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
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:
about the use of depleted uranium (DU)
erupted in January after the announcement that at least seven
soldiers and soldiers from several other countries have died
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.
by Karen Parker to the International Conference of the Campaign
against Depleted Uranium, November 2000, on the illegality of
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.
Back to Irish CND home page