rn:Le Monde Diplomatique: DU- U$ dirty secret


Jan Slakov

Dear Renaissance Network,

For those of us who think this war is wrong no matter what kind of amunition
is used, this article may not seem so important. But it can be very
important to share with people who do not quite see things as we do, but who
still care at some level...

all the best, Jan
From: "Snezana Vitorovich" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fw: Le Monde Diplomatic : America's big dirty secret
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 12:46:11 -0500

----- Original Message ----- 
Sent: Friday, March 15, 2002 12:49 PM
Subject: LMD - America's big dirty secret

  Le Monde Diplomatique 
  March 2002 

  America's big dirty secret

  The United States loudly and proudly boasted this month of its new bomb
currently being used against al-Qaida hold-outs in Afghanistan; it sucks the
air from underground installations, suffocating those within. The US has
also admitted that it has used depleted uranium weaponry over the last
decade against bunkers in Iraq, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan. by ROBERT JAMES

  "The immediate concern for medical professionals and employees of aid
organisations remains the threat of extensive depleted uranium (DU)
contamination in Afghanistan." This is one of the conclusions of a 130-page
report, Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan? (1), by Dai Williams, an
independent researcher and occupational psychologist. It is the result of
more than a year of research into DU and its effects on those exposed to it. 

  Using internet sites of both NGOs (2) and arms manufacturers, Williams has
come up with information that he has cross-checked and compared with weapons
that the Pentagon has reported â?" indeed boasted about â?" using during the
war. What emerges is a startling and frightening vision of war, both in
Afghanistan and in the future. 

  Since 1997 the United States has been modifying and upgrading its missiles
and guided (smart) bombs. Prototypes of these bombs were tested in the
Kosovo mountains in 1999, but a far greater range has been tested in
Afghanistan. The upgrade involves replacing a conventional warhead by a
heavy, dense metal one (3). Calculating the volume and the weight of this
mystery metal leads to two possible conclusions: it is either tungsten or
depleted uranium. 

  Tungsten poses problems. Its melting point (3,422°C) makes it very hard
to work; it is expensive; it is produced mostly by China; and it does not
burn. DU is pyrophoric, burning on impact or if it is ignited, with a
melting point of 1,132°C; it is much easier to process; and as nuclear
waste, it is available free to arms manufacturers. Further, using it in a
range of weapons significantly reduces the US nuclear waste storage problem. 

  This type of weapon can penetrate many metres of reinforced concrete or
rock in seconds. It is equipped with a detonator controlled by a computer
that measures the density of the material passed through and, when the
warhead reaches the targeted void or a set depth, detonates the warhead,
which then has an explosive and incendiary effect. The DU burns fiercely and
rapidly, carbonising everything in the void, while the DU itself is
transformed into a fine uranium oxide powder. Although only 30% of the DU of
a 30mm penetrator round is oxidised, the DU charge of a missile oxidises
100%. Most of the dust particles produced measure less than 1.5 microns,
small enough to be breathed in. 

  For a few researchers in this area, the controversy over the use of DU
weapons during the Kosovo war got side-tracked. Instead of asking what
weapons might have been used against most of the targets (underground
mountain bunkers) acknowledged by Nato, discussion focused on 30mm anti-tank
penetrator rounds, which Nato had admitted using but which would have been
ineffective against superhardened underground installations. 

  However, as long as the questions focused on such anti-tank penetrators,
they dealt with rounds whose maximum weight was five kilos for a 120mm
round. The DU explosive charges in the guided bomb systems used in
Afghanistan can weigh as much as one and a half metric tons (as in
Raytheon's Bunker Buster â?" GBU-28) (4). 

  Who cares? 
      In Geneva, where most of the aid agencies active in Afghanistan are
based, Williams's report has caused varied reactions. The United Nations
Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office for the
Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs have circulated it. But it does not
seem to have worried agency and programme directors much. Only Médecins
sans Frontiéres and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) say they fear an
environmental and health catastrophe. 

  In March and April 2001, UNEP and the World Health Organisation (WHO)
published reports on DU, reports that are frequently cited by those claiming
DU is innocuous. The Pentagon emphasises that the organisations are
independent and neutral. But the UNEP study is, at best, compromised. The
WHO study is unreliable. 

  The Kosovo assessment mission that provided the basis for the UNEP
analysis was organised using maps supplied by Nato; Nato troops accompanied
the researchers to protect them from unexploded munitions, including cluster
bomb sub-munitions. These sub-munitions, as Williams discovered, were
probably equipped with DU shaped-charges. Nato troops prevented researchers
from any contact with DU sub-munitions, even from discovering their existence. 

  During the 16 months before the UNEP mission, the Pentagon sent at least
10 study teams into the field and did major clean-up operations (5). Out of
8,112 anti-tank penetrator rounds fired on the sites studied, the UNEP team
recovered only 11, although many more would not have been burned. And, 18 to
20 months after the firing, the amount of dust found directly on sites hit
by these rounds was particularly small. 

  The WHO undertook no proper epidemiological study, only an academic desk
study. Under pressure from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the WHO
confined itself to studying DU as a heavy-metal, chemical contaminant. In
January 2001, alerted to the imminent publication by <I class=spip>Le Monde
diplomatique of an article attacking its inaction (6), the WHO held a press
conference and announced a $2m fund â?" eventually $20m â?" for research
into DU. According Dr Michael Repacholi of the WHO, the report on DU, under
way since 1999 and supervised by the British geologist Barry Smith, would be
expanded to include radiation contamination. The work would include analyses
of urine of people exposed to DU, conducted to determine the exposure level. 

  But the monograph, published 10 weeks later, was merely a survey of
existing literature on the subject. Out of hundreds of thousands of
monographs published since 1945, which ought to have been explored in depth,
the report covered only monographs on chemical contamination, with a few
noteworthy exceptions. The few articles about dealing with radiation
contamination that had been consulted came from the Pentagon and the Rand
Corporation, the Pentagon think- tank. It is unsurprising that the report
was bland. 

  The recommendations of the two reports were common sense, and repeated
advice already given by the WHO and echoed regularly by the aid
organisations working in Kosovo. This included marking off known target
sites, collecting penetrator rounds wherever possible, keeping children away
from contaminated sites, and the suggested monitoring of some wells later on. 

  Uranium plus 
   The problem can be summed up as two key findings: 

  o Radiation emitted by DU threatens the human body because, once DU dust
has been inhaled, it becomes an internal radiation source; international
radiation protection standards, the basis of expert claims that DU is
harmless, deal only with external radiation sources; 

  o Dirty DU â?" the UNEP report, for all its failings, deserves credit for
mentioning this. Uranium from reactors, recycled for use in munitions,
contains additional highly toxic elements, such as plutonium, 1.6
kilogrammes of which could kill 8bn people. Rather than depleted uranium, it
should be called uranium plus. 

  In a French TV documentary on Canal+ in January 2001 (7), a team of
researchers presented the results of an investigation into a gaseous
diffusion â?" recycling â?" plant in Paducah, Kentucky, US. According to the
lawyer for 100,000 plaintiffs, who are past and present plant employees,
they were contaminated because of flagrant non-compliance with basic safety
standards; the entire plant is irrevocably contaminated, as is everything it
produces. The documentary claimed that the DU in the missiles that were
dropped on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq is likely to be a product of
this plant. 

  These weapons represent more than just a new approach to warfare. The US
rearmament programme launched during Ronald Reagan's presidency was based on
the premise that the victor in future conflicts would be the side that
destroyed the enemy's command and communications centres. Such centres are
increasingly located in superhardened bunkers deep underground. 

  Hitting such sites with nuclear weapons would do the job well, but also
produce radiation that even the Pentagon would have to acknowledge as
fearsome, not to mention the bad public relations arising from
mushroom-shaped clouds in a world aware of the dangers of nuclear war. DU
warheads seem clean: they produce a fire modest in comparison with a nuclear
detonation, though the incendiary effect can be just as destructive. 

  The information that Williams has gathered (8) shows that after computer
modelling in 1987, the US conducted the first real operational tests against
Baghdad in 1991. The war in Kosovo provided further opportunity to test, on
impressively hard targets, DU weapon prototypes as well as weapons already
in production. Afghan-istan has seen an extension and amplification of such
tests. But at the Pentagon there is little transparency about this. 

  Williams cites several press articles (9) in December 2001 mentioning NBC
(nuclear-biological-chemical) teams in the field checking for possible
contamination. Such contamination, according to the US government, would be
attributed to the Taliban. But, last October, Afghan doctors, citing rapid
deaths from internal ailments, were accusing the coalition of using chemical
and radioactive weapons. The symptoms they reported (haemorrhaging,
pulmonary constriction and vomiting) could have resulted from radiation

  On 5 December, when a friendly-fire bomb hit coalition soldiers, media
representatives were all immediately removed from the scene and locked up in
a hangar. According to the Pentagon, the bomb was a GBU-31, carrying a
BLU-109 warhead. The Canal+ documentary shows an arms manufacturer's sales
representative at an international fair in Dubai in 1999, just after the
Kosovo war. He is presenting a BLU-109 warhead and describing its
penetration capabilities against superhardened underground targets,
explaining that this model had been tested in a recent war. 

  Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence, on 16 January this year admitted
that the US had found radiation in Afghanistan (10). But this, he reassured,
was merely from DU warheads (supposedly belonging to al-Qaida); he did not
explain how al-Qaida could have launched them without planes. Williams
points out that, even if the coalition has used no DU weapons, those
attributed to al-Qaida might turn out to be an even greater source of
contamination, especially if they came from Russia, in which case the DU
could be even dirtier than that from Paducah. 

  Following its assessment mission in the Balkans, UNEP set up a
post-conflict assessment unit. Its director, Henrik Slotte, has announced
that it is ready to work in Afghanistan as soon as possible, given proper
security, unimpeded access to hit sites, and financing. The WHO remains
silent. When questions about the current state of the DU research fund were
addressed to Jon Lidon, spokesman for the director general, Dr Gro Harlem
Brundtland, the WHO did not answer. Yet Williams urges that studies begin
immediately, as victims of severe UD exposure may soon all be dead, yet with
their deaths attributed to the rigours of winter. 

  In Jefferson County, Indiana, the Pentagon has closed the 200-acre
(80-hectare) proving ground where it used to test-fire DU rounds. The lowest
estimate for cleaning up the site comes to $7.8bn, not including permanent
storage of the earth to a depth of six metres and of all the vegetation.
Considering the cost too high, the military finally decided to give the
tract to the National Park Service for a nature preserve â?" an offer that
was promptly refused. Now there is talk of turning it into a National
Sacrifice Zone and closing it forever. This gives an idea of the fate
awaiting those regions of the planet where the US has used and will use
depleted uranium. 

  * Journalist, Geneva 

  (1) See website 

  (2) The internet sites of Janes Defense Information, the Federation of
American Scientists, the Centre of Defense Information. 

  (3) See FAS Website 

  (4) FAS and USA Today 


  (6) See Deafening silence on depleted uranium, <I class=spip>Le Monde
diplomatique English edition, February 2001. 

  (7) <I class=spip>La Guerre radioactive secrète, by Martin Meissonnier,
Roger Trilling, Guillaume d'Allessandro and Luc Hermann, first broadcast in
February 2000; updated and rebroadcast in January 2001 under the title <I
class=spip>L'Uranium appauvri, nous avons retrouvé l'usine contaminée by
Roger Trilling and Luc Hermann. 

  (8) The Use of Modeling and Simulation in the Planning of Attacks on Iraqi
Chemical and Biological Warfare Targets 

  (9) For example "New Evidence is Adding to US Fears of Al-Qaida Dirty
Bomb", <I class=spip>International Herald Tribune, December 5, 2001;
"Uranium Reportedly Found in Tunnel Complex", <I class=spip>USA Today,
December 24, 2001. 

  (10) "US Says More Weapons Sites Found in Afghanistan", Reuters, January
16, 2002. 

    Translated by the author