Anonymous asked in Politics & GovernmentMilitary · 1 decade ago

Is depleted Uranium a dangerous chemical weapon that is being used in Iraq?

13 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Yes, depleted uranium bombs are, indeed Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    The DU bombs are causing skyrocketing birth defects in Iraq - as they have been doing since bush the first used them in Desert Storm.


    SOUTHERN DEMILITARIZED ZONE, Iraq -- On the "Highway of Death," 11 miles north of the Kuwait border, a collection of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles are rusting in the desert.

    They also are radiating nuclear energy.

    Six-year-old Fatma Rakwan, being held by her mother at the Basra Hospital for Maternity and Children, was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

    In 1991, the United States and its Persian Gulf War allies blasted the vehicles with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium -- the first time such weapons had been used in warfare -- as the Iraqis retreated from Kuwait. The devastating results gave the highway its name.

    Today, nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons was credited with bringing the war to a swift conclusion, the battlefield remains a radioactive toxic wasteland -- and depleted uranium munitions remain a mystery.

    Although the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium, Iraqi doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

    Depleted uranium is a problem in other former war zones as well. Yesterday, U.N. experts said they found radioactive hot spots in Bosnia resulting from the use of depleted uranium during NATO air strikes in 1995.

    With another war in Iraq perhaps imminent, scientists and others are concerned that the side effects of depleted uranium munitions -- still a major part of the U.S. arsenal -- will cause serious illnesses or deaths in a new generation of U.S. soldiers as well as Iraqis.


    Depleted uranium, known as DU, is a highly dense metal that is the byproduct of the process during which fissionable uranium used to manufacture nuclear bombs and reactor fuel is separated from natural uranium. DU remains radioactive for about 4.5 billion years.

    Uranium, a weakly radioactive element, occurs naturally in soil and water everywhere on Earth, but mainly in trace quantities. Humans ingest it daily in minute quantities.

    Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I

    Dr. Khajak Vartaanian, a radiation expert, holds a Geiger counter next to a hole in an Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted uranium weapons in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The shell holes show 1,000 times the normal background radiation level.

    DU shell holes in the vehicles along the Highway of Death are 1,000 times more radioactive than background radiation, according to Geiger counter readings done for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Dr. Khajak Vartaanian, a nuclear medicine expert from the Iraq Department of Radiation Protection in Basra, and Col. Amal Kassim of the Iraqi navy.

    The desert around the vehicles was 100 times more radioactive than background radiation; Basra, a city of 1 million people, some 125 miles away, registered only slightly above background radiation level.

    But the radioactivity is only one concern about DU munitions.

    A second, potentially more serious hazard is created when a DU round hits its target. As much as 70 percent of the projectile can burn up on impact, creating a firestorm of ceramic DU oxide particles. The residue of this firestorm is an extremely fine ceramic uranium dust that can be spread by the wind, inhaled and absorbed into the human body and absorbed by plants and animals, becoming part of the food chain.

    Once lodged in the soil, the munitions can pollute the environment and create up to a hundredfold increase in uranium levels in ground water, according to the U.N. Environmental Program.

    Studies show it can remain in human organs for years.

    The U.S. Army acknowledges the hazards in a training manual, in which it requires that anyone who comes within 25 meters of any DU-contaminated equipment or terrain wear respiratory and skin protection, and states that "contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption."

    Just six months before the Gulf War, the Army released a report on DU predicting that large amounts of DU dust could be inhaled by soldiers and civilians during and after combat.

    Infantry were identified as potentially receiving the highest exposures, and the expected health outcomes included cancers and kidney problems.

    The report also warned that public knowledge of the health and environmental effects of depleted uranium could lead to efforts to ban DU munitions.

    But today the Pentagon plays down the effects. Officials refer queries on DU munitions to the latest government report on the subject, last updated on Dec. 13, 2000, which said DU is "40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium."

    The report also said, "Gulf War exposures to depleted uranium (DU) have not to date produced any observable adverse health effects attributable to DU's chemical toxicity or low-level radiation. . . ."

    In response to written queries, the Defense Department said, "The U.S. Military Services use DU munitions because of DU's superior lethality against armor and other hard targets."

    It said DU munitions are "war reserve munitions; that is, used for combat and not fired for training purposes," with the exception that DU munitions may be fired at sea for weapon calibration purposes.

    In addition to Iraq and Bosnia, DU munitions were used in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.

    Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I

    Hamdin and his brother Amhid are receiving follow-up treatment after being treated successfully for leukemia two years ago at the Basra Hospital for Maternity and Children.

    Also in 1999, a United Nations subcommission considered DU hazardous enough to call for an initiative banning its use worldwide. The initiative has remained in committee, blocked primarily by the United States, according to Karen Parker, a lawyer with the International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project, which has consultative status at the United Nations.

    Parker, who first raised the DU issue in the United Nations in 1996, contends that DU "violates the existing law and customs of war."

    She said there are four rules derived from all of humanitarian law regarding weapons:

    Weapons may only be used in the legal field of battle, defined as legal military targets of the enemy in war. Weapons may not have an adverse effect off the legal field of battle.

    Weapons can only be used for the duration of an armed conflict. A weapon that is used or continues to act after the war is over violates this criterion.

    Weapons may not be unduly inhumane.

    Weapons may not have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment.

    "Depleted uranium fails all four of these rules," Parker said last week.

    On Oct. 17, 2001, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., introduced a bill calling for "the suspension of the use, sale, development, production, testing, and export of depleted uranium munitions pending the outcome of certain studies of the health effects of such munitions. . . ."

    More than a year later, the bill -- co-sponsored by Reps. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Puerto Rico; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Barbara Lee, D-Ca.; and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. -- remains in committee awaiting comment from the Defense Department.


    Gulf War veterans faced a wide array of potentially toxic materials during the war: smoke from oil and chemical fires, insecticides, pesticides, vaccinations and DU.

    Of the 696,778 troops who served during the recognized conflict phase (1990-1991) of the Gulf War, at least 20,6861 have applied for VA medical benefits. As of May 2002, 159,238 veterans have been awarded service-connected disability by the Department of Veterans Affairs for health effects collectively known as the Gulf War Syndrome.

    Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I

    The woman in the foreground shares a room with four other cancer patients at the Saddam Teaching Hospital in Basra. The patient lying on the bed behind died earlier in the day on which this photograph was taken.

    There have been many studies on Gulf War Syndrome over the years, as well as on possible long-term health hazards of DU munitions. Most have been inconclusive. But some researchers said the previous studies on DU, conducted by groups and agencies ranging from the World Health Organization to the Rand Corp. to the investigative arm of Congress, weren't looking in the right place -- at the effects of inhaled DU.

    Dr. Asaf Durakovic, director of the private, non-profit Uranium Medical Research Centre in Canada and the United States, and center research associates Patricia Horan and Leonard Dietz, published a unique study in the August issue of Military Medicine medical journal.

    The study is believed to be the first to look at inhaled DU among Gulf War veterans, using the ultrasensitive technique of thermal ionization mass spectrometry, which enabled them to easily distinguish between natural uranium and DU.

    The study, which examined British, Canadian and U.S. veterans, all suffering typical Gulf War Syndrome ailments, found that, nine years after the war, 14 of 27 veterans studied had DU in their urine. DU also was found in the lung and bone of a deceased Gulf War veteran.

    That no governmental study has been done on inhaled DU "amounts to a massive malpractice," Dietz said in an interview last week.

  • 1 decade ago

    Depleted Uranium rounds are used because it is a my harder medal and allows for the round to penetrate armored targets easier. Is there a need for it? Yes there is, otherwise taking out Iraqi tanks would be more difficult.

    Is depleted uranium dangerous? Yes and no. If you are around it, no worries. If your handling it, then it could be a slight problem if you dont wash your hands afterwards. Over 99% of the depleted uranium is in old tank hulls that were blown up during the invasion and sit in large junk yards. If your playing in a tank grave yard, there are bigger things to worry about then the depleted uranium. Who knows what sort of chemicals and fluids are still inside that tank that could get you sick or kill you. the Depleted Uranium is the leat of your why are you fooling around in a junk yard?

  • Pfo
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    It's not a chemical weapon, because it's not a chemical. Uranium is an element, like copper or brass, except it's very heavy. It's so heavy that most occurrences of it are what is called radioactive, the molecules are under a lot of stress to eject material (radioactive particles) that can wreck havoc on organic material. Depleted uranium, as the name suggests, is uranium that is or is mostly not radioactive. It SHOULD be harmless enough for consumption if you so desired. That isn't necessarily always the case if you understand the complexities of radioactive materials, but in most cases it is safe to be around. Regular enriched uranium, or even the stuff found in the wild, would in most cases give you such severe radiation poisoning that it is not likely you would survive.

  • 1 decade ago

    Depleted Uranium isn't a chemical weapon. It's radio-active, but because it's non explosive it's not considered a nuclear weapon.

    It is used in Iraq legally, although it's applications are rather limited (mainly it's used for tank and armor piercing... and since insurgents are short on tanks, it isn't heavily used). As with any military equipment situation, ALL civilians of any nation should avoid close proximity with damaged military vehicles (ESPECIALLY tanks and air craft) and should contact relevant authorities if they discover such reckage. FYI, destroyed tanks and certain aircraft also contain depleted uranium as part of their armor components due to it's exceedingly strong density

    Source(s): AF officer
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  • 1 decade ago

    I doubt the any depleted uranium rounds are being used in Iraq now. DU penetrators are used in APFSDS anti-tank rounds, and as there are no more enemy tanks there is no need for them.

    Those SABOT rounds are not chemical weapons; DU is used as it a hard and heavy metal that will penetrate armour at high velocity. The radiation from depleted uranium is minimal; you get more radiation from the sun.

  • BruceN
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Yes. In sufficient quantities, depleted uranium can cause dangerous levels of radiation.

    But it isn't used as a chemical weapon. It is used in anti-tank munitions because uranium is dense enough to pierce hardened steel.

    It is still a lot less dangerous to civilians than unexploded land mines

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Interesting how there is so much fanfare about DU at present time...

    Did not hear a peep about them, or sideeffect when utilized in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Afganistan.

  • 1 decade ago


    Depleted Uranium has a human health hazard almost identical to that of lead.

    There have been several studies performed on the effects of DU on battlefields and those studies demonstrate that the 'dangers' are highly exaggerated.

    Here are a couple of links you should read:

  • 1 decade ago

    Uranium is a heavy metal. It's used as an armament on tanks. It contaminates like lead does.

  • 1 decade ago

    DU is used in Armour piercing munitions.

    It is as dangerous as to carry in your pocket as a lead fishing sinker.

    It is also as dangerous to swallow as a lead fishing singer.

    So unless you can get the enemy to eat it, I suppose its not so good as a weapon.

    By the way it is also used as a layer in our armored vehicles.

  • 1 decade ago

    As in the magic pill for the nuclear cocktail? Interesting. I did read the Saudi's offered to produce with Iran in Switzerland... Africa I believe is a supplier and then we have Australia who may have/not sold some up to China this spring.

    Never thought about Iraq. Were does Canada get hers? Good and thought provoking !! c ya around I hope :)

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