[News] Depleted Uranium is not limited to Iraq

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 24 21:05:09 EST 2005

The horror of Depleted Uranium is not limited to Iraq – it may well be at 
our doorsteps

James Denver – Caduceus January 22, 2005

The information which some governments are concealing is presented here.

'I’m horrified. The people out there – the Iraqis, the media and the troops 
– risk the most appalling ill health. And the radiation from depleted 
uranium can travel literally anywhere. It’s going to destroy the lives of 
thousands of children, all over the world. We all know how far radiation 
can travel. Radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales and in Britain you 
sometimes get red dust from the Sahara on your car.’

The speaker is not some alarmist doom-sayer. He is Dr Chris Busby, the 
British radiation expert, Fellow of the University of Liverpool in the 
Faculty of Medicine and UK representative on the European Committee on 
Radiation Risk, talking about the best kept secret of this war: the fact 
that, by illegally using hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) against 
Iraq, Britain and America have gravely endangered not only the Iraqis but 
the whole world. For these weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and 
mutagenic, radioactive particles in such abundance that – whipped up by 
sandstorms and carried on trade winds – there is no corner of the globe 
they cannot penetrate – including Britain. For the wind has no boundaries 
and time is on their side: the radioactivity persists for over 
4,500,000,000 years and can cause cancer, leukaemia, brain damage, kidney 
failure, and extreme birth defects – killing millions of every age for 
centuries to come. A crime against humanity which may, in the eyes of 
historians, rank with the worst atrocities of all time.

These weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and mutagenic, radioactive 
particles in such abundance that there is no corner of the globe they 
cannot penetrate – including Britain.

Yet, officially, no crime has been committed. For this story is a dirty 
story in which the facts have been concealed from those who needed them 
most. It is also a story we need to know if the people of Iraq are to get 
the medical care they desperately need, and if our troops, returning from 
Iraq, are not to suffer as terribly as the veterans of other conflicts in 
which depleted uranium was used.

A dirty Tyson

‘Depleted’ uranium is in many ways a misnomer. For ‘depleted’ sounds weak. 
The only weak thing about depleted uranium is its price. It is dirt cheap, 
toxic, waste from nuclear power plants and bomb production. However, 
uranium is one of earth’s heaviest elements and DU packs a Tyson’s punch, 
smashing through tanks, buildings and bunkers with equal ease, 
spontaneously catching fire as it does so, and burning people alive. 
‘Crispy critters’ is what US servicemen call those unfortunate enough to be 
close. And, when John Pilger encountered children killed at a greater 
distance he wrote: ‘The children’s skin had folded back, like parchment, 
revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, 
stared straight ahead. I vomited.’ (Daily Mirror)

The millions of radioactive uranium oxide particles released when it burns 
can kill just as surely, but far more terribly. They can even be so tiny 
they pass through a gas mask, making protection against them impossible. 
Yet, small is not beautiful. For these invisible killers indiscriminately 
attack men, women, children and even babies in the womb – and do the 
gravest harm of all to children and unborn babies.

A terrible legacy

Doctors in Iraq have estimated that birth defects have increased by 2-6 
times, and 3-12 times as many children have developed cancer and leukaemia 
since 1991. Moreover, a report published in The Lancet in 1998 said that as 
many as 500 children a day are dying from these sequels to war and 
sanctions and that the death rate for Iraqi children under 5 years of age 
increased from 23 per 1000 in 1989 to 166 per thousand in 1993. Overall, 
cases of lymphoblastic leukemia more than quadrupled with other cancers 
also increasing ‘at an alarming rate’. In men, lung, bladder, bronchus, 
skin, and stomach cancers showed the highest increase. In women, the 
highest increases were in breast and bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin 
lymphoma (.1)

On hearing that DU had been used in the Gulf in 1991, the UK Atomic Energy 
Authority sent the Ministry of Defence a special report on the potential 
damage to health and the environment. It said that it could cause half a 
million additional cancer deaths in Iraq over 10 years. In that war the 
authorities only admitted to using 320 tons of DU – although the Dutch 
charity LAKA estimates the true figure is closer to 800 tons. Many times 
that may have been spread across Iraq by this year’s war. The devastating 
damage all this DU will do to the health and fertility of the people of 
Iraq now, and for generations to come, is beyond imagining.

The radioactivity persists for over 4,500,000,000 years killing millions of 
every age for centuries to come. This is a crime against humanity which may 
rank with the worst atrocities of all time.

We must also count the numberless thousands of miscarried babies. Nobody 
knows how many Iraqis have died in the womb since DU contaminated their 
world. But it is suggested that troops who were only exposed to DU for the 
brief period of the war were still excreting uranium in their semen 8 years 
later and some had 100 times the so called ‘safe limit’ of uranium in their 
urine. The lack of government interest in the plight of veterans of the 
1991 war is reflected in a lack of academic research on the impact of DU 
but informal research has found a high incidence of birth defects in their 
children and that the wives of men who served in Iraq have three times more 
miscarriages than the wives of servicemen who did not go there.

Since DU darkened the land Iraq has seen birth defects which would break a 
heart of stone: babies with terribly foreshortened limbs, with their 
intestines outside their bodies, with huge bulging tumours where their eyes 
should be, or with a single eye – like Cyclops, or without eyes, or without 
limbs, and even without heads. Significantly, some of the defects are 
almost unknown outside textbooks showing the babies born near A-bomb test 
sites in the Pacific. Doctors report that many women no longer say ‘Is it a 
girl or a boy?’ but simply, ‘Is it normal, doctor?’ Moreover this terrible 
legacy will not end. The genes of their parents may have been damaged for 
ever, and the damaging DU dust is ever-present.

Blue on blue

What the governments of America and Britain have done to the people of Iraq 
they have also done to their own soldiers, in both wars. And they have done 
it knowingly. For the battlefields have been thick with DU and soldiers 
have had to enter areas heavily contaminated by bombing. Moreover, their 
bodies have not only been assaulted by DU but also by a vaccination regime 
which violated normal protocols, experimental vaccines, nerve agent pills, 
and organophosphate pesticides in their tents. Yet, though the hazards of 
DU were known, British and American troops were not warned of its dangers. 
Nor were they given thorough medical checks on their return – even though 
identifying it quickly might have made it possible to remove some of it 
from their body. Then, when a growing number became seriously ill, and 
should have been sent to top experts in radiation damage and neurotoxins, 
many were sent to a psychiatrist.

Over 200,000 US troops who returned from the 1991 war are now invalided out 
with ailments officially attributed to service in Iraq – that’s 1 in 3. In 
contrast, the British government’s failure to fully assess the health of 
returning troops, or to monitor their health, means no one even knows how 
many have died or become gravely ill since their return. However, Gulf 
veterans’ associations say that, of 40,000 or so fighting fit men and women 
who saw active service, at least 572 have died prematurely since coming 
home and 5000 may be ill. An alarming number are thought to have taken 
their own lives, unable to bear the torment of the innumerable ailments 
which have combined to take away their career, their sexuality, their 
ability to have normal children, and even their ability to breathe or walk 
normally. As one veteran puts it, they are ‘on DU death row, waiting to die’.

Whatever other factors there may be, some of their illnesses are strikingly 
similar to those of Iraqis exposed to DU dust. For example, soldiers have 
also fathered children without eyes. And, in a group of eight servicemen 
whose babies lack eyes seven are known to have been directly exposed to DU 
dust. They too have fathered children with stunted arms, and rare 
abnormalities classically associated with radiation damage. They too seem 
prone to cancer and leukaemia. Tellingly, so are EU soldiers who served as 
peacekeepers in the Balkans, where DU was also used. Indeed their leukaemia 
rate has been so high that several EU governments have protested at the use 
of DU.

The vital evidence

Despite all that evidence of the harm done by DU, governments on both sides 
of the Atlantic have repeatedly claimed that as it emits only ‘low level’ 
radiation DU is harmless. Award winning scientist, Dr Rosalie Bertell who 
has led UN medical commissions, has studied ‘low level’ radiation for 30 
years.(2 )She has found that uranium oxide particles have more than enough 
power to harm cells, and describes their pulses of radiation as hitting 
surrounding cells ‘like flashes of lightning’ again and again in a single 
second.(2) Like many scientists worldwide who have studied this type of 
radiation, she has found that such ‘lightning strikes’ can damage DNA and 
cause cell mutations which lead to cancer. Moreover, these particles can be 
taken up by body fluids and travel through the body, damaging more than one 
organ. To compound all that Dr Bertell has found that this particular type 
of radiation can cause the body’s communication systems to break down, 
leading to malfunctions in many vital organs of the body and to many 
medical problems. A striking fact, since many veterans of the first Gulf 
war suffer from innumerable, seemingly unrelated, ailments.

In addition, recent research by Eric Wright, Professor of Experimental 
Haematology at Dundee University, and others, have shown two ways in which 
such radiation can do far more damage than has been thought. The first is 
that a cell which seems unharmed by radiation can produce cells with 
diverse mutations several cell generations later. (And mutations are at the 
root of cancer and birth defects.) This ‘radiation induced genomic 
instability’ is compounded by ‘the bystander effect’ by which cells mutate 
in unison with others which have been damaged by radiation – rather as 
birds swoop and turn in unison. Put together, these two mechanisms can 
greatly increase the damage done by a single source of radiation, such as a 
DU particle. Moreover, it is now clear that there are marked genetic 
differences in the way individuals respond to radiation – with some being 
far more likely to develop cancer than others. So the fact that some 
veterans of the first Gulf war seem relatively unharmed by their exposure 
to DU in no way proves that DU did not damage others.

The price of truth

That the evidence from Iraq and from our troops, and the research findings 
of such experts, have been ignored may be no accident. A US report, leaked 
in late 1995, allegedly says, ‘The potential for health effects from DU 
exposure is real; however it must be viewed in perspective... the financial 
implications of long-term disability payments and healthcare costs would be 

Clearly, with hundreds of thousands gravely ill in Iraq and at least a 
quarter of a million UK and US troops seriously ill, huge disability claims 
might be made not only against the governments of Britain and America if 
the harm done by DU were acknowledged. There might also be huge claims 
against companies making DU weapons and some of their directors are said to 
be extremely close to the White House. How close they are to Downing Street 
is a matter for speculation, but arms sales makes a considerable 
contribution to British trade. So the massive whitewashing of DU over the 
past 12 years, and the way that governments have failed to test returning 
troops, seemed to disbelieve them, and washed their hands of them, may be 
purely to save money.

The possibility that financial considerations have led the governments of 
Britain and America to cynically avoid taking responsibility for the harm 
they have done not only to the people of Iraq but to their own troops may 
seem outlandish. Yet DU weapons weren’t used by the other side and no other 
explanation fits the evidence. For, in the days before Britain and America 
first used DU in war its hazards were no secret.(4) One American study in 
1990 said DU was ‘linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and to] 
chemical toxicity – causing kidney damage’. While another openly warned 
that exposure to these particles under battlefield conditions could lead to 
cancers of the lung and bone, kidney damage, non-malignant lung disease, 
neuro-cognitive disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.(5)

A culture of denial

In 1996 and 1997 UN Human Rights Tribunals condemned DU weapons for 
illegally breaking the Geneva Convention and classed them as ‘weapons of 
mass destruction’ ‘incompatible with international humanitarian and human 
rights law’. Since then, following leukaemia in European peacekeeping 
troops in the Balkans and Afghanistan (where DU was also used), the EU has 
twice called for DU weapons to be banned.

Yet, far from banning DU, America and Britain stepped up their denials of 
the harm from this radioactive dust as more and more troops from the first 
Gulf war and from action and peacekeeping in the Balkan and Afghanistan 
have become seriously ill. This is no coincidence. In 1997, while citing 
experiments, by others, in which 84 percent of dogs exposed to inhaled 
uranium died of cancer of the lungs, Dr Asaf Durakovic, then Professor of 
Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington was 
quoted as saying, ‘The [US government’s] Veteran Administration asked me to 
lie about the risks of incorporating depleted uranium in the human body.’ 
He concluded, ‘uranium
 does cause cancer, uranium does cause mutation, and 
uranium does kill. If we continue with the irresponsible contamination of 
the biosphere, and denial of the fact that human life is endangered by the 
deadly isotope uranium, then we are doing disservice to ourselves, 
disservice to the truth, disservice to God and to all generations who 
follow.’ Not what the authorities wanted to hear and his research was 
suddenly blocked.

During 12 years of ever-growing British whitewash the authorities have 
abolished military hospitals, where there could have been specialized 
research on the effects of DU and where expertise in treating DU victims 
could have built up. And, not content with the insult of suggesting the 
gravely disabling symptoms of Gulf veterans are imaginary they have refused 
full pensions to many. For, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the 
current House of Commons briefing paper on DU hazards says ‘it is judged 
that any radiation effects from
possible exposures are extremely unlikely 
to be a contributory factor to the illnesses currently being experienced by 
some Gulf war veterans.’ Note how over a quarter of a million sick and 
dying US and UK vets are called ‘some’.

The way ahead

Britain and America not only used DU in this year’s Iraq war, they 
dramatically increased its use – from a minimum of 320 tons in the previous 
war to at minimum of 1500 tons in this one. And this time the use of DU 
wasn’t limited to anti-tank weapons – as it had largely been in the 
previous Gulf war – but was extended to the guided missiles, large bunker 
busters and big 2000 pound bombs used in Iraq’s cities. This means that 
Iraq’s cities have been blanketed in lethal particles – any one of which 
can cause cancer or deform a child. In addition, the use of DU in huge 
bombs which throw the deadly particles higher and wider in huge plumes of 
smoke means that billions of deadly particles have been carried high into 
the air – again and again and again as the bombs rained down – ready to be 
swept worldwide by the winds.

The Royal Society has suggested the solution is massive decontamination in 
Iraq. That could only scratch the surface. For decontamination is hugely 
expensive and, though it may reduce the risks in some of the worst areas, 
it cannot fully remove them. For DU is too widespread on land and water. 
How do you clean up every nook and cranny of a city the size of Baghdad? 
How can they decontaminate a whole country in which microscopic particles, 
which cannot be detected with a normal geiger counter, are spread from 
border to border? And how can they clean up all the countries downwind of 
Iraq – and, indeed, the world?

So there are only two things we can do to mitigate this crime against 
humanity. The first is to provide the best possible medical care for the 
people of Iraq, for our returning troops and for those who served in the 
last Gulf war and, through that, minimize their suffering. The second is to 
relegate war, and the production and sale of weapons, to the scrap heap of 
history – along with slavery and genocide. Then, and only then, will this 
crime against humanity be expunged, and the tragic deaths from this war 
truly bring freedom to the people of Iraq, and of the world.


1. The Lancet volume 351, issue 9103, 28 February 1998.

2. Rosalie Bertell’s book Planet Earth the Latest Weapon of War was 
reviewed in Caduceus issue 51, page 28.


The secret official memorandum to Brigadier General L.R.Groves from Drs 
Conant, Compton and Urey of War Department Manhattan district dated October 
1943 is available at the website


Last updated 23/01/2005

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