Depleted Uranium is a War Crime…maybe?

I first came across the use of depleted uranium in the Middle East about a year ago while writing a blog for an environmental science class. I still feel that it’s an extremely important issue with which to be familiar, so I decided to write another entry about the substance. I feel that this issue is one that is not well known. I have never heard anything about it on the television, in newspapers, magazines, or on the radio. I was made aware of its existence through a song, oddly enough…

Uranium is a radioactive material found in the earth’s crust. After the isotopes U-235 and U-234 are removed to make nuclear fuel, “depleted uranium” is what is left. Within the past couple decades, depleted uranium has been discovered to be practically impenetrable by just about any other substance. Thus, our tanks are often covered with the substance in order to act as a sheild while our bullets are tipped in it to infiltrate the armor of our enemies. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

The Pentagon has released a statement saying that depleted uranium is 40% less toxic than regular uranium, so it presents a far smaller danger. However, how much help can that be when “…A-10 Warthog aircraft…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 Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0515/p01s02a-woiq.htm)

The alpha particle radiation emitted by DU is easily deflected by the skin. However, when the DU burns (usually on impact; or as a dust, it can spontaneously ignite) the skin can no longer suffice as protection, and dangerous radioactive oxides are created that can be inhaled or ingested. “If allowed to enter the body, depleted uranium, like natural uranium, has the potential for both chemical and radiological toxicity with the two important target organs being the kidneys and the lungs.” -Depleted UF6 Management Information Network

Funny enough, during the Gulf War and under President George H.W. Bush, depleted uranium was also utilized in the Middle East. However, utilization of the substance was brought to a hault: 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 .”

U.S. Representative, Jim McDermott has taken a strong stance against the use of depleted uranium in America’s most recent war and has stated, ““Both the Leukemia rates in children and malformations at birth had increased by 600% and it was clearly an epidemic where all this DU had been dumped… It becomes a dust that can be inhaled and infect the blood stream and the rest of the body.” Some of his speeches and writings on the subject can be found here http://www.house.gov/mcdermott/sp050517.shtml

According to the U.S. State Department, depleted uranium is virtually harmless. It is a false threat to the safety of our soldiers and those living in the Middle East. Its dangers have been fabricated. No scientific proof can be found as to the harm the substance can cause. This is a site on the State Department’s opinion of the substance: http://usinfo.state.gov/media/Archive/2005/Jan/24-107572.html

Personally, I feel that we simply do not know enough of the substance. If it is harmless, why was its use terminated during the Gulf War for fear of the harm we were doing? Sites that have been contaminated by depleted uranium display signs warning citizens to keep away. Another point worth mentioning, depleted uranium has a half life of 4.5 billion years. This means that before the substance is COMPLETELY “decomposed”, it will remain in the environment (or in the body) for 9 billion years. Nine. Billion. Years. Could it be possible that many of the effects are long term and will not be seen for 100 years or so? Of course.

Just like many other aspects of the war in Iraq, the use of depleted uranium is eerily similar to actions during the Vietnam War. Any guesses which? Yep. Our use of Agent Orange. History has taught us a grave lesson in THOUROUGHLY studying and understanding chemicals used in warfare before diving right into the latest fad. In order to act ethically and humanely in this situation, I feel that it is only right to immediately discontinue our use of depleted uranium until furthur studies can be conducted. After knowing the consequences of the substance in their entirety, we can then make a moral decision. We cannot punish future generations that will know nothing of this war with the (possibility) of leukemia, serious birth defects, and environmental degredation.

We have to stop before we make an irrevokable mistake.

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