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Uranium Weapons

Uranium Weapons

Uranium is believed to have been formed in super novae around 6.6 billion years ago and is the source of most of the earth’s radioactivity. It can be found throughout the earth’s crust and in the oceans.  and plays a major role in heating the earth and creating continental drift. Uranium is generally concentrated in rocks at 2-4 parts per million and although slightly radioactive and chemically toxic our bodies have  adapted to these minute soluble particles.

Depleted Uranium

Depleted uranium (DU) is the waste product of the enrichment process which concentrates the fissile isotope U-235 in natural uranium for nuclear power or atomic weapons. Although DU emits less gamma radiation, it is thousands of times more concentrate than the uranium found in nature. If is enters and lodges in the human body, it will send radiation doses to local cells over a period of many years.

Military use of DU

Military experimentation with DU began in the 1950s in the USA, and in the 1960s in the UK. A product of the Cold War, it was used in anti-tank penetrators to cut through heavily armoured Soviet tanks. Its military advantage is that it is a very dense, heavy metal (similar to tungsten) which self sharpens when it hits a hard surface and spontaneously ignites, burning at a phenomenal 3000 -6000 degrees C. It can be used interchangeably with tungsten, especially when an incendiary effect is required (tungsten does not burn) and, as an industrial waste product, it is both cheap and readily available.

DU penetrators were first tested on the battlefield by the Israelis in the Yom Kippur war, in 1973, but were not used extensively until the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. The US has officially admitted to its use in Iraq, the Balkans and Syria. The UK admits to its use in Iraq.

The military have always been aware of the chemical and radiological toxicity of DU. In 1990, prior to the Gulf War, US military reports stated: “Aerosol DU exposures to soldiers on the battlefield could be significant with potential radiological and toxicological effects.”  Depleted uranium is a “low level alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage.”

U.S. Army Depleted Uranium Training film (with edits)

Despite this, soldiers during the Gulf War were neither warned nor equipped for this type of exposure. Nor was the Iraqi Government ever officially informed about the type of weapons that had been used.

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DU penetrators found in Basrah, Iraq, 2004


DU was used February 1991 on the ‘Highway of Death’ when US aircraft bombarded the Iraqi army as it retreated from Kuwait. Thousands of vehicles were destroyed and thousands of people killed including civilians using the road. US soldiers who later climbed over the debris became seriously ill.

Mixing Nuclear Wastes?

After the bombing of Serbia/Kosovo in 1999, NATO acknowledged that the DU used in munitions was mixed with small amounts of reprocessed uranium which is highly radioactive.

“The machinery used for the enrichment process was also used in the 1950-1970′s to enrich uranium extracted from recycled reactor fuel. This resulted in the contamination of those facilities with trace amounts of transuranics, uranium-236 and technicium. These trace amounts were picked up in the DU processed in the facility. In addition a small fraction of the raw material used for producing our DU came from the uranium extracted from reactor fuel.”

After the bombing of Afghanistan  in 2002, a team from the Uranium Medical Research Center in Canada, took urine samples from civilians suffering symptoms of ‘fatigue, fever, musculoskeletal neurological alterations, headaches and respiratory impairment’. Soil and water samples were also taken from the bombed sites. The mass spectrometry results showed no DU,  but high levels of  un-depleted uranium, 100 times that of the normal range. 7 residents of Kabul were also contaminated with U-236 which meant that although the uranium had a similar isotopic ratio to natural uranium, it could not have come from a natural source.

Uranium contamination in Afghanistan

Samples taken from bombed areas in Lebanon in 2006, tested at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, showed both un-depleted and low enriched uranium but no depleted uranium. Low enriched uranium was also found in an air filter in Gaza after the 2008 bombing.


Explosion plume, Khiam, Lebanon, 2006

US patents cite depleted uranium or uranium metal as a preferred metal in a number of weapons systems. Janes Defence Weekly has confirmed the use of DU in shaped charge liners as has the MOD website. Unofficial US military sources have stated its use in large bunker busting weapons such as the GBU-28.

Under the radar: identifying third generation uranium weapons

Increased levels of uranium dust have been detected in air monitoring systems in Greece, Macedonia, Hungary and the UK during or soon after US bombing in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Health Effects

Shortly after the Gulf War, Professor Guenther, a German doctor who had been living and working in the region for many years, noted disturbing  health trends affecting the Iraqi population. These included immune deficiency with an increase in infectious diseases, herpes and zoster afflictions and AIDS like syndromes;  a hitherto unknown syndrome causing renal and hepatic dysfunction; leukaemia; cancers, and congenital deformities in animals as well as hum

The Doctor the Depleted Uranium and the Dying Children 2/6

Studies made by Iraqi doctors and scientists throughout the 1990s, showed significant increases in neural tube defects, Downs syndrome births, cancers and leukaemias. Heightened radioactivity was found in the soil, water, and food chain. The contamination and health problems were not confined to southern Iraq, but  were found in many areas including in Baghdad, Babylon, Mosul and Al-Tam

Gulf War veterans in Britain and America also suffered from an undiagnosed syndrome and children conceived after the war were born with congenital deformity.

Poison DUst: Health Consequences of Depleted Uranium Home and Abroad

Despite the reported health legacy of these wars and the military’s own assessment of DU risk,  the US stated that DU penetrators were the weapon of choice for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. They were the standard round for the Abrams tanks and A-10 aircraft. They were routinely used throughout Iraq on any number of soft targets including buildings and ordinary vehicles.

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Child with rare renal and hepatic failure, Iraq, 2004


Child with spina bifida, Basrah Maternity hospital, 2004 [Photo Jenny Matthews]


Nine year old boy with leukaemia Basrah 2004 (photo Jenny Matthews)


Monitoring radiation levels of 0.5 millirads per hour after clean-up in a house in Basrah, partially destroyed by DU in 2003. The family still live in the remainder of their home.

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Young boys playing barefoot outside their homes in a suburb of Basrah, 2004. The troop carrier in the background had been hit by DU in 2003, with radiation measurements up to 30 millirads per hour. Spots of  the ground around it were measuring 0.5 millirads per hour. Normal background readings for the area are 0.008 millirads per hour.


An epidemiological study made in Fallujah showed a disturbing increase in cancers, leukaemia, severe birth deformities and a change in the sex-ratio, with a decrease in the number of boys being born. The conclusion was that something used in the war had created a serious mutagenic effect, worse than the studies on the atomic bomb survivors of Hisroshima and Nagasaki.

Interview with Chris Busby and Malak Hamdan

Noam Chomsky on Fallujah report and the media

Deadly Legacy – Iraq

Other parts of Iraq

Upsurge of Cancers in Babil Governate

The Balkans

The war in Bosnia(1992-1995) and the NATO bombardment of Serbia/Kosovo 1999 also left a radioactive legacy. In Sarajevo, cancer cases rose from 43 in 1995 to 248 in 2000. Professor Trifko Guzino, surgeon and former director of the urological clinic in Sarajevo, stated that his “patients who were suffering from multiple, independent malignant tumors lived in immediate proximity to the bombing sites or were in these areas at the time the bombings occurred.” Veterans from these wars are suffering similar symptoms to their Gulf war counterparts. One study showed a severe increase in Hodgkins lymphoma amongst Italian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosovo.  Other veterans are suffering from a multitude of illnesses including cancers, acute and rare forms of leukaemia, Crohn’s disease, hepatic disorders and nervous systems disorders. In Serbia and Kosovo cancer and leukaemia rates are also rising. According to local doctors, leukaemia in Kosovo has risen from 1 per 1000 to 1 per 100. The cancer rate in Kosovo before 1999 was 10 among 300,000 people, and “today it stands at 20 among 60,000″

Balkan Cancer

Fallout of Serbia Bombing \’Continues to Kill\’

Balkans: Depleted Uranium in NATO Bombs Remains Deadly

Cancer – NATOs time bomb in the Balkans – RT 24 Mar 09

How uranium can affect our health if taken internally

ECRR report on Uranium and Health The Health Effects of Exposure to Uranium andUranium Weapons Fallout.2010, pdf Chris Busby, European Committee on Radiation Risk

Radiological toxicity of DU, 2001, html Suppressed WHO report, K Baverstock, C Mothersill, M Thorne

Youtube documentaries

Invisible War

Deadly Dust – Depleted Uranium

The Doctor the Depleted Uranium and the Dying Children 

Poison DUst: Health Consequences of Depleted Uranium Home and Abroad

Deadly Legacy – Iraq

Beyond Treason


Balkan Cancer


Al-Ani A H  and Baker J, Uranium in Iraq: The Poisonous Legacy of the Iraq Wars, Vandeplas Publishing, Environmental Law Series 2, 2009

Links to websites

European Committee on Radiation Risk

The Low Level Radiation Campaign

Uranium Medical Research Center

International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

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