Depleted Uranium strikes friends and foes alike in Libya

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By Karl Abrams

High in the skies of Libya, NATO jets, equipped with uranium bullets and uranium-tipped missiles, are probably being used to assist Libyan rebels in toppling the regime of Muammar Gaddafy.

France, Great Britain and the US regularly employ concrete bunker-busting uranium weapons and have consistently blocked UN proposals to ban them. They won’t admit they’re using them, but they do acknowledge the use of jets that always seem to carry them. When used in jet machine guns, high-density uranium bullets as large as 30 mm (and 70% more dense than lead) can be shot at an astounding rate of 70 bullets per second. This often cuts an armored vehicle or tank in two.

It’s no wonder that such kinetic energy penetrators are called “Armor Piercing Incendiary.” Upon incandescent penetration, such bullets and missiles ignite ordinance stored in the armored vehicle. The resulting toxic explosion decomposes the uranium into a white oxide powder that quickly moves across the wind-swept desert terrain into cities and lungs of the Libyan people.

The dust is uranium dioxide. The uranium in it ultimately comes from uranium ore that is unusable by nuclear reactors. Such uranium is considered unusable or “depleted” because it is not radioactive enough to drive a nuclear power plant. For this reason, it is called “depleted uranium” or DU, and is primarily made up of U-238, a form of uranium that’s heavier but less radioactive than the more radioactive U-235 that is used in nuclear reactors.

But its DU name is conveniently misleading. According to the military, DU is a “mild health risk” outside of the human body. And this is what soldiers and pilots are told. What is generally ignored, however, is what happens when the dust enters the body. By drinking, eating or breathing it in, DU radiation severely damages bone marrow and cellular chromosomes by internally emitting sub-atomic “bullets” known as alpha particles. This causes lung, lymph and brain cancers as well as mutagenic effects such as unusually high rates of leukemia and fetal radiation damage that cause grotesque birth defects. Uranium contamination also permanently impairs kidney, heart and liver function.

Ever since the 1960s, the corporations that own nuclear power plants safely stored tremendous amounts of DU, on average 20 tons/yr. Surely, their CEOs must have wondered more than once if this DU could turn a profit by selling it as a high-density armor-piercing bullet or missile. After all, production cost of DU is cheap – only $2 per kilogram.

Their chance came in the 1970s when the Soviet Union developed tanks with armor that could not be penetrated by ordinary weapons. The Pentagon then developed and perfected DU weapons. The price of DU increased 10-fold, creating a multi-billion dollar industry.

Fortunate for corporate profit motives, first-world war-makers – be they French, British or American – apparently have no problem using DU weapons and spreading poisonous uranium oxide dust into the environment. After all, it does the job nicely and doesn’t hurt the soldiers or pilots who use it, provided they are a “safe” distance away from the DU dust.

While the World Health Organization is vehemently against it, NATO’s war makers are not. They know but don’t seem to care that the half-life of DU is over 4 billion years. This means that half of the DU released into Libya’s environment will, by definition, linger for that same incredible amount of time. In other words, the DU will contaminate the people of Libya forever, or 4 billion years, whichever comes first. How does NATO pretend to help the Libyan people by permanently poisoning them and their precious water supply and farmland?

DU is considered a long-term poison because it is both a heavy metal contaminant and a radioactive alpha-particle emitter. This creates a deadly “cocktail effect”. Both are deadly to combatants and civilians alike, and both should be viewed as a crime against humanity. According to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW), DU needs to be immediately and internationally outlawed along with dum-dum bullets, poison gas, and cluster bombs.

Developed by the Pentagon in the 1980s at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, it was first used in the Iraq invasions of 1991 and 2003 and probably used in the Balkans and Afghanistan. According to conservative estimates, about 1 in 8 soldiers who served in Iraq have been poisoned by DU, which manifests as Gulf War Syndrome. That’s about 100,000 soldiers who may need life-long medical care.

The UN has dramatically called for a ban on the use of such nefarious military DU weapons because it violates the Geneva Convention. Germany, Belgium, Italy and all Latin American countries refuse to use it. The French, British and US militaries still refuse to ban it. What do we tell the Libyan people when the DU dust settles?

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