|Depleted uranium: a strange way to protect Libyan civilians|
By David Wilson
Stop the War Coalition
24 March 2011
"[Depleted uranium tipped missiles] fit the description of a dirty bomb in every way... I would say that it is the perfect weapon for killing lots of people." Marion Falk, chemical physicist (retd), Lawrence Livermore Lab, California, USA
In the first 24 hours of the Libyan attack, US B-2s dropped forty-five 2,000-pound bombs. These massive bombs, along with the Cruise missiles launched from British and French planes and ships, all contained depleted uranium (DU) warheads.
DU is the waste product from the process of enriching uranium ore. It is used in nuclear weapons and reactors. Because it is a very heavy substance, 1.7 times denser than lead, it is highly valued by the military for its ability to punch through armored vehicles and buildings. When a weapon made with a DU tip strikes a solid object like the side of a tank, it goes straight through it, then erupts in a burning cloud of vapor. The vapor settles as dust, which is not only poisonous, but also radioactive.
An impacting DU missile burns at 10,000 degrees C. When it strikes a target, 30% fragments into shrapnel. The remaining 70% vaporises into three highly-toxic oxides, including uranium oxide. This black dust remains suspended in the air and, according to wind and weather, can travel over great distances. If you think Iraq and Libya are far away, remember that radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales.
Particles less than 5 microns in diameter are easily inhaled and may remain in the lungs or other organs for years. Internalized DU can cause kidney damage, cancers of the lung and bone, skin disorders, neurocognitive disorders, chromosome damage, immune deficiency syndromes and rare kidney and bowel diseases. Pregnant women exposed to DU may give birth to infants with genetic defects. Once the dust has vaporised, don't expect the problem to go away soon. As an alpha particle emitter, DU has a half life of 4.5 billion years.
In the 'shock and awe' attack on Iraq, more than 1,500 bombs and missiles were dropped on Baghdad alone. Seymour Hersh has claimed that the US Third Marine Aircraft Wing alone dropped more than "five hundred thousand tons of ordnance". All of it DU-tipped.
Al Jazeera reported that invading US forces fired two hundred tons of radioactive material into buildings, homes, streets and gardens of Baghdad. A reporter from the Christian Science Monitor took a Geiger counter to parts of the city that had been subjected to heavy shelling by US troops. He found radiation levels 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal in residential areas. With its population of 26 million, the US dropped a one-ton bomb for every 52 Iraqi citizens or 40 pounds of explosives per person.
William Hague has said that we are in Libya " to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas".You don't have to look far for who and what are being 'protected'.
In that first 24 hours the 'Allies' 'expended' £100 million on DU-tipped ordnance. The European Union's arms control report said member states issued licences in 2009 for the sale of £293.2 million worth of weapons and weapons systems to Libya. Britain issued arms firms licences for the sale of £21.7 million worth of weaponry to Libya and were also paid by Colonel Gadaffi to send the SAS to train his 32nd Brigade.
For the next 4.5 billion years, I'll bet that William Hague will not be holidaying in North Africa.
The military and the politicians are very shy about the uses of depleted uranium, but we know that DU is or has been used in the following ordnance. The list is not exhaustive:
The only evidence of a move away from DU usage is the MK149 20mm ammunition, previously used by the US Navy's Phalanx Anti-Ship Missile Defense System, which has been replaced by a non-DU version with a Tungsten penetrator.
The UK Ministry of Defence and US Dept of Defence are careful how they refer to DU and prefer not to answer questions about its use. But in those 'official' documents we have been able to view it is clear that DU is commended for its excellent penetrating qualities and we must assume that what is considered of military value is going to be used especially when the political spokespeople for the military are keen to deny that DU has any harmful affects on human beings.
If it is harmless and effective why not use it? Thus the UK Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, in correspondence with Bill Wilson (no relation), a member of the Scottish Parliament in February 2011 said:
"The UK does not support resolutions that presuppose DU is harmful... The Government's policy remains that DU can be used within weapons; it is not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. UK armed forces use DU munitions in accordance with international humanitarian law. It would be quite wrong to deny our serving personnel a legitimate capability."
Liam Fox is repeating the views of earlier UK Defence Secretaries. This is an excerpt from then Defence Secretary, Des Brown's letter to Tony Benn, dated 21 April 2008
"In conclusion, our view remains that DU can be legitimately used within weapons and that it would be quite wrong for the UK Government to deny our troops a legitimate capability that provides the best possible protection for them during armed conflicts."
My view is that we have to assume that DU remains in use in the ordnance listed above and that the list is likely to be incomplete. Since we are being told, when we're told anything, that DU is not dangerous and is an effective tool for warfare why would they not continue its use?. So long as that is the official opinion from the military and the politicians we must take it at face value and force them to confirm with evidence that we are wrong and DU is no longer used.
I would love to be proved wrong as would, even more so, the people who are under bombardment. The military and politicians give us every reason to suppose the worst.
When you check through official documents on weaponry in both the US and UK you will find few references to DU usage, they prefer to talk about 'enhancements' and 'design modifications' to 'improve penetrations' as here:
"The Air Force is improving capability to attack hardened and/or deeply buried targets during adverse environmental conditions. The performance of the current 4,700-lb BLU-113, used on the GBU-28 GPS/laser-guided bomb, is being greatly enhanced through the design modification of the BLU-122 warhead, improving its penetration, lethality, and survivability. This modification will increase the number of deeply buried targets held at risk. In addition, some existing targets held at risk will require fewer weapons, therefore reducing the number of missions necessary to defeat a target."However, the Washington-based think-tank Global Security provides a rare history of military uses of depleted uranium.