SchNEWS Of The World


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When the dust settles on Afghanistan, will it be full of depleted uranium?

By Joanne Baker

There are serious and unanswered questions as to the current military use of depleted uranium (DU) in Afghanistan; questions which none of the mainstream media are addressing. Dai Williams, an independent researcher has concluded that, despite MoD denial, it is highly likely that the new generation of hard target guided weapons contain DU. These weapons, part of the Hard or Deeply Buried Defeat Capability Program, achieve their effectiveness by increasing the area/density ratio of the new Advanced Unitary Penetrator warheads. The only metals capable of this are DU or tungsten or a combination of the two. DU has the advantage over tungsten of being considerably cheaper and burning spontaneously on impact at an intense heat of 2,000 degrees which carbonises anyone in its range. The heat transforms much of the uranium into minute, insoluble, radioactive particles which can then be inhaled.

The controversy over the dangers of internal low level radiation is now on the political agenda. The UK Departments of Health and of the Environment have set up a new Working Group to investigate the health effects. According to many independent experts, low level alpha emitting particles which damage but do not directly kill the cell, would seem to be a major cause of the cancers, birth defects and immune deficiency syndromes that are besetting both military personnel and civilians in DU affected areas. Tests done in Berlin, show that some Gulf War veterans, with high levels of DU in the body, have three times the chromosome damage as people living in the vicinity of Chernobyl.

If DU is in the guided missile systems, then a vast tonnage may have been used in Afghanistan and the dry and dusty climate will enable the particles to be spread by wind as well as water. The contamination may extend to many parts of Pakistan. One particular concern is the bombing of the Karez, the underground tunnels in the mountains of southern Afghanistan which hold much of the regions fragile water supply. If these become contaminated with radioactive particles, the health consequences are unthinkable. DU has a half life of 4.5 billion years.

In the absence of any explicit information from the US/UK governments, the awful truth may only be known if or when the hospitals begin to fill with unprecedented numbers of cases of childhood leukaemia, congenital multiple malformations, or thyroid malfunction.

* A recent vote at the UN General Assembly resulted in a narrowly defeated effort by Iraq to have the question of DU contamination in its country properly investigated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). After extreme pressure by the US, 54 nations voted against it with 45 yes votes and 44 abstentions from countries not yet strong enough to directly oppose the US. Iraq suffers the legacy of DU from bombing during the Gulf War.

Direct Action Against Militarism and Depleted Uranium