June 15, 2003
Depleted Uranium Arms Pose Risks to Troops, Residents
by Barbara Borst
NEW YORK -- The widespread use of depleted uranium weapons by
U.S. and British forces in Iraq could pose serious health and
environmental risks to troops and residents, nuclear and medical
experts warned Saturday.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the Nuclear Policy Research
Institute, which organized the gathering, said the hazards of using
the radioactive material included severe consequences for kidney
function and environmental pollution.
Some experts on the health risks of depleted uranium weapons called
for them to be banned. Others came close to the Pentagon's assurances
that so-called DU weapons do not pose an "unacceptable health
risk" to U.S. troops.
Depleted uranium, which is left over from the process of enriching
uranium for use as nuclear fuel, is an extremely dense material that
the U.S. and British militaries use for tank armor and armor-piercing
weapons. It is far less radioactive than natural uranium.
Most of the scientists, physicians and specialists in the field called
for more study about the radioactive and chemical impacts of the
material on the lungs, kidneys, lymph systems and other organs. They
also demanded a full accounting of its use, not only in the recent war
in Iraq but also in the 1991 Gulf War and in the NATO bombing of the
former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Hari Sharma, a retired chemistry professor from the University of
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, said "as long as something is
radioactive, you are going to do harm to human health."
The Pentagon has said the use of depleted uranium weapons gives
American forces a tremendous advantage on the battlefield. The
Pentagon and many experts also contend that the material, because of
its low radioactivity, poses no risk to the health of soldiers
handling munitions made from it or to civilians living in areas where
those shells were used.
The anti-nuclear institute, based in Washington and San Francisco,
invited the Pentagon to send a speaker to the symposium but the
Defense Department declined, Caldicott said.
Daniel Fahey, a former member of the Navy who has produced several
reports on depleted uranium weapons, said the Pentagon exaggerates the
need for them, especially in wars against armies with antiquated
He called for immediate disclosure of the amounts and locations of the
weapons use in Iraq, a post-conflict assessment by the U.N.
Environment Program, and cleanup of affected sites.
Experts at the Pentagon and the United Nations have estimated that
1,100-2,200 tons of depleted uranium were used by U.S.-led coalition
forces during their attack on Iraq in March and April.
This contrasts with about 375 tons used in the 1991 Gulf War, 11 tons
fired during the 1999 war against Serbia over Kosovo and a much
smaller quantity used against rebel Serb positions in Bosnia in
Sharma studied urine specimens from soldiers of several countries that
fought in the 1991 Gulf War and later studied tissues samples from
people in southern Iraq. All showed evidence that depleted uranium had
lodged in the human body, he said.
However, scientists will not be able to say precisely what impact
depleted uranium had in the recent war until more tests are done, he