"Depleted” Sounds Like It is Benign

I plan to join Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) in a fund-raising Walk Against Weapons on Saturday June 5th. We will walk to the entrance to Alliant Techsystems, Minnesota's largest war profiteer. WAMM's Director asked me to write briefly about the scourge of DU, one of ATK's profitable illegal weapons.

“Depleted” Sounds Like It is Benign by Steve Clemens

It is pyrophoric, probably carcinogenic and mutagenic, and when aerosolized, the ceramicized, minute particles can be readily inhaled or ingested. Why so many highfalutin words for something that is already “depleted”?

Uranium-238, aka depleted Uranium or DU, is a waste product remaining from the enrichment process used to process Uranium for use in nuclear weapons and as the fuel for nuclear power plants. While remaining radioactive, it is a less intensive (but longer-lasting) – thus earning the moniker of “depleted”.

As a metal, DU is heavier and denser than lead and has a similar toxicity in humans and animals if ingested. Heavy metal poisoning particularly affects organs like the kidney and liver. But DU’s radioactivity, mostly benign when used as ballast in airplanes and boats or as shielding in tanks and troop carriers, becomes a more potent factor when it is ingested or inhaled.

Military planners are always looking for a super weapon or silver bullet. They discovered that depleted uranium was much more effective in destroying hardened targets than traditional lead or titanium based munitions. As the DU projectile flies through the air, it burns (pyrophoric) and sloughs off tiny, minute particles which take on a hardened, non-soluble character due to the heat (ceramicized). According to military officials, the weapon “self-sharpens” and burns its way into the target. The heat created often ignites or explodes items within the target, further scattering the radioactive dust particles. These particles can enter the body when breathed in (inhaled), swallowed when the dust lands on food or water sources (ingested), or through cuts in the skin.

Doctors in Iraq in the area where DU weapons were used in the 1991 War have been alarmed by the huge increases of cancers and birth defects they have witnessed. While scientific proof of causation demands years of careful study (it took more than 35 years for the Army to admit Agent Orange caused cancer in Vietnam), the circumstantial evidence mounting in Iraq and Afghanistan and other battle areas where it has been used is substantial.

What is really depleted is the morality of designing, manufacturing, and profiting from a weapon which keeps on killing beyond the battlefield (when the sandstorms in Iraq and Afghanistan blow the radioactive dust particles up into the atmosphere where they land who-knows-where); it keeps killing long after a war has ended (with the half-life of 4 ½ billion years –so it will keep killing until it is cleaned up); it is inhumane in how it kills with the likely cancer-causing diseases, birth defects, and heavy-metal poisoning; and it harms the natural environment with its radioactive pollution. Any failure of these four tests make a weapon illegal according to international law experts. The fact that DU fails all four make it an especially heinous “weapon of mass indiscriminate destruction” (according to the UN).

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) profits from the manufacture and sale of these illegal and immoral weapons. This depleted morality must be converted to research for life-giving alternatives. Peace conversion with no loss of jobs.