Depleted uranium and the new age of chemical warfare
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 23:09
This introduction is a little dense, but it’s important to understand the origins and motivations behind depleted uranium’s increasing use by the various militaries of the world, and the lingering specter of its horrible aftereffects. Depleted uranium is the byproduct of the isotope separation process employed to enrich uranium for either nuclear weapons or energy. Approximately 1,770 tons of depleted uranium are created, as a slightly radioactive waste, in order to attain 11 pounds of the 90 percent uranium-235 material, which is uniquely used as the only naturally occurring fissile isotope. Depleted uranium is largely made up of the natural uranium-238, and thus has a half-life around 4.5 billion years, which in turn contributes to weak levels of radioactivity; it is also heavily abundant as well as being relatively cheap, but most importantly of all are its properties as a hyper-dense metal. It was commonly used as a counterweight in civilian aircrafts, but has since become an extremely popular material in anti-armor projectiles and advanced armor plating for 18 countries, including the United States.
In its solid state, the negative radioactive effects are largely negligible as demonstrated by an internal investigation by the Pentagon. In 1998, Bernard Rostker, then an assistant to the Department of Defense, made public a study in which 33 American veterans of the Gulf War, who had unrecoverable pieces of depleted uranium shrapnel in their muscle tissue from friendly fire incidents, displayed heightened levels of uranium in their urine, but otherwise suffered no significant adverse effects. The problem with Rostker’s study, however, is that he solely focused on radiation poisoning from depleted uranium in its solid state rather than the far more dangerous aerosol state the material assumes when it combusts.
When a depleted uranium projectile collides with a target, the lightly radioactive material explodes into a gaseous cloud of nano-particles, which in turn spread over a wide area dependent on the size of the projectile, and often becomes mixed with soil or groundwater. As journalist Scott Peterson uncovered, these nano-particles are so dangerous that at the conclusion of the Gulf War six Bradley tanks, hit by friendly fire, were buried in Saudi Arabia; another 16 vehicles were sent to a decontamination facility, but after the arduous process was completed, six vehicles remained so toxic they had to be stored in a radioactive waste dump.
The widespread usage of depleted uranium in 30mm and smaller caliber machine guns began during the Gulf War before being subsequently used in the Yugoslavian wars of secession. Studies conducted on veterans who fought in either conflict found a 1,400 percent increase in genetic abnormalities, which contributed to catastrophic damage to the individuals’ immune systems, and spawned various congenital disorders in their children. These effects, along with additional issues concerning chronic pain, fatigue, and memory loss are all considered symptoms of a larger phenomenon dubbed “Gulf War Syndrome,” and studies link the inhalation or ingestion of depleted uranium particles to the onset of the more severe illnesses.
Some 400 tons of depleted uranium were expended as munitions in southern Iraq alone during the Gulf War. The material is thought to be largely responsible for an epidemic of leukemia and widespread birth defects amongst the Iraqi civilian population. Despite having what the CIA considered one of the most sophisticated medical systems in the Middle East, Iraq suffered the highest mortality rate from leukemia in 2004; in 2001 Jawad al-Ali, an Iraqi cancer specialist in Basra, reported an increase from 11 cases of cancer per 100,000 people in the city during 1988 to 116 cases per 100,000 people, the most common being lung cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. Additionally, Dr. Samira Alaani, a pediatrician in Fallujah since 1997, began investigating the effects of depleted uranium on fetuses after recording an all-time high of 144 babies with birth defects per every 1,000 live births in 2006. Children with cleft palates or elongated heads have become terrifyingly common, and the more severe defects such as fused legs, missing eye sockets, and tails are on the rise.
Depleted uranium is an evolved form of chemical warfare, the successor to Agent Orange, and its effects are as abhorrent as they are indiscriminate. The toxic particles produced by its use destroy organic matter on a chromosomal level, and those most effected by it are innocent civilians, our own veterans and their malformed children who are condemned to a wretched life largely before they are even conceived.