The possibility that DU will again be used is very real. According to recent statements of the Ministry of Defense, United Kingdom, DU weapons will be used again if necessary. History indicates that governments using DU weapons are unlikely to warn local civilian populations, despite evidence that DU contaminates food and water supplies, as we will show below.
Prior to the Gulf War, the U. Army was aware that DU contamination had the potential to cause health problems among civilian populations.
However, during and after the Gulf War, the U. Department of Defense did nothing to warn the inhabitants of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq about DU contamination of their air, soil and water. Rather, U. Army reports discussed below express more concern about public backlash and future restrictions on the use of DU weapons.
Up to now, there have been no official reports confirming the use of DU in Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether a second U. DU is radioactive waste from the reactor fuel and weapons-uranium refining process of natural uranium U. Natural uranium exists in soils throughout the world at an average concentration of three parts-per-million, equal to a tablespoon of uranium in a truckload of dirt.
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While natural uranium, a radioactive mineral, contains a small amount of the isotope U, nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs require greater concentrations of U to sustain a chain reaction. The process to concentrate the U is called enrichment, and the waste generated from this process is called depleted uranium DU. DU—the isotope U, a mostly low-level radioactive material—has a radioactive half-life of 4. After 14 decays, the chain ends with stable lead DU has accumulated in huge quantities since the dawn of the nuclear age. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million tons of DU in the world today.
It is a highly toxic and radioactive waste that must be contained, monitored, and managed as such.
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Managing DU in nuclear waste storage dumps would cost the U. Department of Energy billions of dollars. It is now provided free of charge to the military and to private industry.
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The U. Army Environmental Policy Institute says:. In addition to military weapons systems, DU is used commercially in medicine, aviation, space and petroleum exploration. Particular applications include radiation shielding for the medical field and industry; counterweight components of aircraft elevators, landing gear, rotor blades and radar antennae; ballast in satellites, missiles and other crafts; and drilling equipment used in petroleum exploration.
From through , the Boeing Aircraft Company used DU as counterweights on its Boeing commercial aircraft, primarily on the upper rudder and on the horizontal stabilizer elevators. Each aircraft contains approximately 1, pounds of DU. In , Boeing began using tungsten counterweights. Nevertheless, DU counterweights remain in place on approximately Boeing aircraft.
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When alloyed in military applications, DU is often used in armor penetrators. It has been used in Army systems for many years, and the Army has developed, tested, and fielded a number of weapons systems containing DU. Army Environmental Policy Institute reports:. Additionally, DU munitions are sold in the world arms market. Indeed, Defense Trade News reported in that legislation in the U.
It reads:. I hereby determine that it is in the national security interest of the United States to allow funds provided in that Act or any other Act to be made available to facilitate the sale of the M depleted uranium anti-tank ammunition to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and M depleted uranium anti-tank ammunition to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This information comes from the U. International Security and Development Cooperation Act of There are severe health hazards associated with exposure, inhalation, or ingestion of DU.
Depleted Uranium particles can be inhaled easily in smoke resulting from the impact of armor-piercing projectiles on hard targets and the aerosolization of uranium into small particles. If even one small particle less than 5 microns in diameter 5-millionths of a meter—the size of cigarette ash is trapped in the lungs, surrounding tissues can be exposed up to times the maximum permitted dose for workers in the radiation industry. As it decays, DU emits alpha, beta, and gamma radiation.
Ionization and other radiation-induced effects, such as excitation and free radical formation, cause chemical changes in components of the living cell, including chemicals, such as deoxyribonucleic acid DNA , the genetic material that is located in the chromosomes within the cell nucleus. Alpha radiation colliding with atoms gives up its energy in a very short distance, such as the thinness of a piece of paper, less than the thickness of the skin, or a few centimeters of air. Consequently, alpha particles emitted by radioactive materials are not likely to be harmful when striking the outside of the human body that is protected by clothing and the outermost dead layer of skin.
However, when the same alpha-emitting radionuclides are taken into the body their emission can directly irradiate nearby cells of tissue in which they are deposited and may cause cellular changes. Such changes may result in adverse health effects in the short and long term, depending on the nature of the changes. In comparison to alpha radiation, fast-moving electrons, which are known as beta particles, have much smaller mass and electric charge, are more deeply penetrating, and dissipate their energy over a larger volume of tissue.
Even high-energy beta particles, however, will transfer most of their energy and come to a stop within about 1-centimeter of plastic, 1 to 2 centimeters of tissue, or 4 to 5 meters of air. Therefore, beta particles that strike the outside of the body will penetrate only a short distance, but they may travel far enough to damage the actively dividing cells of the skin.
Beta-emitting radionuclides may be found in contamination consisting of fission products from a nuclear detonation or resulting from the dispersion of nuclear reactor waste or radiotherapy sources.
Gamma rays and x-rays, which are emitted from radionuclides as well as produced by machines, are the most penetrating form of ionizing radiation and consist of electromagnetic energy. While randomly colliding with electrons in the body along a scattered path length, gamma rays may give up all or part of their energy in the tissue or, although it is unlikely, they may pass all the way through the body, without interacting. Therefore exposure to gamma rays are most commonly encountered in the use of radiation-producing equipment used in medical applications including those in combat medical facilities.
Marvin Resnikoff, a noted particle physicist, writes:. The dose due to uranium inhalation is cumulative. A percentage of inhaled particles may be coughed up, then swallowed and ingested. Smoking is an additional factor that needs to be taken into account. Gofman estimates that smoking increases the radiation risk by a factor of Uranium emits an alpha particle, similar to a helium nucleus, with two electrons removed.
Thus, alpha radiation is a heavy particle with a double positive charge. Though this type of radiation is not very penetrating, it causes tremendous tissue damage when internalized. When inhaled, uranium increases the probability of lung cancer. When ingested, uranium concentrates in the bones. Within the bone, it increases the probability of bone cancer, or, in the bone marrow, leukemia. Uranium also resides in the soft tissue, including the gonads, increasing the probability of genetic health effects, including birth defects and spontaneous abortions.
The relationship between uranium inhaled or ingested and the resultant radiation doses to bone marrow and specific organs dose conversion factors are listed in numerous references. It would be unwise for people to stay close to large quantities of DU for long periods and this would obviously be of concern to the local population if they collect this heavy metal and keep it.
see There will be specific areas in which many rounds will have been fired where localized contamination of vehicles and the soil may exceed permissible limits and these could be hazardous to both clean-up teams and the local population. Furthermore, if DU gets into the food chain or water then this will create potential health problems. A November 10, article in The Independent London reported on the potential health effects, considering the amount of DU used in projectiles during the Gulf War:.
Radiation has an immediate weakening effect on the immune system of humans when it is inhaled or ingested, creating increased susceptibility to diseases and illnesses. After radioactive weapons were used in Iraq, the United Nations imposed sanctions that prohibited medical supplies that might be considered dual use products.
This left the Iraqi medical community without the proper medicine or medical equipment to treat sick patients exposed to ionizing radiation from U. Illnesses such as leukemia only have a survival rate of nine percent in Iraq, compared to the usual survival rate, with proper medical treatment, of 70 percent. More than 1. According to Iraqi health workers, many of these deaths have been attributed to leukemia, cancers, and rare childhood diseases. In bombing Iraq and Kuwait, the U. How much additional DU was expended in warheads and other explosive methods is unknown outside the Pentagon.
Iraqi medical scientists have studied the health effects of DU in the Iraqi population. Selma A.
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In this study, those types of abnormalities that show increases are ambiguous genitalia, skeletal, chromosomal trisomies, anencephaly and hydrocephalus, and eye abnormalities. Such increases are perhaps due to the effects of depleted uranium used in manufacturing of shells that were thrown on Iraq. Other studies done in the post-war period have shown increases in skeletal malformation especially limb abnormalities as compared to results obtained from the pre-war period.
Limb reduction abnormalities phocomelia have not been reported in the pre-war period studies, but this study as well as others have shown the occurrence of such cases in their results. Such abnormalities were originally reported in the early s where some mothers consuming some sedatives and antiemetics Thalidomide delivered babies with phocomelia but such causes are no longer existing nowadays.
How did it all begin? In the summer of , wolframite imports from Portugal were cut off, which created a critical situation for the production of solid-core ammunition.