Monday, November 19, 2007

Depleted uranium IS a health hazard — is its military use a war crime?

An upstate New York town that was the location of an old uranium plant demonstrates just how hazardous it is.

The US federal government and the firm that ran the factory, National Lead (NL) Industries, have been assuring former workers and residents around the 18-acre site for decades that, although it is true that the plant used to produce unacceptable levels of radioactive pollution, it was not a serious health hazard.

Now, in a development with potentially devastating implications not only for Colonie but also for the future use of some of the West's most powerful weapon systems, that claim is being challenged. In a paper to be published in the next issue of the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment, a team led by Professor Randall Parrish of Leicester University reports the results of a three-year study of Colonie, funded by Britain's Ministry of Defence.

Parrish's team has found that DU contamination, which remains radioactive for millions of years, is in effect impossible to eradicate, not only from the environment but also from the bodies of humans. Twenty-three years after production ceased they tested the urine of five former workers. All are still contaminated with DU. So were 20 per cent of people tested who had spent at least 10 years living near the factory when it was still working.

Of course, the U.S. and U.K. defense establishments have denied repeatedly that DU-enhanced tank shells and other ordinance fired during the Gulf War was the cause of soaring Iraqi cancer rates, or Gulf War Syndrome among their own troops.

More below the fold:

This is an obvious military problem:
When DU “penetrators” — armour-piercing shells that form the standard armament of some of Britain's and America's most commonly deployed military aircraft and vehicles — strike their targets, 10 per cent or more of the heavy DU metal burns at high temperatures, producing oxide particles very similar to those at Colonie.

TV footage shot in Baghdad in 2003 shows children playing in the remains of tanks coated with thick, black DU oxide, while there have long been claims that the DU shells that destroyed Saddam Hussein's tanks in the 1991 Gulf war were responsible for high rates of cancer in places such as Basra.

Parrish's team includes David Carpenter, an environmental health expert from Albany University. “DU burns, it releases particulates that can be breathed in, and it doesn't go away,” he says. “The issue does not concern military personnel as much as civilian populations in theatres where they are used. Now we know that we can still find measurable levels of DU among the people of Colonie, we need a much bigger study to establish whether they have suffered disproportionate ill-effects such as cancers as a consequence. If they have, it would raise a serious ethical challenge to the use of these weapons. Arguably it could constitute a war crime.”

Nice lie by the governments. Would they like to try again? Or just add one more war crime to the list of W and his British lapdog?
Depleted uranium (DU) is the residue left in massive quantities when bomb-grade uranium is refined to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.

The densest naturally occurring metal, it is used to make armour-penetrating shells, standard armament for some of the West’s most widely deployed military aircraft and vehicles, such as Bradley armoured cars, Abrams tanks, and Jaguar A10 fighter planes.

Less intensely radioactive than bomb-grade uranium, DU emits alpha particles, known to cause cancers.

DU weapons that strike their targets produce clouds of tiny uranium oxide particles, which lodge in the lungs and other soft tissues such as the brain and bone marrow.

DU shells were widely used in the 1991 Gulf war; in Bosnia and Kosovo; and are being used now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assuming we can get an international convention to ban DU, this then affects the nuclear power industry. Without being able to dump off DU remains from U-235 production onto the military, that’s more toxic waste the nuclear industry has to get rid of.

And, with the Iraq War lasting a lot longer than the original Gulf War, and the Afghanistan operation, how long before this becomes yet more Al Qaeda propaganda?