Depleted uranium: the other nuclear war

Helen Caldicott, the Australian pediatrician-turned-anti-nuclear-activist has a guest editorial in today's San Francisco Chronicle about the medical fallout from the use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq. Caldicott's anti-nuclear-proliferation documentary, "If You Love This Planet" (produced by the Canadian National Film Board) was banned from import into the US in the 80s as "subversive material." She's been campaigning lately on the depleted-uranium weapons issue, talking about the long-term health effects on civilians and combatants on both sides resulting from their use:

Children are 10 to 20 times more sensitive to the effects of radiation than adults. My fellow pediatricians in the Iraqi town of Basra, for example, are reporting an increase of 6 to 12 times in the incidence of childhood leukemia and cancer. Yet because of the sanctions imposed upon Iraq by the United States and United Nations, they have no access to drugs or effective radiation machines to treat their patients.

The incidence of congenital malformations has doubled in the exposed populations in Iraq where these weapons were used. Among them are babies born with only one eye or missing all or part of their brain.

The medical consequences of the use of uranium 238 almost certainly did not affect only Iraqis. Some U.S. veterans exposed to it are reported, by at least one medical researcher, to be excreting uranium in their urine a decade later. Other reports indicate it is being excreted in their semen. (The fact that almost one-third of the American tanks used in Desert Storm were themselves made of uranium 238 is another story, for their crews were thereby exposed to whole-body gamma radiation.)

Would these effects have surprised the U.S. authorities? No, for incredible as it may seem, the American military's own studies prior to Desert Storm warned that aerosol uranium exposure under battlefield conditions could lead to cancers of the lung and bone, kidney damage, non-malignant lung disease, neurocognitive disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.



(Thanks, Dai!)