Environmentalists Demand "Environmentally Friendly&quot

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Environmentalists Demand "Environmentally Friendly&quot

IRAQ: New Fears from Depleted UraniumSanjay Suri,Inter Press Service LONDON, Apr 1 (IPS) - New fears have arisen over the long-term damage that can result from use of depleted uranium in the coalition attacks on Iraq (news - web sites)."We are particularly worried because the tactics have changed in this war," Henk van der Keur from the Laka Foundation, an independent group based in Amsterdam that researches nuclear energy told IPS. "The guerrilla tactics employed by Iraqis mean more tanks and fighting vehicles are operating in towns, and that means greater danger for people living there." Depleted uranium, a form of low-grade uranium is used in shells and rockets, usually alloyed with titanium to make them harder. These shells are fired to pierce the armour of tanks and against heavy concrete installations. Depleted uranium is extremely dense material that remains when enriched uranium is separated from natural uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. The fissionable isotope Uranium 235 is separated from uranium. The remaining uranium is called depleted uranium. United States and British forces are firing these weapons hardened with depleted uranium from the U.S. M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams tanks, from the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and from the A10 ground attack aircraft known as the tank-buster. The British Challenger tanks are also firing weapons using depleted uranium, Keur says. "The danger is that when these weapons hit their targets, microscopic particles are liberated, and people inhale these particles," Keur says. "Many soldiers who fought in the last Gulf War (news - web sites) are reported to have fallen ill from depleted uranium, but these reports have not been fully investigated." The Pentagon (news - web sites) and the Ministry of Defence in London both deny vigorously that depleted uranium can be harmful either to troops using those weapons or to people living in areas where they are used. Keur acknowledges that fears from depleted uranium have "not been backed by a full empirical study." But the lack of a full investigation is itself cause for worry, he says. A United Nations (news - web sites) Environment Programme study in the Balkans expressed concern about long-term consequences and asked for more study of the effects of depleted uranium. "But it is remarkable that there has been no major study by the World Health Organization (news - web sites) in Iraq," Keur says. The Pentagon has admitted using about 300 tons of depleted uranium in the last Gulf War. Other independent estimates have suggested that about 1,000 tons may have been used. "Depleted uranium is almost certainly an illegal weapon under a variety of international agreements including the Geneva Convention," says Ian Willmore from Friends of the Earth (news - web sites) in London. "It sets off radiation, and the consequences will inevitably be worse when such weapons are used in large cities or in confined space." Several of the battle tanks being used by the U.S. and British forces are themselves strengthened with depleted uranium to toughen them against anti-tank fire. While there have been no definitive studies in Iraq, there are alarming signs. Just one hospital in Baghdad has reported eight cases of babies born without eyes, anophthalmos. "The normal incidence is about one case in 50 million," Willmore told IPS Tuesday. "About half to 95 percent of the particles released by the explosions where depleted uranium is used are of respirable size," Willmore says. "The body has no system of removing these radioactive particles that remain in the system." Clearing up an area where depleted uranium has been used is also very difficult. "It can cost up to US$5 billion to fully clean up an area of just 200 hectares," says Duncan McLaren, head of policy and research at Friends of the Earth. There is "scientific consensus" that high exposure causes damage to kidneys, neurological disorders, and cancers of the lungs and bones, Willmore says. Use of depleted uranium has been blamed for the 'Gulf War syndrome (news - web sites)' that brings fatigue, memory loss and joint pains. There is evidence also that depleted uranium can get into the soil and stay there a long time, Willmore says. "The longer this conflict goes on, the greater the damage it will cause to people and to the environment," Willmore says.cam4
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