Foras Teamhrach
News and analysis of crucial issues that affect Ireland
Latest video news
Death in Mexico: The Assassination of Bety Cariño

The Irish Media and the Corrib Gas Project

Home      Depleted Uranium
Print this pageAdd to Favorite
Depleted Uranium - the New Atomic Warfare
Brian Guerin 
'The Price is Worth it'. (Maladline Albright)
Reporter Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.
The implications of the use of “Depleted” Uranium weapons in Iraq and in Yugoslavia are extremely serious, and bear detailed examination. There has been very little attention paid to the consequences of what the US military refers to as 'zero-sum warfare', or omnicide: namely, total war of extermination waged against the environment and entire populations, in sum, the total elimination of historical experience.
The effects of Depleted Uranium as a weapon will be outlined, but as horrific and all-embracing as these are, it is vital to view the totality of the evidence and the central purpose of atomic warfare: the covert extermination of targeted populations.

What is Depleted Uranium?

The term 'Depleted' Uranium is a misnomer. It refers to the waste left after enriched uranium is separated from natural uranium in order to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. During this process, the fissionable isotope Uranium 235 is separated from uranium. The remaining uranium, which is 99.8% uranium 238, is misleadingly called 'depleted uranium'.  While the term 'depleted' implies it isn't particularly dangerous, in fact this waste product of the nuclear industry is 'conveniently' disposed of by the industrialized production of lethal  weapons.
Depleted uranium (DU) is the highly toxic and radioactive byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. It is referred to as “depleted” because the content of the fissionable U-235 isotope is reduced from 0.7% to 0.2% during the enrichment process. The isotope U-238 makes up over 99% of the content of both natural uranium and depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is roughly 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium, and has a half life of 4.5 billion years.

Depleted uranium is chemically toxic.  It is an extremely dense, hard metal, and can cause chemical poisoning to the body in the same way as lead or any other heavy metal. However, depleted uranium is also radiologically hazardous, as it spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized glass particles which are small enough to be inhaled.  These uranium oxide particles emit all types of radiation, alpha, beta and gamma, and can be carried in the air over very long distances. Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, and the presence of depleted uranium ceramic aerosols can pose a long-term threat to human health and the environment.
Depleted Uranium at War
In the 1950's the United States Department of Defense became interested in using depleted uranium metal in weapons, because of its extremely dense, pyrophoric qualities and because it was cheap and available in huge quantities.  It is now given practically free of charge to the military and arms manufacturers by the nuclear industry, and is used both in tank armour and in armour-piercing shells known as depleted uranium penetrators.  Over 15 countries are known to have depleted uranium weapons in their military arsenals - UK, US, France, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, Thailand, Iraq and Taiwan - with depleted uranium rapidly spreading to other countries.

The range of DU weaponry now available to NATO countries (U.S., British and French forces) is extensive: from the penetrating
tips and counterweights of cruise missiles to the DU rounds to the 120 mm cannon shells used by the U.S. M1A1 “Abrams” tanks, the Gatling machine-gun ammunition used for the U.S. A-10 “Warthog” airplanes, “Apache” helicopters, and “Harrier” fighters. Depleted uranium was first used on a large scale in military combat during the 1991 Gulf War, (“Operation Desert Storm”) and has since been used in Bosnia in 1995, and again in the Balkans war of 1999. It was used again in the 2003 Gulf War (“Operation Iraqi Freedom”).
A sub-commission of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a rapporteur to investigate the use of depleted uranium, among other types of weapons, after passing a resolution which categorized depleted uranium weapons alongside such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, napalm, and cluster bombs as a 'weapon of indiscriminate effect'.

“Civilian” Applications for Depleted Uranium

Depleted uranium is also to be found in civilian products.  For example, it is used as ballast in aeroplanes, [with disastrous consequences in 1992 when an El-Al jet crashed into flats near Amsterdam].
Depleted uranium was also involved in the recent Stansted Korean Air crash - see CADU News issue 3 for full report.
It is also used in some hospital equipment. The recent Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) objective, which allows the 'recycling' of low-level radioactive waste into consumer goods, has also raised concerns that depleted uranium will be used in this fashion.


© The Tara Foundation, 2006