The Terrifying Truth of Depleted Uranium This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 30, 2010
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Attractive to the United States military because of its “no survivor” warfare, depleted uranium weapons can turn a village into toxic wasteland with the pull of a trigger. Depleted uranium is expended uranium from nuclear power plants. It was regarded as radioactive waste until 1959, when the U.S. realized it is twice as hard as lead and also cheap to purchase; since that time it has been readily fired into enemy territory. Used on the ends of bullets and bombshells for a harder impact, depleted uranium adds to the weapons’ destructive force. But the illness spread by DU toxins can last for thousands of years, passing through multiple generations and defiling already devastated countries. Still, most Americans are unaware that the U.S. is the world’s biggest advocate for DU weapons. The endless suffering must stop; the United States should end its use of depleted uranium weapons completely.

Since its toxins spread easily, depleted uranium weapons affect everyone in or within proximity to a “hit” zone, including American soldiers, foreign soldiers, and mostly innocent civilians. Although there are no exact numbers of the people affected (the amount increases every day), New Internationalist Magazine shares that the U.S. has ruthlessly shot over 300 tons of DU into foreign countries. All of this depleted uranium spreads with dangerous speed. On hard impact, most of the depleted uranium on a shell or bullet burns immediately, turning into dust that can easily travel miles. So even if an enemy target is hit, chances are that civilians miles away will inhale a large portion of the DU dust. Unfortunately the problems do not end there; DU dust contaminates drinking water and agricultural land, so that it is virtually impossible for communities to escape its toxins. Meanwhile, at the actual hit zone, both U.S. soldiers and foreign soldiers face the DU dust, and return home after the conflict to confront the threat of cancer and the inability to produce a healthy child. Depleted uranium has the ability to last 4.5 billion years, affecting generation after generation of people without a care as to what side they were on in the first place.

Additionally, the intake of DU toxins causes severe cancer development in the people affected and extreme deformities in their children. New Internationalist Magazine’s report on depleted uranium outlines some effects of DU, such as abnormally high rates of leukemia, uterine, and bladder cancers, some rates rising by over 150%. Doctors in the affected countries also note that the cancers are affecting a younger generation than normal. Dustin Brim, a twenty two year old weightlifter and runner, served for the U.S. in Iraq for six months during which he developed three types of cancer. Shocking stories like Dustin’s are scattered through the U.S. military. One particular Army unit was serving in a DU contaminated area of Iraq, and only a short time later eight men from the unit were admitted to a medical center for extreme and abnormal sicknesses. In addition to acting as a carcinogen, DU is also a teratogen, which is an agent that creates deformities in embryos. These birth defects are so abnormal and gruesome that doctors have not seen them before. The combination of extreme cancer and birth problems cast a terrifying shadow for the future of people affected by depleted uranium weapons.

In addition to the horrible effects, depleted uranium weapons break many international humanitarian guidelines, and degrade the integrity of the United States military. By terms of the Geneva Convention (a decree the U.S. supports) it is illegal to leave harmful materials on a battlefield after conflict ceases and to willfully cause serious injury to body and health not justified by military necessity. Many more of these international laws are broken by depleted uranium weapons, and the hypocrisy of the U.S. military grows deeper as it hides evidence of these crimes. New Internationalist Magazine reports that so far the U.S. has been unwilling to release the locations of DU strikes in Iraq, while the military takes on its famous “don’t look, don’t find” attitude used after the Vietnam War in regards to Agent Orange. In a recent speech President Obama made the statement, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.” Unfortunately for the United States, the military compromises everything that they claim to defend by using depleted uranium weapons. The ideals of the U.S. are not being upheld, but dishonored by the military’s own actions against innocent people and the international rules that the U.S. claims to support.

Some people argue that the U.S. finds few harmful effects of DU in their test studies. One report, done for the government in 2005 by Science Services Inc, released information that their tests found depleted uranium inhalation to only increase cancer rates by 1.5%. Meanwhile, Britain, another huge proponent for DU weapons, has its own excuse for the rise in cancer and birth defects in conflicted countries. In 2007 the British Government’s Foreign Office claimed that the increasing illnesses in Iraq are, “In all likelihood a result of his [Saddam’s] use of chemical weapons on his own people.” But the evidence against both countries’ claims is proving undeniable, as irrefutable facts pour in from victims and hospitals around the world. Contrary to Britain’s claim about other chemical weapon use, an article in New Internationalist Magazine reported that the Basra Teaching Hospital in Iraq has cited an exponential rise in cancer since 1990, when the United States first used depleted uranium “silver bullets” in Iraq. Dr. Al-Ali at Basra Hospital speaks from his own experience with patients: “We know many carcinogenic factors are available in our environment, but the rates increased only a few years after the 1991 war, and now after the 2003 conflict we have started to have another alarming increase.” In addition to these startling facts, ex-researcher for the World Health Organization, Dr. Keith Baverstock, found that DU could cause serious cancer when inhaled or consumed; however, his findings were omitted from WHO’s report due to pressure from senior officials in the organization. False research like the WHO report occurs routinely, as the United States is always quick to deny bad findings in their tests of DU, rather than admit the military has sent an epidemic to foreign countries.

The United States should end its campaign of depleted uranium weapons now, before more irreversible damage is done. Depleted uranium weapons hurt virtually everyone they come in contact with because their toxins spread easily. The DU dust causes severe cancer development and extreme deformities in the children of the affected, and in addition to the deadly effects, depleted uranium weapons break international rules of warfare and dishonor the ideals of the United States. If you are against the suffering of innocent people, please spend a few minutes looking at organizations like Campaign Against Depleted Uranium and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons to find out what you can do. These organizations have already shown that they care about the future of the victimized, but the question is, do you?

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