Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Nuclear War in Iraq

Some people are fearful of nuclear power generation. Their concerns are not without merit. Near disasters like the one at Three Mile Island or the actual disaster at Chernobyl give us good reasons for concern. Nuclear disaster sites for all practical purposes last forever.

If you take the time to look into this topic in detail, you'll soon learn that the USA and coalition forces are turning the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan into nuclear disaster sites and polluting even larger parts of our global environment with nuclear waste.

Good News / Bad News

Knowledge can help us overcome fear. My degree is in physics, and nuclear physics was one of my interests when I was in college. However, even knowledgeable people can be misinformed or ignorant of the facts. Marie Curie and her husband Pierre were early pioneers in nuclear physics. The 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the Curies and Antoine Henri Becquerel for their work in the area of radioactivity. Sadly, they didn't know much about the dangers of radioactive materials in the early 1900s, and Marie Curie died from the effects of radiation exposure.

The good news is 100 years later we know much more about the dangers of radioactivity. The bad news is the general population is terribly misinformed and even intentionally misguided about some of the most horrific risks to our environment from radioactive nuclear material.

Most people are fearful of nuclear bombs, and rightfully so. The world saw what nuclear bombs could do in World War II. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan killed roughly 214,000 people. In today's world, Intercontinental Ballistic Missles (ICBMs) with multiple warheads each more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan can be launched to almost anywhere on the planet within a matter of minutes. However, these sorts of strategic nuclear weapons have never been used in a war. A more pressing and real threat are the nuclear weapons actually being used in war today. What I'm specifically referring to are conventional depleted uranium weapons.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission passed two motions in 1996 and 1997 listing weapons of mass destruction, indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. It urged all states to curb the production and the spread of such weapons. Included in the list was weaponry containing depleted uranium.

So, as the world watched the Bush-Cheney Administration valiantly looking for Saddam's WMDs, they were using WMDs of their own on the Iraqi people. The USA and coalition forces using depleted uranium in the Middle East and Afghanistan have removed an evil dictator and Taliban fanatics and replaced them with another form of terror on innocent civilians - depleted uranium. It is total hypocrisy.

What is DU?

Depleted uranium (DU) is primarily U238, a low level radioactive emitter. It is called "depleted" because U238 is separated from the natural uranium ore in order to gather "enriched" U235 which is valuable. U235 and U238 are different isotopes of the radioactive element uranium. Natural uranium is about 99.3% U238 and only .7% U235. So, you process a lot of DU from natural uranium in order to get just a little bit of the enriched U235. The U235 is the more valuable fissile material for nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs. However, the DU left over from uranium processing has some very impressive military applications.

The really bad news is that DU is still radioactive and still dangerous. It is used today in warfare in both armor and munitions. It was used in the first Gulf War and in the current Iraq War and Afghanistan. Yes, both wars in Iraq and our operations in Afghanistan have been nuclear wars! Although we have not used atomic bombs like the ones dropped on Japan in WWII, our military has put more radioactive material in the environment from conventional nuclear weapons than the all the nuclear bomb testing and two war-time nuclear bombs dropped on Japan combined.

One of the biggest atrocities committed against our troops is the misinformation or lack of information about the risks of DU. Our government has all but ignored the environmental disaster our military is creating in Iraq and Afghanistan with DU. The lack of attention to the significant health impact on our troops deployed in the Middle East and Afghanistan is an inexcusable atrocity.

Very few people are informed about the facts of the nuclear war in Iraq. The mainstream media mostly ignores the topic, but if you take the time to look, you can find plenty of information on the web. A few brave and highly educated scientists and medical professionals have been trying to get out the word on this important topic. Here is a short video about DU: 7 minute video.

How is DU used?

In a nutshell, metal alloys made from high-density depleted uranium are mixed with other metals to create staballoy for use in kinetic energy penetrators. These armor-piercing munitions are used by the A-10 Warthog for "tank busting" and in the famous "bunker buster" bombs. DU armor plating is used on the M1 Abrams tank. These are just a few examples of many military applications of DU. It is an amazing material with incredibly impressive characteristics that make it extremely effective in weapons and armor.

DU munitions are essentially "dirty bombs" -- not very radioactive individually, but nonetheless suspected of being capable in quantity of causing serious illnesses and birth defects. In 1991, U.S. forces fired a staggering 944,000 DU rounds in Kuwait and Iraq. I haven't found similar data for the 2nd war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I did discover that each shell fired by an American tank includes 10 pounds of DU. So that means in the first Gulf War we left about 9.5 million pounds of DU in the environment.

When DU is vaporized in combat, it becomes an aerosol which is then inhaled by anyone around it, including civilian and friendly troops. These small particles can pollute ground water, the atmosphere, and the soil. In a windy, dry, and dusty climate like Iraq, this radioactive particulate matter can even get into the upper atmosphere and spread over large areas. It cannot be effectively cleaned up. Lots of people heard about "Gulf War Syndrome" after the first invasion of Iraq. Few people were aware that many of the symptoms of "Gulf War Syndrome" can be explained by DU.

Health Hazards of DU

Ingestion and particularly inhalation of DU is a known health risk. It is considered both a toxic and radioactive hazard that requires long term storage as low level nuclear waste. Military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan are vaporizing hundreds if not thousands of tons of this hazardous material where it can never be cleaned up. This polluted environment will result in illness and birth defects for the inhabitants of this region for thousands of generations.

Additional Resources
  1. For a shocking documentary rent Beyond Treason at your local video rental store. (If they don't have it, direct them to the link and ask them to put it in their inventory.)
  2. Summary of the military applications of DU
  3. The Doctor, the Depleted Uranium and the Dying Children (German Documentary)
  4. America’s big dirty secret (French Press)
  5. International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons - United Nations Report 2006
  6. US Forces' Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons is 'Illegal' (Scottish Press)
  7. Dirty Weapons - Casualties From Iraq War Will Mount
  8. Gulf War Syndrome, DU, and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation

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