Depleted Uranium

Use in Iraq

Kelly Anderson anderkel@uwec. edu
Part of Iraq & Our Energy Future, by students of
Geography 378 (International Environmental Problems & Policy)
at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, Spring 2003.


    "Depleted uranium is more of a problem than we thought when it was developed. But it was developed according to standards and was thought through very carefully. It turned out, perhaps, to be wrong."
    -- Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to President George Bush in 1991 Gulf War .
    According to a video titled "Using Depleted Uranium as a Weapon...Putting Our Troops and the Rest of the World at Risk", the US government began to experiment with Uranium-238, which is simply Uranium ( waste, secretly as early as the 1970's before implementing it in the Gulf.
    Depleted Uranium (DU) is a dense, radioactive metal used for armor-piercing shells. Some DU munitions have been found to contain traces of Plutonium, which is the most toxic substance we know of. Its half-life is approximately 4.5 billion years, meaning that in that amount of time half of it will have broken down. DU is ingested when soldiers or civilians come into contact with it.

    1991 Gulf War

    During the first Gulf War in 1991, weapons containing depleted Uranium were used for the first time in combat. Depleted Uranium ( was desired because it can penetrate any material known to man. Although it may seem a desirable weapon, the environmental consequences and the effects on humans were not revealed and are still highly denied by the U.S. government.

    Symptoms of being affected by DU include achy joints, falling ill, developing rashes and memory loss. According to Paul Sullivan, President of the National Gulf War Resource Center, the residue from DU weapons settles in the bone, the lungs, kidneys and testicles. The most infamous example of the effects of DU is that it can be passed from the mother to the child and often causes abnormalities and other birth defects.
    In the Basra General Hospital in Southern Iraq ( according to Dr. Anuar Abdul Mehsen, MD., the number of cancer cases he has seen in his hospital has increased significantly since the end of the Gulf War. In 1988 he saw 34 deaths caused by various types of cancer, and in 1988 there were 428 deaths caused by cancer. He adds that there is an average of 1-2 deformed babies born per day.

    From 1991 to 2003, U.S. and British jets patrolled the No-Fly-Zones in Northern and Southern Iraq, often bombing Iraqi anti-aircraft sites that threatened them. These air strikes also involved DU munitions.

    Source: gulfwar/du.html

    Because of the United States' economic sanctions on Iraq, they are unable to provide sufficient health care needed to treat these patients.

    2003 Iraq War

    Q: General, how much of your weaponry -- Michael Kearns (sp), Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. How much of your weaponry uses depleted uranium? And what are your concerns about the effects of that on Iraqi civilians?

    GEN. BROOKS: There's a very small portion of our munitions that use depleted uranium. And there have been lots of studies on what the actual hazards are from depleted uranium. When depleted uranium hits something, it's the residue from that that has any possible hazard at all, and that requires close personal ingestion in order to have an effect.
    We believe that the way we do our operations is as safe as can be done for combat action and does not create the kind of hazard that may have been thought about in the past.

    - CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom Briefing ~ 26 March 2003

    This is the same rhetoric that was used in and after the first Gulf War, and there are many civilians and military personnel ( who argue otherwise.

    Even with the effects seen since 1991, the U.S. government opted to utilize Depleted Uranium this time around as well. Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, a top Pentagon health official, claims that "there's going to be no impact on the health of people in the environment or people who were there. You would really have to have a large internalized dose," he continues, "You are not going to get that with casual exposure."

    "Dr. Doug Rokke, a former Army colonel and professor of environmental science at Jacksonville University, was in charge of the military's environmental clean-up following the first Gulf War.
    Rokke fears that because the military relied more heavily on DU munitions in the second Iraq war than in the first, postwar casualties may be even greater." (

    Maybe if they had defined "casual exposure"... uranium_infanticide.html



    Remains of Toxic Bullets Litter Iraq:
    The Monitor finds high levels of radiation left by US armor-piercing shells
    By Scott Peterson,
    Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2003

    "The Monitor visited four sites in the city - including two randomly chosen destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles, a clutch of burned American ammunition trucks, and the downtown planning ministry - and found significant levels of radioactive contamination from the US battle for Baghdad. In the first partial Pentagon disclosure of the amount of DU used in Iraq, a US Central Command spokesman told the Monitor that A-10 Warthog aircraft
    - the same planes that shot at the Iraqi planning ministry - fired 300,000 bullets. The normal combat mix for these 30-mm rounds is five DU bullets to 1 - a mix that would have left about 75 tons of DU in Iraq. The Monitor saw only one site where US troops had put up handwritten warnings in Arabic for Iraqis to stay away. There, a 3-foot-long DU dart
    from a 120 mm tank shell, was found producing radiation at more than 1,300
    times background levels. It made the instrument's staccato bursts turn into a steady whine....While the Pentagon says there's no risk to Baghdad residents, US soldiers are taking their own precautions in Iraq, and in some cases have handed out warning leaflets and put up signs. "After we shoot something with DU, we're not supposed to go around it, due to the fact that it could cause cancer," says a sergeant in Baghdad from New York, assigned to a Bradley, who asked not to be further identified. "We don't know the effects of what it could do," says the sergeant. "If one of our vehicles burnt with a DU round inside, or an ammo truck, we wouldn't go near it, even if it had important documents inside. We play it safe." Six American vehicles struck with DU "friendly fire" in 1991 were deemed to be too contaminated to take home, and were buried in Saudi Arabia. Of 16
    more brought back to a purpose-built facility in South Carolina, six had
    to be buried in a low-level radioactive waste dump. Television footage of the war last month showed Iraqi armored vehicles burning as US columns drove by, a common sign of a strike by DU, which burns through armor on impact, and often ignites the ammunition carried by the targeted vehicle. "We were buttoned up when we drove by that - all our hatches were closed," the US sergeant says. "If we saw anything on fire, we wouldn't stop
    anywhere near it. We would just keep on driving."....There is a warning now at the Doura intersection on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. In the days before the capital fell, four US supply trucks clustered near an array of highway off-ramps caught fire, cooking off a
    number of DU tank rounds. American troops wearing facemasks for protection arrived a few days later and bulldozed the topsoil around the site to limit the contamination.
    The troops taped handwritten warning signs in Arabic to the burned vehicles, which read: "Danger - Get away from this area." These were the only warnings seen by this reporter among dozens of destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles littering the city. "All of them were wearing masks," says Abbas Mohsin, a teenage cousin of a drink seller 50 yards away, said referring to the US military cleanup crew...."

    Is U.S. covering up "depleted" uranium health impacts in Iraq?
    By the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers,
    San Francisco Bay View, May 14, 2003

    "To activists working on a campaign to permanently ban the use of "depleted" uranium weapons, the destruction of hospitals and baseline health data serves an obvious legal purpose. The looting has made it impossible for hospitals to function at the present
    time and obstructs the ability to document or report symptoms linked to the use of "depleted" uranium or other more experimental weapons used by the U.S./U.K.
    military. Furthering suspicions, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has hired the World Health Organization (WHO) to identify the population's immediate health needs, at a cost of $10 million. This raises concerns about a conflict of interest. Any data-gathering of immediate health impacts of "depleted" uranium is being paid for by the U.S., which is the major entity potentially liable for costs relating to those impacts. This conflict of interest could compromise the goals of H.R. 1483, a bill introduced by U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., requiring studies on the health effects of DU munitions."


    Related Reading

    Depleted Uranium Education Project

    Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU)

    WISE Uranium Project

    Depleted Uranuim: A FAQ compiled by the Office of the Special Assistantfor Gulf War Illnesses

    Gulf War Syndrome, Depleted Uranium and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation

    Gulf War Veterans and Depleted Uranium

    Depleted Uranium's Effect on Veterans, Iraqis

    National Gulf War Resource Center

    A Ravaged Land

    US to use depleted uranium

    Military Toxics Project