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How depleted uranium shells used in the Gulf War affect the environment

by Judith Willson

June 8, 2010

The artefacts of war are always destructive; this is their purpose. Bombs, guns, missiles, mines and grenades are not designed to mildly annoy people. They are designed to kill. However some have effects that last long after they were used and the war is over, and these include depleted uranium shells.

The long-term environmental effects of depleted uranium shells can be devastating to the environment and to the people that live there. During the first Gulf War the US military decided to use these for the first time without much being known about the possible long-term effects. It later collects in soil and even those who were not exposed during combat run risks when entering contaminated sites.

Depleted uranium is both radioactive and an extremely toxic heavy metal. It is a by-product of the nuclear industry and although described as depleted is, in fact, about 75% as radioactive as normal uranium. Exposure, whether during battle or afterwards, has been linked to a huge range of health problems, including terrible birth defects, kidney and lung problems, and cancer.

Depleted uranium shells are similar to normal ammunition but are either coated in the stuff or contain it in a core. It is used because it is both cheap and extends the range and effectiveness of weapons. Cost effective ways of killing people are always being investigated by the military, quite often with long-term effects not being fully, if at all, researched.

During the Gulf War an enormous amount of depleted uranium was effectively dumped on Iraq soil. Several hundred tons of it were used in ammunition. This amount of any hazardous material is likely to cause problems. Twenty years later there is indeed evidence that this radioactive waste is still affecting people and the environment. The half life of depleted uranium is millions of years. Once it is out there it is not going to break down any time soon.

The effects it has on human cells are bad. Laboratory tests have showed that it causes mutations in a cellĺs DNA, hence the increase in birth defects. It is also carcinogenic. While the effects on people are serious, the effects on the environment are severe too. Depleted uranium can harm all living organisms. This has serious implications for crops and the ecosystems around where the shells were used.

Depleted uranium shells are essentially a nuclear weapon. They might not be as visible or immediately devastating as an atom bomb but they too can have disastrous long-term effects. The Gulf Wars might be over now but the aftermath continues for the Iraqi people and their environment.

http://www.wise-uranium.org/pd f/dumyths.pdf

http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl d/2010/jan/22/iraq-nuclear-con taminated-sites

:: Article nr. 66802 sent on 08-jun-2010 19:37 ECT


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