The Great Depleted Uranium Cover-Up

Early Knowledge
The Pentagon Memos
The UKAEA Warning
The Cleanup Team - Dying To Decontaminate The Battlefield
Plutonium Contamination
Disinformation and Sophistry in Collusion

  • OSAGWI Investigations
  • UK Royal Society
  • Canadian DU Researchers Pay The Price
  • Dirty Tricks




  • While the use of DU in the 1991 Gulf War was not denied, it is striking that amid all the post-war hype over the success of expensive, high tech weaponry, DU weapons received surprisingly little public praise from Pentagon and US defence industry officials, in the wake of the war.
    The US and other NATO governments have always refused to admit to any serious health risks from DU, or to acknowledge the so-called Gulf War Syndrome illnesses suffered by their former soldiers (let alone the "enemy" victims), and the US has consistently refused to even test its Gulf vets.
    However, it is abundantly clear that the US authorities have always been aware of DU's lethal properties, and their silence and refusal to countenance any ill effects from DU, is motivated by a desire to keep on using it, as well as the fear of a flood of compensation claims from their own soldiers (let alone reparations from their victims). The parallels with Agent Orange in Vietnam are all too clear, but the stakes are far higher this time.
     

    Early Knowledge

    As early as October 30th 1943, senior scientists from the Manhattan Project (the American WW2 drive to develop the atomic bomb) sent a letter to their director, General Leslie Groves, actually discussing the use of DU as a terrain contaminant, a gas warfare instrument for inhalation and ingestion ("gas" probably refers to the aerosol clouds), and a contaminator of the environment. They predicted (with, as we can now see, great accuracy) that uranium inhalation would lead to:
    bronchial irritation coming on in a few hours to a few days ... Beta emitting products could get into the gastrointestinal tract from polluted water, or food, or air. From the air, they would get on the mucus of the nose, throat bronchi, etc and be swallowed.
    This proposed usage of DU was not pursued, because its effects were deemed too drastic and longlasting, for the sensibilities of the wartime Allied leaders.
    Sources: Dr Doug Rokke and Dr Helen Caldicott

    In the late 1950s, the Tennesse senator Al Gore Senior (father of the failed 2000 US presidential candidate), proposed dousing the demilitarized zone in Korea with uranium as a cheap safeguard against an attack from the North Koreans.
     

    The Pentagon Memos

    Given all the evidence that they were always aware of the dangers, it may seem surprising that no action has so far been taken by any western government to halt the use of DU munitions, or properly investigate its impact on civilians and soldiers.
    The reason why they are so protective of their silver bullet is probably encapsulated in the now infamous March 1991 memo from Lt. Colonel Ziehmn of Los Alamos National Laboratory (one of the Pentagon's main nuclear research centres), stating:
    There has been and continues to be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. Therefore if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and be deleted from the arsenal.
    If DU penetrators proved their worth during our recent combat activities, then we should assure their future existence (until something better is developed) through Service/DoD proponency.
    Source: Canada's CBC TV - image of original memo
    Translation: DU is militarily useful, so don't make a fuss about the dangers

    At about the same time, Greg Lyle at the US Defence Nuclear Agency sent this memo to Dr Doug Rokke (head of the US cleanup team in the Gulf), indicating their awareness of the dangers:
    Alpha particles (uranium oxide dust) from expended rounds is a health concern but, Beta particles from fragments and intact rounds is a serious health threat, with possible exposure rates of 200 millirads per hour on contact.
    Source: Canada's CBC TV - feature on DU
    NB: Levels of 200 millirads/hour and more were subsequently measured in the Gulf War battlefields, thus exceeding in 30 mins, the recommended US annual radiation dose of 100 millirads.

    An eerily prescient July 1990 US Army report (ie. the month before Saddam invaded Kuwait), called Kinetic Energy Penetrator Environmental and Health Considerations, had already predicted that large amounts of DU oxides could be inhaled, with "potential radiological and toxicological effects", and had warned that public knowledge of the dangers of DU could lead to pressure to ban it. The report also acknowledged that:
    Assuming US regulatory standards and health physics practices are followed, it is likely that some form of remedial action will be required in a DU post-combat environment.
    However, after the scale and cost of cleaning up the DU residue in the post-war Persian Gulf region became clear, the US Army Environmental Policy Institute informed American policymakers in a June 1995 report (Health and Consequences of Depleted Uranium use in the US army), that:
    no international law, treaty, regulation, or custom requires the United States to remediate the Persian Gulf War battlefields.
    Source: Fahey report, Depleted Uranium Weapons - Lessons from the 1991 Gulf War (Lesson 5)

    Despite their denials, the Pentagon obviously knew well that DU was dangerous. The June 1995 US Army report referred to above, also stated that:
    Depleted uranium is a low-level radioactive waste and, therefore, must be be desposed of in a licensed repository.
    As the journalist Felicity Arbuthnot remarked, the report does not advise disposing of it on a school, hospital, TV station or Chinese embassy.
     

    The UKAEA Warning

    Back in the UK, Mr Bartholomew, Business Development Manager at UKAEA, sent a classified paper to the Royal Ordnance on 30 April 1991 (ie. 2 months after Gulf War), warning of a health and environmental catastrophe in Iraq and Kuwait. The UKAEA had calculated that if 50 tonnes of DU dust were inhaled, half a million deaths from cancer would potentially result within 10 years, and his covering letter added:
    The whole subject of the contamination of Kuwait is emotive and thus must be dealt with in a sensitive manner. It is necessary to inform the Kuwait government of the problem in a useful way.
    This memo's existence was disclosed on 2nd March 1998, by UK Armed Forces Minister Lord Gilbert, in response to information tabled in the House of Lords, but was then downplayed by both the British government and media.
    In fact, Gilbert's reply that day shows a breathtaking level of ignorance (or more likely, dishonesty) of the facts about DU. Furthermore, the UKAEA paper itself relied on the ICRP's radiation guidelines, which anti-radiation campaigners such as the LLRC bitterly dispute.
    Source: Lords Hansard, 02 March 1998 (includes UKAEA paper and Bartholomew's covering letter)
    Also reported by Felicity Arbuthnot, in the Sunday Herald, 14 January 2001
     

    The Cleanup Team - Dying To Decontaminate The Battlefield

    During the Gulf War, the physicist Dr Doug Rokke was recalled to active duty 20 years after serving in Vietnam, and he served with the US Army Preventive Medicine Command, helping to prepare for nuclear/chemical/biological exposures.
    After the war, he led the Theatre Depleted Uranium Assessment Team (a handful of officers and civilians), cleaning up contaminated American vehicles that had been hit by DU rounds, and in 1994 he was recalled again, as Director of the army's Depleted Uranium Project.

    In accordance with his directives, Dr Rokke compiled training manuals and videos for assessing, containing and cleaning up DU munitions, and caring for contaminated casualties. His team also made several explicit recommendations: the immediate clean-up of all affected sites, medical screening for anyone possibly exposed to DU, strict use of protective and detection equipment, and prevention of recycling of any materials possibly contaminated.
    However, the US military declined to disseminate these instructional materials amongst the US and Allied forces, or to the civilian medical personnel treating affected populations. Nor did the US military comply with any of his recommendations. Rokke asserts that this is motivated by financial concerns, and fears of massive settlements and war reparations.
    Dr Rokke now calls for a permanent ban on DU (including on the recycling of it for use in civilian products) and for the US to shoulder the cleanup and medical costs of using DU in Iraq.

    At the time of their cleanup operation in the Gulf, Rokke and his team were not equipped with protective gear, or given training about what to expect. They only wore surgical masks rather than gas masks (which might have kept out the DU particles, but then again, they had never been advised to wear them), due to the desert heat.
    They measured radioactive emissions inside destroyed vehicles at 2.6 to 10 mSv/hour. The maximum permissible radiation dose to members of the public is 1 mSv per year, so Iraqis (and the many US vets) who entered these vehicles received this in less than an hour.
    Dr Rokke's team also discovered that DU projectiles fragmented in the same way when fired at wooden targets, contradicting official claims that the uranium oxide dust would only result from impact with the most heavily armoured Iraqi tanks. The implications of this, are that there are much larger quantities of DU oxide floating around southern Iraq.
    Within weeks of returning to the US, Rokke's cleanup team began to fall ill. Over 20 of the 100-strong team died in the following 8 years (so said Dr Rokke at the November 1999 CASI conference, where he summarised his findings in the Gulf as "Oh my God !" - Rokke's presentation is Session 6), and virtually all the rest are ill. Rokke himself suffers from several ailments, including short-term memory loss, breathing difficulties and vision problems.
    He reports a catalogue of obstruction, interference, deception and the discarding/destruction of evidence, by US officials. He describes how one 1994 checkup revealed that he had 5,000 times the permissible level of uranium in his body, but he was not told for another two and a half years (thus preventing correlation of symptons with this known exposure - a common experience of sick Gulf War vets).
    If Rokke's experience in the Gulf demonstrates one thing, it is that the cleanup cost is incalculable - if indeed it's still physically possible. His team took three months to clean up 24 tanks for transport back to the US. The army then took another three years to fully decontaminate them, in a purpose-built vacuum-sealed plant in South Carolina.
    Dr Rokke addresses US Senate, 10 November 2000
    Hansard, 15 December 1999 - Dr Rokke gives evidence to UK Parliament's Select Committee on Defence
    Disaster News Network interview with Dr Rokke, 28 December 2002 - updates the number of subsequent deaths on his 100-strong cleanup team to 30.
     

    Plutonium Contamination

    The January 2001 book, Depleted Uranium: The Invisible War by Martin Meissonnier, Federic Loore and Roger Trilling (published by Robert Laffont, France), was among the first to report that uranium at the US plants which process DU was contaminated with transuranics - highly radioactive elements including plutonium. The plants were meant to process natural uranium, but in the 1950s, without notifying the workers or surrounding communities, the US Department of Energy decided to reprocess spent fuel from military nuclear reactors.
    In other words, the many hundreds of tonnes of DU fired in the Gulf and in the Balkans contained elements many thousands of times more dangerous than U238. It was in response to a 17th January 2001 question from Roger Trilling, that the Pentagon (in the the shape of spokesman, Kenneth Bacon) first acknowledged the plutonium contamination which independent scientists began to suspect in the early 1990s.
    Lara Marlowe - Irish Times, 1st February 2001

    On 20th January 2000, the US Energy Secretery revealed in a written response to Tara Thornton of the MTP that:
    One would have to assume depleted uranium includes traces of plutonium.
    Der Spiegel - 23rd January 2001

    Traces of U236 (a highly radioactive man-made isotope of uranium), plutonium and other transuranics have since been found in American DU munitions. DU produced by other countries such as Russia and Pakistan may be even "dirtier" than the US stockpile. Indeed, depleted uranium should perhaps be better known as uranium-plus.

    See The Fire This Time's plutonium page, for more information on the plutonium contamination.
     

    Disinformation and Sophistry in Collusion

    In a brazen illustration of the power of the nuclear industry to evade inspection, the WHO is bound by a 1959 agreement with its fellow UN agency, the IAEA, which gives the unequivocally pro-nuclear IAEA a veto over any attempts by the WHO to research the effects of radiation.
    As if to reinforce the point, the US Government, supported by some 40 countries including the UK, voted to cancel a WHO study into the effects of DU on civilians in Iraq in November 2001 - even if the WHO limited itself to the toxicological effects. However, the UN Sub-Committee on Minorities and Human Rights has charged three times that DU is a weapon of mass destruction.

    Which is not to say there's no official research going into the effects of DU. The Olin Corporation is the main US manufacturer of DU anti-tank rounds, and its foundation is generous in funding DU research - "research" which purports to show that DU has no harmful effects ...

    In December 1984, the FAA issued Advisory Circular 20-123 - Avoiding or Minimizing Encounters With Aircraft Equipped With Depleted Uranium Balance Weights During Accident Investigations.
    It is still in effect, and states:
    If particles are inhaled or digested, they can be chemically toxic and cause a significant and long-lasting irradiation of internal tissue.
    It advises investigators to wear protective clothing at crash sites, and dispose of them afterwards as radioactive waste.
    Source: From The Wilderness - November 2001
    So the FAA didn't and doesn't think DU is safe either !

    Bill Mesler writes in the The Nation, 13 May 1997, about how the Pentagon covered up the test-firing of DU in its bases on allied territory.
    Pentagon Poison: The Great Radioactive Ammo Cover-Up
    But why would they want to conceal such a perfectly harmless activity ?

    OSAGWI Investigations
    In 1997 the Pentagon established OSAGWI, and after 5 years it had spent nearly $150 million without ever publishing one medical research report or offering a single treatment program for ill Gulf War veterans.
    In fact, as of 1998, only 24 GWS victims had ever been examined for uranium in their lungs - and that was prior to OSAGWI's establishment. Using old insensitive equipment, Dr Belton Burroughs and Dr David Slingerland of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boston, were able to identify 14 of the 24 as having measurable amounts of DU in their lungs.
    Their testing was then ordered to stop, and all their records were subsequently "lost". Some urine samples were sent to the US Army Radiochemistry Laboratory in Maryland, for testing. Some of them never reached the laboratory, and the results of those that did were supposedly "lost". After Dr Asaf Durakovic, an internationally recognized expert in internal radioactive contamination, testified about this to the US Congress, he subsequently lost his job with the VA (a Pentagon agency) in 1997.
    from Dr Bertell's 7th May 1998 address at University of Toronto

    As concern over GWS and the disaster in Iraq began to grow, an OSAGWI-funded RAND report, A Review of the Scientific Literature as it Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses, Volume 7: Depleted Uranium, was issued in April 1999 and (in contradiction of all the prior official reports and memos I've already quoted) repeated officialdom's public denials that DU was harmful. It also employed a recurring trick, by obfuscating the meaning of the term "natural" uranium, eg. at one point they state that DU is less radioactive than natural uranium (which can only be true if by "natural", they mean the post-mining but pre-enrichment metal), and then they go on to state that the natural level of uranium concentrations in our water have never done us any harm (but this type of "natural" uranium is millions of times more diffuse than the refined metal - in fact, uranium does not even exist as a solid metal in nature).
    Dan Fahey (Gulf War vet who served as a naval officer, and is now an anti-DU and veterans-rights activist with the NGWRC, MTP and Swords to Plowshares) responded with a series of four reports: Dod Analysis I in April 1999, Dod Analysis II: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in June 1999, A Fear of Falling in August 1999 and Don't Look, Don't Find in March 2000.
    Fahey attacked the RAND report as biased and incomplete, charging that it made no reference to over 100 relevant information sources, and ignored known studies which demonstrated a clear relationship between DU and harm to human health - for example, those carried out by the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. He demonstrated that the RAND authors (one of whom was a member of OSAGWI staff) were clearly ignorant of much existing literature about DU hazards and previous experiments (literature which the RAND report claimed to have reviewed) and they had also based their conclusions on faulty DU exposure estimates provided by the Pentagon. Furthermore, significant information from OSAGWI interviews was also missing from the body of the RAND report.

    In a broader critique of the Pentagon's track record, he points out that not one of the US friendly-fire casualties hit by DU munitions was even tested till the DU Program was established in 1993, and then only a handful were monitored. Even when one of that handful later developed a tumour, the RAND report didn't mention that, and in fact when VA doctors removed the tumour, they refused to release it to the patient, for independent testing.
    In A Fear of Falling, Fahey damns the Pentagon thus:
    US military leaders are trying to ensure the unrestricted future use and proliferation of depleted uranium weapons, while attempting to conceal their past failures to prevent DU exposures. Through public relations campaigns disguised as investigations, military leaders promote the illusion of the 'clean' war where no one dies, and no one gets sick.

    In Don't Look Don't Find, Fahey brings up the issue of plutonium contamination, and refers to a 1963 study that showed plutonium levels in the DU stockpile to be hundreds of times above established limits. He concludes that the burden of proof is on the Pentagon, as to whether DU ammunition contained high levels, or merely trace amounts, of plutonium and other transuranics.
    Some earlier DU papers by Dan Fahey include:
  • September 1996: Collateral Damage: How US Troops Were Exposed to Depleted Uranium During the Persian Gulf War
         (link is an excerpt only - full report is in the IAC book, Depleted Uranium: Metal of Dishonour)
  • March 1997: The Stone Unturned - A Report on Exposures of Persian Gulf War Veterans and Others to Depleted Uranium Contamination
  • September 1998: Case Narrative - DU Exposures (3rd Edition)
  • May 1999 Depleted Uranium Weapons - Lessons from the 1991 Gulf War


  • UK Royal Society
    In May 2001, the UK Royal Society - an establishment body, manned by a cosy self-congratulatory coterie of the great and good in waiting for their knighthoods - got in on the denial game, by publishing its own report on DU, Health Hazards of Depleted Uranium Munitions. This report was based on a review of existing literature, rather than any new investigations of their own, and contained the astounding claim that a soldier inside any vehicle struck by a DU penetrator - the most dangerous scenario - has only a slightly increased risk of lung cancer.
    Their report was derided by the LLRC, which described their findings as "absolute nonsense" and "lying" and also criticised their methodology, for not taking into account the specific hazards of internal radiation sources.
    The Laka Foundation's June 2001 review gave the Royal Society credit for at least allowing Dr Chris Busby of the LLRC to address them, but was otherwise no kinder to their report.
    Dr Malcolm Hooper, advisor to the British Gulf War vets, also criticised their report, on 14 June 2001.

    In March 2002, the Royal Society produced a follow-up report on the health effects of DU, concentrating on the chemical and long-term environmental risks. It concluded that even for soldiers on the battlefield, exposure levels would be too low to have any adverse effect on any organ. Dr Chris Busby of the LLRC made a series of suggestions to the report's draft copy all of which were ignored in the final copy, and which led him to conclude that:
    There was no real intention to research the area except in ways that were guaranteed not to find anything.
    Similarly Malcolm Hooper, Chief Medical advisor to the British Gulf War Veterans commented that:
    This is an attempt to give a scientific imprimatur to the stance of the government, which is unacceptable.
    See CADU and NRPB comments on the Royal Society's work.

    Canadian DU Researchers Pay The Price - The Case Of Sharma And Horan
    In April 1999, Dr Hari Sharma, a nuclear chemist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, found DU traces in the urine of 14 British vets, out of a group of 30 who had send him their samples. Based on his findings, he predicted 1,500 to 10,500 extra cancers among the UK cohort of 53,000 vets.
    Soon after, he was sent soil and urine samples by some Wolverhampton prison officers after a fire at a neighbouring DU factory (see Featherstone fire, on UK page), but was sacked from his 30-year university post before they arrived. The samples then went "missing".
    Patricia Horan, a geochemist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, later backed up Dr Sharma's results for the British vets, using more sensitive equipment. She worked on DU from 1999, but was forced out of her job in July 2002 (and her assistant was dismissed on the same day), having already experienced break-ins and burglaries, and harrassment by her new boss. In August 2002, she co-published her findings with Dietz and Durakovic of the UMRC.
    BBC, 27 August 1999

    Dirty Tricks
    The references to the handling of GWS on the other pages of this site, provide many more examples of the official obstruction of any investigations.
    Indeed, they often went beyond that, into intimidation and coercion. The 7th September 2001 Big Issue even reported that Dr Doug Rokke had been shot at, the journalist Felicity Arbuthnot rammed off the road on the A11 in Cambridgeshire by an unmarked car, and British vet Ray Bristow's DU research stolen in a burglary.
    However, I have been unable to find alternative corroboration of any of these stories, apart from Ray Bristow's burglary (which was actually a raid by MoD police, and is documented in Arbuthnot's September 1999 New Internationalist article, Poisoned Legacy). This undated Squall article gives a bit more detail, but appears to be based on the same source.
    There are also reports of unknown authenticity, that Dr Guenther was seriously injured by a drive-by shooting in Germany.
     
     
     

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