Environmental Impact of Depleted Uranium Term Paper

  • Length: 11 pages
  • Sources: 10
  • Subject: Physics
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #30643309

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Studies of the aftereffects of the Gulf War determined that every single U.S. 120 mm tank shell resulted, on average, in approximately five pounds of radioactive Uranium

Oxide dust. Likewise, each of the nearly one million 25 mm and 30 mm canon shells fired (mostly) by U.S. aircraft contributes a proportional share of Uranium Oxide dust per unit volume (Peterson, 2003).

Unlike the depleted Uranium itself (which emits mainly Alpha particles), the Uranium Oxide produced by the intense explosive heat of ordinance impact releases both Alpha particles as well as much more dangerously radioactive Beta particles (Fahey, 2000). Another very disturbing finding after the 1991 Gulf War was that Uranium Oxide aerosolized into extremely minute particles capable of ingestion both orally by physical transference, and by inhalation (Peterson, 2003).

Furthermore, several studies undertaken in the affected areas established that radioactive dust produced by the use of DU ammunition was capable of remaining airborne long enough to travel up to forty kilometers, thereby contaminating large areas of land populated by civilians (Fahey, 1999). Predictably, civilian medical records, both in the Middle East and in Europe illustrate the environmental harm posed by use of DU ammunition in wartime. The most recent data from Iraq in the aftermath of Operation

Iraqi Freedom only further corroborate those earlier findings (Peterson, 2003).

Environmental Observations After Wartime Use of Depleted Uranium Munitions:

Alarmingly, the U.S. undertook no effort, either during the 1991 Gulf War or the subsequent NATO engagements in Bosnia or Kosovo, to warn local civilian populations of the dangers associated with radioactive contamination from expended ordinance (Fahey, 1999). Similarly, according to the Christian Science Monitor (2003), Iraqi civilians routinely come into contact with Intact fragments of expended 120 mm U.S.

A tank shells and 30 mm ammunition. More disturbing than the radiation readings one thousand times normal level of background radiation in the proximity of the remnants of U.S. DU ordinance is the complete lack of awareness among the populace of the dangers of radioactive Uranium Oxide dust on their food harvests. On the other hand, U.S. troops are warned "constantly" of the dangers of contact with radioactive fragments, and of the pressing need to avoid accidentally ingesting fine particles indirectly through physical transference (Peterson, 2003).

Consequently, Iraqi children handle and play with artillery fragments and almost certainly ingest radioactive particles internally, both via contaminated food and also via inhalation. Numerous instances of radiation poisoning and dramatic increases in birth defects and infant mortality not attributable to any other conceivable source in Iraq (Peterson, 2003) have demonstrated the aftereffects of widespread, uncontrolled dispersion of so much depleted Uranium.

Cancers of all types, including Leukemia and lymphomas have more than quintupled in Iraq since 1991, with comparable rises in mutations and birth defect observed in livestock and other indigenous animals (Fahey, 1999).

The graph immediately below represents congenital malformations per 1,000 births recorded at Basra Hospital, in an area heavily affected by the use of DU ammunition in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Wilcock, 2004)

In this regard, additional evidence came in the form of U.S. And British troops with both acute radiation poisoning and characteristic symptoms of radiation sickness (Fahey, 1999). The data consists of survivors of friendly fire incidents involving DU munitions, and also troops who were often exposed to aerosolized radioactive particles in conjunction with their post-hostility security assignments and the forensic examination of the wreckage of Iraqi armor. Similar observations of NATO personnel and citizens of the Balkan states afflicted with mysterious symptoms following the use of DU ammunition in the Bosnian conflict provide additional confirmation.

One of the most insidious aspects of DU ammunition in civilian areas is the extreme ease with which radioactive Uranium Oxide dissolves in liquid, including water eventually used for drinking (USDE, 2007). Combined with the extremely long half- lives of the radioactive isotopes involved, the prediction for the future of civilian health in areas heavily subjected to wartime deployment of DU ordinance is ominous.


Civilian nuclear power has provided tremendous benefits in the form of economical power generation. As fossil fuels become more scarce, nuclear power may very well enable us to decrease reliance on declining supplies of natural resources.

Similarly, environmental implications of global warming may further accelerate our eventual increased dependence on nuclear power plants to meet our energy needs.

Current indications suggest that NASA may soon employ advanced versions of the compact nuclear reactors already in use in U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines to further our efforts to explore outer space.

However, nuclear power also presents many dangers at various stages from the mining of natural Uranium ore and its enrichment to the complex reprocessing of the spent reactor cores from nuclear reactors. The same nuclear reactions that provide efficient and comparatively safe energy also generate toxic byproducts that have the potential to contaminate large areas of land, rendering them unusable, for all intents and purposes, indefinitely, by virtue of the extraordinarily long half-lives of nuclear isotopes.

The dangers of fissionable nuclear weapons are so well-known and their almost unimaginable potential for destruction so great that the concept of Mutually Assured

Destruction (MAD) prevented the Cold War from becoming "hot" for no less than four decades. By comparison, until the last decade of the twentieth century, the dangers of wartime use of depleted Uranium ordinance were largely unknown.

The 1991 Gulf War, NATO operations in the Balkans during the Bosnian conflict, and most recently, the extensive use of DU cannon fire from Coalition aircraft and artillery shells have transformed large civilian-populated areas of Eastern Europe and Southern Iraq into virtual laboratories for cataloguing the effects of the use of DU ammunition on non-combatants persisting long after their deployment in hostile operations against enemy forces.

Studies of war veterans subjected to relatively long-term exposure to war materials and areas contaminated by DU ammunition, both in Europe and in the Middle

East, strongly suggest a correlation between DU use in wartime and human destruction besides that intended in their use during hostile operations. Even more dramatically, studies of civilian populations, particularly in Iraq, establish a virtually conclusive link between DU ammunition and the increased incidence of Leukemia and other cancers, in addition to congenital birth defects and even deformities observed in livestock in those areas.

The most disturbing implications of all concern the discrepancy with which nuclear waste is handled and regulated to ensure its relative safety in the U.S. compared to the complete disregard that is apparent on the part of U.S. authorities in charge of occupied Iraqi territory. As the leader of global philanthropy and human rights throughout the world, the U.S. has a moral obligation to minimize the unintended environmental and human impact of its weapons of war on noncombatants. It may very well be the case that the use of DU ammunition is a necessary evil of 21st Century conflicts. Nevertheless, the moral imperative that is part and parcel of its justified use in wartime is to minimize, rather than ignore its lasting effects after cessation of hostilities.


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Goodman, O. (2002) Nuclear Waste on the Highways; the New York Times Apr. 21/02. Accessed October 22, 2007, at http://www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Nuclear-Road-Goodman28apr02.htm

Gundersen, P. (1999) the Handy Physics Answer Book.

New York: Barnes & Noble.

Jackson, R. (2003) Modern Military Aircraft. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Jackson, R. (2006) the Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft. London: Parragon.

Peterson, S. (2003) Christian Science Monitor; Remains of Toxic Bullets Litter

Iraq.(May 15/03). Accessed October 22, 2007, at http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0515/p01s02-woiq.html

Rennie, R. (2003) the Facts on File Dictionary of Atomic and Nuclear Physics.

New York: Checkmark Books.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2007) Depleted UF6 Guide: An Introduction to Uranium…

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