cj#956> New Scientist Report – Kosovo Depleted Uranium


Richard Moore

Date: Sat, 5 Jun 1999 12:13:36 -0700
To: Recipient List Suppressed:;
From: Earth First! Media Center <•••@••.•••>
Subject: New Scientist Report - Kosovo Depleted Uranium

>From New Scientist, 5 June 1999

IN 1991 Doug Rokke went to the Middle East as a US army health physicist to
clean up uranium left by the Gulf War. He helped decontaminate 23 armoured
vehicles hit by shells in "friendly fire" incidents.

Today he has difficulty breathing. His lungs are scarred and he has skin
problems and kidney damage. Rokke, a major in the US Army Reserve's Medical
Service Corps, has no doubt what made him ill--contact with radioactive
metal.Three years after he worked in the Gulf, the US Department of Energy
tested his urine. They found that the level of uranium in his sample was
over 4000 times higher than the US safety limit of 0.1 micrograms per litre.

Now aged 50 and an environmental scientist at Jacksonville State University
in Alabama, Rokke is campaigning to stop the US firing uranium weapons in
the Balkans. "It is a war crime to use uranium munitions when men, women and
children are exposed to them without any medical screening or care," he
says. "It is totally, totally wrong."

Depleted uranium, or DU, is a radioactive heavy metal. It is the waste left
over when the isotope uranium-235 is extracted from naturally-occurring
uranium to fuel nuclear power stations and build nuclear bombs. DU typically
consists of 99.7 per cent uranium-238.

As a by-product of the nuclear industry, DU is cheap and plentiful. And DU
shells are a very effective weapon against tanks and armoured cars. They can
pierce several inches of armour-plated steel thanks to DU's extremely high
density. They're better at penetrating armour than traditional anti-tank
weapons made of tungsten.

DU was used for the first time in battle during the 1991 Gulf conflict with
Iraq. The US Department of Defense says that US planes and tanks fired 860
000 rounds of ammunition containing 290 tonnes of DU. British tanks fired
100 rounds containing less than 1 tonne of DU, according to the Ministry of

Gulf veterans such as Rokke believe exposure to this DU is one of the causes
of Gulf War Syndrome, the unexplained illness or group of illnesses that has
afflicted thousands of soldiers since the war. Iraqi scientists also claim
that DU was responsible for a rise in the numbers of cancers and birth
defects in southern Iraq. But both the US and British governments dispute
this. They say there is no evidence that DU has damaged the health of
military personnel.

But the row is erupting again with the US admission it is using DU weapons
in the two-month-old war against Serbia. In a press briefing in Washington
DC on 3 May, Major General Charles Wald, vice-director for strategic plans
and policy for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that A10 Warthog
aircraft had fired DU munitions against Serbian forces. The US Joint Chiefs'
spokesman, James Brooks, told New Scientist that AV-8 Harriers and Abrams
battle tanks in the Balkans also carried DU munitions. The British Foreign
Secretary, Robin Cook, has said that no DU is "in use" by British forces.
But there are more than 20 British Challenger tanks, which fired DU
ammunition in the Gulf conflict, stationed in Macedonia ready for action if
ground troops move into Kosovo--a move supported by Britain as the
limitations of an air offensive become apparent.

NATO says that DU has been used against Serbian forces since the second week
of May. "It has not been used extensively," says a NATO spokesman. "It has
never been proved that the use of DU endangers the health of people. It is
no more dangerous than mercury."

Neither NATO nor the US will say how just much DU has been fired in the
Balkans. But there are 40 A10s and 6 Harriers in action, capable of
unleashing a lot of uranium. A10s, for example, are armed with a
30-millimetre Gatling gun that can fire 3900 shells a minute, one in five of
which contains 300 grams of DU. This means that each A10 could release 234
kilograms of DU a minute. If US and British tanks take part in a ground
offensive, observers say more DU is likely to be fired.

As well as its ability to pierce armour plating, DU has the unfortunate
tendency to ignite on impact, creating clouds of uranium oxide
dust--facilitating its spread in the environment and increasing the danger
posed by the alpha radiation it emits. Mike Thorne, a uranium expert from
AEA Technology at Harwell in Oxfordshire, formerly part of the UK Atomic
Energy Authority, points out that as an alpha-emitter, it poses a similar
risk to plutonium if it gets inside the body. As such, even the tiniest
amounts could cause cell damage that marginally increases the risk of
cancer. DU also emits dangerous beta radiation. Its main component,
uranium-238, has a half-life of 4.46 billion years. Thorne argues that it
could in theory contribute to Gulf War Syndrome: "In view of its poorly
defined biochemical effects, DU could be a contributory factor," he says.

Chemically, DU poses a great threat to the kidneys, where high
concentrations can lead to organ failure. But according to Thorne, even
small amounts could have subtle but ill-understood effects. That is why a
major study by the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1989 recommended
reducing the safety limit for uranium in kidneys from 3 micrograms per gram
to 0.3 micrograms per gram.

There is evidence that civilian authorities take the threat from DU very
seriously. In the aftermath of the Gulf conflict, the UK Atomic Energy
Authority came up with some frightening estimates for the potential effects
of the DU contamination left by the conflict. It calculated that if 23
tonnes of DU were inhaled--8 per cent of the amount actually fired in the
Gulf--this could cause "500 000 potential deaths". This was "a theoretical
figure", it stressed, that indicated "a significant problem".

Potential deaths

The AEA's calculation was made in a confidential memo to the privatised
munitions company, Royal Ordnance, dated 30 April 1991. The memo offered to
send a team to Kuwait to clear up the DU--an offer that was never taken up.
The high number of potential deaths was dismissed last year as "very far
from realistic" by a British defence minister, Lord Gilbert. "Since the
rounds were fired in the desert, many kilometres from the nearest village,
it is highly unlikely that the local population would have been exposed to
any significant amount of respirable oxide," he said. The Balkans war,
however, is not being fought in a desert but in areas where people have, or
did have, houses.

As a result of earlier pressure from Gulf veterans, the British government
commissioned two reports. In April this year, Lord Gilbert quoted the 1993
investigation by the Defence Radiological Protection Service, which
concluded "that there was no indication that any British troops had been
subjected to harmful over-exposure to DU during the Gulf conflict".

But the other report, published by the Ministry of Defence in March, did
acknowledge that troops could have inhaled DU dust in the Gulf and that this
"could theoretically lead to damage to lung tissue and subsequently to a
raised probability of lung cancer some years later".

The ultimate irony is that DU could poison the very land that NATO is trying
to protect, says Rokke. "The aim of this war is to enable the Kosovars to
return home. But unless the uranium is cleaned up, those that survive the
Serb atrocities and the NATO aerial attacks will have to return to a
contaminated environment where they may become ill."

_________________________________________________END FWD.

NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving this information for research and educational purposes.

We're trying to remove the obstacles to your involvement.


We could do so much more with your help. Forest activists are now being
bombed, murdered, and assassinated without any outrage expressed in the
media! We have just discovered that the violent "Wise Use" movement is now
tracking every one of our postings. Your involvement would be an invaluable
aid to our ability to maintain vigilance.

Why not show this material to your friends? Just print it out and make some
photocopies to help get the word out and to help us raise operating funds.
Even more helpful material is available at our web site. Our postings about
David Chain's killing have now gone out to over a million people on five
continents and been translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish
and Russian. Portugese is next!

We have just gone through a tormenting last seven months and are *still*
flat broke with broken down gear, scant supplies, and late bills to cover.
If we are to continue on we need money and certain supplies such as Epson
740 ink cartridges (B&W and Color), zip disks, videotape, postage, file
cabinets and subscriptions to periodicals. And we could really use a
scanner for our iMac so we could make photographs available to you. Please
send contributions payable to "Earth First!" to

Earth First! Media Center
P.O. Box 324
Redway, CA  95560




                        a political discussion forum.
                          crafted in Ireland by rkm
                             (Richard K. Moore)

        To subscribe, send any message to •••@••.•••
        A public service of Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance
                (mailto:•••@••.•••     http://cyberjournal.org)

  **--> Non-commercial reposting is encouraged,
        but please include the sig up through this paragraph
        and retain any internal credits and copyright notices.
        Copyrighted materials are posted under "fair-use".

        To see the index of the cj archives, send any message to:
        To subscribe to our activists list, send any message to:

        Help create the Movement for a Democratic Rensaissance!

                A community will evolve only when
                the people control their means of communication.
                        -- Frantz Fanon

                Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful
                committed citizens can change the world,
                indeed it's the only thing that ever has.
                        - Margaret Mead