon has employed the controversial DU shells because of their reported armor-piercing power and because the United States military is saddled with 700,000 tons of the waste uranium-238.
The first report, “Laid to Waste: depleted uranium contaminated military scrap in Iraq,” published in June by the Dutch organization PAX, is based on newly released US Air Force firing coordinates and shows that US pilots fired DU into civilian areas of Iraq and at Iraqi troops during the 2003 invasion and occupation. The actions defied the Air Force’s own legal advice that the toxic and radioactive ammunition be used only against hardened targets in compliance with the laws of war.
The PAX report’s principle warning is that the lack of legal obligations requiring environmental clean-up after using DU weapons — at least 488 tons in the 1991 and 2003 attacks — leaves Iraqi civilians continuously exposed to the highly hazardous debris years after the war.
The second report, “Malignant Effects: depleted uranium as a genotoxin and carcinogen,” published in September by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons with funding by Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, details the scientific evidence that internal contamination by DU is destructive of DNA — the building blocks of cells.
The 31-page study details the persistent hazards to civilians posed by radioactively contaminated wreckage and hotspots “long after conflict ends.” If inhaled, drunk or eaten, embedded uranium particles emit alpha radiation that can alter or destroy DNA in ways that can cause cancer. Some studies have shown skyrocketing increases in birth abnormalities in areas heavily hit with DU weapons.
The authors recommend 1) full disclosure of targeting information, much of which is still kept secret by the Pentagon; 2) urgent initiation of civilian DU exposure studies; 3) the adoption of precautionary safeguards in the introduction of any new weapons; and 4) completion and adoption of an international agreement banning the use of uranium in weapons system. — Both reports are at International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, icbuw.org