Depleted uranium


Depleted uranium is created by the process of enriching uranium necessary for nuclear power stations and nuclear bombs. Depleted uranium is the uranium left after the enriched uranium has been taken away. It is less radioactive than natural uranium, but much more radioactive than the uranium ore which includes other rocks.

It is used militarily in shells.

There have been reports linking depleted uranium to sicknesses developed by soldiers and civilians, including in the Iraq war. In December 2003, the Uranium Medical Research Centre reported 'alarmingly high' levels of radioactivity in the Basra area. The British Ministry of Defence questioned the scientific evidence and claimed that the only major contamination was on the Iraqi tanks. (See The Observer, 14 Dec. 2003.)


The following short introduction to the problem was published in The Sunflower in February 2001:

       International concern about the use of depleted uranium (DU)
erupted in January after the announcement that at least seven Italian
soldiers and soldiers from several other countries have died from
leukemia or contracted illness linked to radiation exposure. DU
munitions are primarily used by the US and British armies.  The US used the munitions in the bombings of Iraq during the Gulf War. US jets also fired some 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition during NATO's 1999 bombing in Kosovo. NATO also recently admitted to the use of DU for a short period in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war there. On 15 January, NATO medical chiefs met in Brussels to discuss potential risks of DU munitions to health and the environment. Further controversy over the use of the weapons has emerged since the announcement that the munitions used in Kosovo may have contained plutonium, which is even more deadly than uranium. A majority of NATO countries turned down requests from several allies for a temporary ban on DU munitions in the NATO arsenal on 10 January. Although circumstantial evidence continues to mount, there has been no conclusive evidence of the dangerous after-effects of DU. DU munitions are favored by the armies that use them for their ability to penetrate heavy armor. DU munitions burn on impact with steel, leaving toxic and alpha-emitting uranium in solid form on the area of impact. After impact, a portion of the uranium aerosolizes into fine particles, which can settle or drift in the air, contaminating the surrounding environment.
  The World Health Organization (WHO) has sent a team of experts to Kosovo to further investigate the links between DU and cancer
cases. Meanwhile, NATO is trying to calm fears in Europe by denying DU's role in high rates of leukemia in the unexplained sicknesses and deaths.
(sources: Green Horizon, 11 January 2001; NY Times, 11 January 2001; BBC News, 19 January 2001)


Further information is available from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.


A Statement by Karen Parker to the International Conference of the Campaign against Depleted Uranium, November 2000, on the illegality of depleted uranium.


PfP Nato's new political weapon, DU Nato's new "peace" weapon:

This leaflet was issued by Irish CND in September 1999. For copies of the leaflet, e-mail here. For the text of the leaflet, click here.



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