Depleted Uranium (DU) is a waste product of the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industry. It has 75% of the radioactivity of natural uranium and is about 1.7 times as dense as lead. DU alloys are very hard and pyrophoric (burns spontaneously), which for armour-piercing munitions makes them superior to tungsten armour-piercing munitions. DU is also used for armour-plating. DU munitions were first used extensively in the First Gulf War (1991), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Iraq since 2003, Afghanistan since 2002, and now in Libya. After the Gulf War the British government, which also used DU weapons, asserted that it should help clean up the radioactive mess that it created. Unfortunately, the US government felt no such responsibility. The US government and other governments are covering up the cancers, birth defects and other illnesses that have skyrocketed in places where depleted uranium has been used.
Pros (from the point of view of the US military & government)
- DU tipping of weapons allow greater penetration of tanks and armor
- Using DU is a way for governments involved in uranium enrichment to deal with a serious waste problem. Every year an additional 35,000 metric tons of DU are stockpiled.
- DU has a half-life of 4.1 billion years
- It is illegal. The US and other countries are flouting a UN resolution which classifies the munitions as illegal weapons of mass destruction.
- Children exposed to DU in southern Iraq saw a fourfold increase in cancer and birth defects since 1990
- The evidence (see citations) that this radioactive substance is causing harm contradicts the position of the State Department and WHO (WHO is bound by an agreement with the IAEA, signed in 1959, which states that neither of these agencies may take a public position that could harm the interests of the other)
- When a DU weapon hits a target, it creates tiny particles which are easily inhaled
- Vital organs such as the kidneys, the liver, the brain and the heart are particularly sensitive to this toxic metal