>Dan Fahey February 17
>Depleted Uranium Munitions
>One of the most hotly debated weapons of the last several years
>is ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU). First shot by
>US and British forces during the 1991 Gulf War, DU ammunition
>has subsequently been used in conflicts in the Balkans, possibly
>Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as at numerous testing and training
>ranges in the United States. Some veterans and antiwar activists
>have blamed DU for widespread health and environmental damage,
>while military officials deny any serious adverse effects and tout
>the importance of DU ammunition to the US arsenal. From both ends
>of the spectrum, the claims tend to be dominated more by politics
>than by science.
>Dan Fahey has researched the DU issue for ten years as a veterans'
>advocate, writer, and independent policy analyst. He has written
>three chapters about DU for two books, as well as numerous reports.
>On March 6, 2004, he will debate the Pentagon's top expert on DU at
>a conference at MIT. Dan will provide an overview of what is known
>about the uses and effects of DU, and sort through the competing
>claims. He is a lecturer in environmental health at San Francisco
>State University and works for a land conservation organization in
Dan Fahey began his talk by explaining that he had first encountered DU as a young Naval Officer, where it had been used in rounds for a gun designed to stop incoming missiles. They had assured him it was not dangerous and he had believed them. He then explained that DU is used in "kinetic energy penetrators", meaning bullets that get their armor piercing qualities from the inertia that they hit the target with. Being very dense, DU stores a lot of energy this way. The main uses are in Abrams tanks, A-10 fighters, and antimissile defenses on ships. He held up a needle nosed bullet about a foot and a half tall and an inch and a half across to give us a sense for what these things look like.
After getting out of the Navy he had gotten a job with a nonprofit named Swords into Plowshares who worked to see to it that disabled Veterans got what they needed from the Department of Defense (DOD) bureaucracy. After the first Gulf War they started to see Veterans with new health problems, and the DOD was giving them the same run around they had given guys poisoned by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The DOD was trying to say their problems were psychological, but that wasn't right. DU was one possible culprit, but there were chemical and biological possibilities. Much research was done using Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests before the situation clarified.
Most of the DU (85%) used during the Gulf War was fired by A-10s killing tanks (about 900,000 rounds). There were about two dozen friendly fire incidents, where more than 100 American soldiers were in vehicles hit with DU rounds. In addition to that, every shell of a tank that was done in by an A-10 was the center of a heavily contaminated ten yard radius zone with lots of powdered DU in it. After the war many tank crews went back to the battlefields to examine their kills and see what they could learn from them. These guys weren't informed about DU's toxicity, so they got contaminated climbing around on dead tanks. Another group that was exposed was a New Jersey National Guard unit whose job it was to scavenge all the reusable parts off the American tanks that were made useless on the battlefield. He estimates about 900 people got significant DU exposure from the above listed sources.
Dan explained that before the 1960s kinetic penetrators were made using Tungsten alloy metal, which was much less dangerous. What had happened was that the institutions that refine uranium for nuclear power plants and bombs started developing these large piles of Uranium that had the U-238 removed, making them a useless byproduct of the nuclear industry. Because of the heavy dense nature of the stuff, the arms industry became interested in using it. One reason was that most of the worlds Tungsten is mined in China, and being independent of them for our arms seemed like good policy. Another reason was that DU is free to the arms industry, although this reason turned out to be false because of the hazards of handling DU.
At this point in time about ten Army's use American DU munitions. France, the UK, Russia and Pakistan manufacture and sell DU using arms. Fahey doesn't know who their customers are, but he does know that Al-Queda had some DU arms that were found in Afghanistan. NATO used DU some during the Kosovo war, but that does not seem to be as major a contamination zone as Iraq. It's not really known who does and doesn't have DU weapons, but it is known that about seventeen countries have DU tank rounds in their aresenals.
There are a couple of dozen places in the USA that are heavily contaminated with DU. All three are military reservations where these arms are used in training. They are Aberdeen, Maryland, Concord Massachusetts, and Jefferson Proving Grounds, Indiana. They are the worst contaminated sites on the planet with the stuff.
During Q&A a number of other points came up:
The DOD appears to be running a misinformation campaign to protect DU as one of the weapons in their arsenal. He cited one expert who claimed that nobody who had been exposed to powdered DU had gotten cancer. When Fahey had shown him somebody that had gotten lymphoma, he started saying "nobody has gotten bone or lung cancer from DU." Fahey called this "every time you catch them in a lie, they just fall back and switch to another lie."
Most of the big releases of chemical weapons during the Gulf War happened when Americans blew up Iraqi weapons caches.
The level of hysteria around DU in the press is incredible. Fahey wrote a report about the myth vs. reality issue titled Science or Science Fiction? He says that extremists in the anti-DU movement then started branding him as a CIA operative.
He thinks a lot of the contamination problems could have been avoided if soldiers had been trained to handle the stuff carefully.
Fahey thinks it would be helpful for the Pentagon to release information about where they had shot DU and how much they had shot, so that independant scientists can conduct environmental and risk assesments.