Jo Baker - Pandora DU Research Project | 19.09.2002 09:12
Whilst we in Britain are debating the possible hazard of Iraq acquiring biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the Iraqi people need be in no doubt at all that the formidable array of munitions now being ranged against them by the US and allies will contain substantial amounts of radioactive material, which like all other weapons of mass destruction, will continue to kill for generations after the attack is over. Although our Ministers of Defence, like Dr. Moonie, would have us believe that the risks of depleted uranium are minimal, previous experience in Iraq, the Balkans and more recently Afghanistan, has shown otherwise. According to Dr. Moonie, “there are two potential hazards arising from the use of DU: a low level radiation hazard....; and a chemical toxicity hazard, similar to that posed by other heavy metals such as lead.” These are not, he assures us, “‘of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering’ within the meaning of Article 35 of the first Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
How strange then that an epidemiological study made by Professor Alim Yacoub*, shows that it is in precisely those areas where depleted uranium munitions were used and where levels of contamination of soil, plants and water are highest, that a substantial increase in childhood malignancies and leukaemias have been recorded. There has been a steady percentage rise in cases since 1993 due to the cumulative effects of exposure. The figures for the year 2000 were a 300% rise in leukaemias and 384.2% rise in malignancies. His study shows a shift of incidences in leukaemias in recent years towards younger children consistent with exposure to ionising radiation. There has also been a marked rise in congenital diseases and birth malformations in Iraq. Down’s syndrome has increased by 4.5 fold with many of the mothers below the age of 35. Many of the birth defects, especially those in southern Iraq, are multi-malformational, reminiscent of children born after Hiroshima and Nagasaki or after the nuclear testing in the Pacific. Babies are born without limbs, eyes, genitalia, internal organs or with additional abnormal organs and many with extraordinary tumours. There is an increase in hydocephaly and anencephaly. These children are either born to mothers who were living in the areas of southern Iraq where depleted uranium was most heavily used or their fathers were veterans from these same areas. In most of these cases there is no previous history of genetic disorder in the families. Many women are now terrified of giving birth and the sanctions prevent proper ante natal care and scanning.
Should Dr. Moonie ever visit the hospitals of Iraq, he would see for himself ample evidence of ‘superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering’. Ward after ward of children and adults dying, in all probability, from the effects of internal radiation: tiny ceramic aerosolised particles which have entered the body through inhalation or ingestion to lodge in the deep lung or migrate to the lymph or bone giving off a steady pulse of alpha radiation. The one year old baby with a huge stomach cancer, the two year old bleeding hopelessly from the ear and throat, the eight year old leukaemia victim who buries her head in the pillow to hide her silent tears. These are not Saddam’s propaganda pieces any more than the valiant doctors, who for all their training and skills, must simply watch them die. Since sanctions were imposed on Iraq, no child has survived leukaemia. All die in pain with even morphine denied. Parents sell everything they have ever possessed to buy cancer drugs and still the children die.
Depleted uranium is also known to cause neurological disorders, immune breakdown with AIDS like symptoms and rare bowel and kidney problems. Many Iraqi children have suffered from a fatal epidemic of swollen abdomens due to kidney failure. Lowered potassium levels, the result of kidney damage, can lead to cardiac arrest and potassium has also been banned at times as a dual use item. Healthcare under the ‘oil for food’ deal is criminally inadequate. British government officials tell us that the Iraqis could have as much medicine as they wanted but the figures published by the United Nations prove otherwise. Money for healthcare amounts to less than $1 a month per person - this in a country which prior to 1990 had the best modern health service in the region.
A quantitative analysis of depleted uranium isotopes in British, Canadian, and U.S. Gulf War Veterans by Col. Asaf Durakovic, published recently in the journal ‘Military Medicine’, shows that more than 50% of those tested were expelling depleted uranium in their urine more than nine years after the end of the Gulf War. An autopsy of a Canadian veteran who died, showed depleted uranium in the lung and bone. These same people are suffering from a range of health problems which include chronic fatigue, rare bowel and kidney disorders, respiratory problems, neurological problems, depression and mood swings, skin disorders, loss of hair and teeth, painful joints and cancer. The body not only attempts to rid itself of the radioactivity through the urine, but through the semen. This can lead to painful internal burning for the partner after intercourse, known as ‘burning semen syndrome’ and causes genetic damage to the foetus. Many veterans have produced children with rare genetic disorders and birth defects. British troops now being cheered on to war by Blair and Bush would do well to mind the words of Carol Picau, a US Gulf War veteran:
“Take us in our basic training, firing our weapons, climbing mountains, rapelling, doing all these wonderful things the army teaches you to do, and then show us now, with our crippled bones, our incontinence. Take all of us in our wheelchairs, missing arms and legs, and dying of cancers and brain tumours. Take our graves and put that on a commercial.”
Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enrichment process which removes most of the isotopes U-235 and U-234 used in fission. The resulting radioactive ‘waste’ is known as depleted uranium hexaflouride, around 99.7% of which is composed of the alpha emitting isotope U-238. It is 40% less radioactive that natural uranium and can be transformed into an oxide or a metal. As a metal, it has qualities which are very advantageous to the military. It has a hardness and density similar to tungsten, a melting point similar to copper, is very malleable, highly pyrophoric and the nuclear industry is happy to give it away to save itself the high costs of radioactive waste disposal. Depleted uranium is most dangerous when it burns, creating a fine dust which is easily airborne. Left in the soil, the metal will quickly oxidise and enter the water and food chain. The clean up of testing grounds in the United States has been costed at $1000 per cubic metre. In munitions, depleted uranium is usually alloyed with metals such as titanium, niobium, molybdenum or beryllium. Beryllium dust is itself known to cause severe respiratory problems. Some batches of depleted uranium are contaminated with spent nuclear fuel. This means they contain small amounts of plutonium, americanium, neptunium, telechnecium and U-236. Anti- tank penetrators analysed in Kosovo by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found definite traces of U-236 and plutonium 239/240. Damacio Lopez, director of the International Depleted Uranium Study Team, took readings of penetrators and holes in tank armour in Iraq in January 2001 and found readings as high as 2 100 - 2 450 counts/minute. He himself received radiation burns.
An urgent question to put to the US and UK governments while they threaten to launch another attack on Iraq, is how much depleted uranium is being used in current weaponry? Both governments have long since admitted to its use in anti tank penetrators and tank armour and it is now known to be used in shape charged warhead technology. According to Jane’s web site , depleted uranium is also used to increase the penetration effect of some guided weapons. There is a high probability that it is the main component of the advanced unitary penetrator war heads used in guided bomb systems. These were used extensively in Afghanistan and will be used again in Iraq. With weights between 100 - 1500 kg and a deep penetrating effect, the result could mean the flooding of ground water systems with large amounts of radioactivity. In November last year Dr. Moonie stated that “whether DU is used in munitions for the United States forces is a matter for the US Government”. Surely it is also a matter for the civilians of target countries and the countries which border them, as well as for allied and regional troops. The more extensively depleted uranium is used, the more extensive the cover up has to be. If the truth were admitted, compensation claims to the US and UK governments from troops and civilians would already be phenomenal. Instead we have veterans hounded by MI5, scientists fired from their jobs and journalists threatened and harassed.
One of the propaganda designs of recent wars has been to avoid troops coming home in body bags and reassure domestic populations that civilians are not really being targeted. “We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan....” , our politicians assure us. On this note we can be comforted by the possible deployment of new ‘non-lethal’ weapons designed to attack electronic systems without inflicting ‘visible’ collateral damage. In a recent article in the New Scientist, David Windle writes:
“US intelligence reports indicate that key elements of the Iraqi war machine are located in heavily-fortified underground facilities or beneath civilian buildings such as hospitals. This means the role of non-lethal and precision weapons would be a critical factor in any conflict. High Power Microwave (HPM) devices are designed to destroy electronic equipment in command, control, communications and computer targets and are available to the US military. They produce an electromagnetic field of such intensity that their effect can be far more devastating than a lightning strike.”
We do not know what microwave weapons will do to human health but our bodies are electrochemical in nature and any force that seriously disrupts their molecular functioning will cause irreparable damage. Microwaves, for example, are used in gene altering technology to weaken the cell membrane. Impaired cells are open to viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. Russian research on thousands of workers exposed to microwaves during their work with radar in the 1950s showed serious health effects known as ‘microwave sickness’. This is described in Robert O. Becker’s book, ‘The Body Electric’.
"It's [Microwave sickness] first signs are low blood pressure and slow pulse. The later and most common manifestations are chronic excitation of the sympathetic nervous system [stress syndrome] and high blood pressure.
This phase also often includes headache, dizziness, eye pain, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, stomach pain, nervous tension, inability to concentrate, hair loss, plus an increased incidence of appendicitis, cataracts, reproductive problems, and cancer.
The chronic symptoms are eventually succeeded by crisis of adrenal exhaustion and ischemic heart disease [the blockage of coronary arteries and heart attacks]."
The effect of heart seizure was emphasised in a US Defence Intelligence Agency Report ‘Biological Effects of Radiowaves and Microwaves’ 1973, along with the other vital issue of electronic mind control.
As Iraq has already been bombed back to the stone age (1991), does the US government really believe an electronics blackout would be anything very unusual? Is it worth targeting these weapons at the already chronically malnourished and cancer ridden children in the Baghdad hospitals? Are we to believe that to zap them with electric bolts far greater than lightning will do them no harm at all or are our politicians and military cynical enough to think that as they are dying anyway, no one will know nor care?
It would seem that as weapons technology advances so the victims themselves become less and less visible. No bloody massacre or mushroom cloud to shock and appal - just hundreds of thousands of slow, lingering, silent deaths. Some conditions might take many years to unfold, others are passed on from generation to generation. The result is an irreversible and insidious deterioration of our common gene pool.
Pandora DU Research Project
Joanne has visited Iraq four times since 1999.
* Alim Yacoub, MBChB, DPH, MSc., PhD, MFCM
Dean and Professor, College of Medicine, Al-Mustansiriya University, Baghdad