If your employer made you drive around in vehicles made
from uranium, handle uranium without protection, and breathe uranium dust mixed with traces of plutonium, would you be surprised
if, in a few years, you started to have health problems like cancer, chronic fatigue, kidney damage, and neurological and
chromosomal damage? If you questioned the cause of your malaise, would you be surprised if your employer told you that uranium
was a harmless natural substance? And that your health problems were unrelated to your job?
Since Desert Storm, the
United States and Britain have been using ammunition, shells and tank armor made from depleted uranium (DU). According to
the U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute, "Iraq and northern Kuwait were a virtual testing range for depleted-uranium
weapons. Over 940,000 30-millimeter uranium tipped bullets and more than 14,000 large caliber DU rounds were consumed during
Operation Desert Storm/ Desert Shield." Estimates for DU use in Desert Storm are about 300 -350 tons of DU, while the current
war in Iraq is around 1500 tons. Dr. Asaf Durakovia, then Chief of Nuclear Medicine for the Veterans Administration said after
Desert Storm, "Due to the current proliferation of DU weaponry, the battlefield of the future will be unlike any battlefields
While the use of the word "depleted" uranium is technically correct, it can be misleading. A byproduct
of nuclear power production, DU is about 60% as radioactive as natural uranium, but with a half-life of four and a half billion
years. Natural uranium can be ingested in food and drink and get expelled from the body within 24 hours. DU-contaminated dust
however, is problematic. When breathed into the lungs, it can remain for many years, causing a wide range of serious health
One of the biggest players in the processing of DU from as far back as the 1950's was a military contractor
called Nuclear Metals of Concord, Massachusetts, later renamed Starmet. Now bankrupt, Starmet dumped uranium, berrylium, and
other toxins on its 46-acre site located at 2229 Main St., polluting the groundwater. Land as far as a mile away contains
radioactive soil. The pond and surrounding land are currently the site of a controversial Superfund cleanup.
economic and military advantages to the use of DU. First, it is one of the densest materials in the world. And nobody argues
that DU ammunition and shells are extremely effective in piercing tank armor and bunkers, after which a DU round disintegrates
into tiny aerosol particles and bursts into flame. Economically, DU is very cheap and a large supply is readily available.
The downside is DU's catastrophic effect on health of our own troops, which the military denies. Of the 697, 000 soldiers
that participated in Desert Storm in 1991, 207,000 are receiving disability compensation. (Veterans Benefit Administration
Report, May 2002) This comes to a staggering 30%. (these three-year-old figures are almost certainly higher at present.) These
vets are still young men and women now in their mid-thirties, an age when they should be in the prime of their health and
strength. Many possible causes have been suggested such as the inhalation of oil fire smoke, vaccination damage, exposure
to bioagents, nerve gas, pesticides, etc. all of which most likely contribute to what is loosely termed "Gulf War Syndrome,"
but some have theorized that Gulf War Syndrome is a form of radiation sickness mixed in various proportions with exposures
to this toxic mélange of substances.
History is repeating itself. Remember those GIs in the 1950's, who were paraded
out to the desert and told to face the direction of atomic bomb blasts, only to come down with cancer later in life? Then
they faced the arrogance of their own government, who sought to deny responsibility for the broken health of these men. It
all happened again a generation later with Agent Orange and the devastation it caused those who returned from Viet Nam.
actively participating American citizenry should demand an open discourse on the use of depleted uranium- instead of the dialogue
being closed off and displaced with administrative mandates. Thomas Jefferson said, "I know no safe depository of the ultimate
powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with
a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education." This is the
true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Amidst the denials and projections that will surely follow, the
use of depleted uranium will be a bitter pill indeed. Uranium ammunition. Broken health. Expendable people. Depleted uranium
is bad idea that nobody talks about.