This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
Depleted Uranium (DU) is a waste product left over when uranium is "enriched" to produce fissionable material for nuclear reactors and weapons. It consists of uranium from which most of the fissionable isotopes (uranium 235 and 234) have been removed. DU contains 99.5% Uranium 238.
- 1 Properties
- 2 Uses
- 3 Health Concerns
- 4 DU Weapons
- 5 DU penetrators
- 6 Health Studies
- 7 Resources
While the term 'Depleted' implies it isn't particularly dangerous, DU is a chemically toxic, radioactive, heavy metal  and as such is potentially hazardous to human health. It is widely believed that exposure to Depleted Uranium, especially when ingested or inhaled as a particulate, causes severe long term health effects in humans. The size of the effect and the political significance of it, however, are in dispute. DU is an extremely dense material. (1.7 times as dense as lead) It is also pyrophoric and as such combustible when in contact with air.
DU is currently used by the defense industry in the manufacture of armor piercing munitions and anti-tank projectiles. It is also used in the manufacture of tank armor. At least 17 countries are thought to have weapon systems containing DU in their arsenals. These include: UK, US, France, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, Thailand, China, India and Taiwan. Many of them were sold DU ammunition by the US while others, including France, Russia, Pakistan and India are thought to have developed it independently. 
In addition, DU is increasingly showing up in a variety of civilian products. It is used as ballast in ships and airplanes. It is used in boat keels, flywheels, and even in gyroscopes and helicopter rotors. Also DU is used as radiation shielding in radioactive material transport containers. 
Current health concerns center around the effect on the human body of nano-sized ceramic particles of uranium oxide (U238) that are released in the air when DU munitions are used on the battlefield.
In a 1999 paper for a Hague Peace Conference, Dr. Rosalie Bertell laid out a concise explanation of the potential dangers of DU exposure.
"Uranium oxide and its aerosol form are insoluble in water. The aerosol resists gravity, and is able to travel tens of kilometres in air. Once on the ground, it can be resuspended when the sand is disturbed by motion or wind. Once breathed in, the very small particles of uranium oxide, those which are 2.5 microns (one micron = one millionth of a meter) or less in diameter, could reside in the lungs for years, slowly passing through the lung tissue into the blood."
Dr. Asaf Durakovic, founder of the Uranium Medical Research Center continues the case, stating that in the course of one year, 1 milligram of depleted uranium emits 390 million alpha particles, 780 million beta particles and associated gamma rays. This is over one billion high energy, ionizing, radioactive particles and rays which can produce extensive biological damage to ovaries, lungs lymph nodes, kidneys, breast, blood bones,stomach and fetuses.
Supporters of DU weapons argue that the dangers of DU, particularly from radiation, are not as catastrophic as experts such as Dr. Bertell and Dr. Durakovic think. But many of these arguments lean heavily on two studies by the Rand Corporation which were commissioned by the Department of Defense in 1999.  
However, critics of these studies contend they are flawed because they use existing data from natural and Depleted uranium which assumes a particle size much larger than that actually produced when DU weapons explode and burn. (A good presentation of this controversy can be seen in the award winning documentary "Beyond Treason".)  An independant study published in "Military Medicine" in Aug 2, 2003 examines the issue of exposure to DU in greater depth. 
The health concerns, particularly for those living in Iraq, are particularly acute due to the young ages of those exposed. In a recent article, Sherwood Ross quotes noted anti-nuclear crusader Dr. Helen Caldicott:
Much of the DU is in cities such as Baghdad where half the population of 5 million people are children who played in the burned out tanks and on the sandy, dusty ground... Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than adults. My pediatric colleagues in Basra, where this ordnance was used in 1991, report a sevenfold increase in childhood cancer and a sevenfold increase in gross congenital abnormalities.
Although the Department of Defense continues to deny DU's health risks, it's own actions belie such claims. In a May 15, 2003 Christian Science Monitor article, Scott Peterson reports that in Iraq, "Six American vehicles struck with DU "friendly fire" in 1991 were deemed to be too contaminated to take home, and were buried in Saudi Arabia. Of 16 more brought back to a purpose-built facility in South Carolina, six had to be buried in a low-level radioactive waste dump."
Companies involved with manufacture of DU weaponry include:
- Alliant Techsystems
- General Dynamics
- Day and Zimmerman
- Starmet Corporation
- Cameco Corporation (Canada)
"Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is the largest supplier of all munitions to the U.S. Department of Defense, and works on many DoD contracts, including large and small caliber munitions employing depleted uranium penetrators" 
The DU penetrators were manufactured by Nuclear Metals in Concord Massachusetts and shipped to TCAAP for ATK to assemble. Nuclear Metals is now the Starmet Corporation.  Reporter Hillary Johnson picks up the story:
"But while defense contractors profit handsomely, their neighbors are exposed to radioactive waste. Starmet Corp. -- among the Army's largest supplier's of DU weapons -- dumped 400,000 pounds of uranium and heavy metals into an unlined holding pond in Concord, Massachusetts, polluting soil and groundwater. Faced with a massive cleanup, Starmet filed for bankruptcy last year -- leaving taxpayers with cleanup costs estimated at $50 million. Cleanup at the Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant in suburban Minneapolis, littered with DU shells manufactured by Alliant, is expected to cost $235 million." Hillary Johnson, Rolling Stone, October 2, 2003
At the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) ATK said it used DU provided by the government to melt and cast DU for its penetrators (Jim Persoon, NRC meeting 3/31/2004 Arden Hills, MN). And while clean up and decomissioning of ATK's license at TCAAP is still ongoing, pollution elsewhere continues. "Alliant Techsystems said it received new contracts in excess of $38 million from the U.S. Army's Armament Research Development and Engineering Center at the Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. Under the contracts, Alliant will provide 120 millimeter tactical ammunition for the Army's M1A1 main battle tanks. Deliveries will be completed by November 2005. The project manager of Maneuver Ammunition Systems manages the contract for the Army and Marine Corps." -Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE April 7, 2004 p. D2
As Alliant has removed all references to uranium or depleted uranium in its public notices, web pages and press releases, we can at this point only infer that the newest contracts are for uranium weapons or penetrates that contain uranium 238.
In case you wonder why DU never turns up on Army or regulatory websites about TCAAP, such as EPA - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency MPCA doesn't even have a website on Minnesota's largest superfund site-: EPA contends, that DU did not get released into the environment, despite clear evidence to the contrary ( soil via sewer, air). Hence in EPA logic DU "clean" up is not part of the Superfund program at TCAAP. Neat! NRC contends no release in excess of their limits was found. With 350 supersacks of debris and soil of the demolished DU room awaiting disposal in Andrews, TX one can only wonder what this doublespeak means. Environmental crime in the US goes largely unpunished.
- "The Science of the Silver Bullet" -- Depleted uranium has been hailed as the military's new silver bullet and condemned as Kosovo's Agent Orange; Scientific American, 5 March 2001
- A Treatise on Military Weapons Containing the Radioactive Material: Depleted Uranium; January, 2003 Copyright by Dr. Albrecht Schott Director of the World Depleted Uranium Center, Germany; Damacio A. Lopez, Director, International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST), United States; and John M. LaForge, Editor, Nukewatch Pathfinder, United States.
- National Gulf War Resource Center: Reports and Regulations.
- Tabluation of Processing and Storage Facilities.
In the U.S., it looks like uranium handling was controlled by the Dept. of Energy, at least until the "United States Enrichment Corporation's privatization (July 28, 1998) per USEC Privatization Act (Public Law 104-134, Sec 3109, paragraph (a)(3))."
The U.S. Department of Energy "is committed to exploring the safe, beneficial use of depleted uranium and other materials resulting from conversion of depleted UF6 (e.g., fluorine and empty carbon steel cylinders) for the purposes of resource conservation and cost savings compared with disposal. Accordingly, a Depleted Uranium Uses Research and Development Program has been initiated. This program will explore the risks and benefits of several depleted uranium uses, including uses as a radiation shielding material, a catalyst, and a semi-conductor material in electronic devices."
While the government and the Department of Defense continues to deny DU poses health risks, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest the contrary.
Out of the 700,000 US veterans of the first Gulf War more than 240,000 are on permanent medical disability and 11,000 are now dead! 
A special investigation by Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News has found four of nine soldiers of the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard returning from Iraq tested positive for depleted uranium contamination. They are the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict. After repeatedly being denied testing for depleted uranium from Army doctors, the soldiers contacted The News who paid to have them tested as part of their investigation.
An April 14, 2007 study by researchers at the University of Southern Maine concluded that "exposure to particulate DU may pose a significant genotoxic risk (risk of genetic mutation) and could possibly result in lung cancer."
In a paper to be published in the 2007 issue of the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment, a team led by Professor Randall Parrish of Leicester University found high concentrations of DU particles in soil, stream sediments and household dust in the vicinity of the site of a DU weapons factory in Colonie New York, 23 years after the plant closed, despite massive clean up efforts by the US Army corps of engineers. The team also found that traces of DU contamination still remain in the urine of former workers and neighbors of the plant.
There is also no shortage of personal anecdotal evidence of personal trauma associated with DU. 
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of all is the sheer number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts suffering physical ailments. In an April 12, 2007 article, Robert C. Koehler examines the issue:
We know about the VA scandal, the great betrayal, but what almost no one talks about are the numbers. According to Veterans Administration figures from last November, 205,000 GIs who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, a third of the total, have sought medical care, for such problems as malignant tumors (1,584), endocrinal and metabolic diseases (36,409), nervous system diseases (61,524), digestive system diseases (63,002), musculoskeletal diseases (87,590), and mental disorders (73,157), among many other conditions. One of the largest categories is "ill defined," a.k.a. mystery conditions (67,743). In comparison, a relatively small number (35,765) have sought VA care for injuries.
Often lumped together under the convenient "catch all" heading of Gulf War Syndrome, it is highly likely that at least some of these illnesses are due to DU exposure. As the effects of DU contamination take up to ten years to manifest themselves, it is also likely the number of veterans requiring medical care will be higher than that from previous conflicts.
- Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, "What is Depleted Uranium?", accessed December 2007.
- International Coalition to Ban Depleted Uranium, "Uranium Weapons Summary: A concise guide to uranium weapons, the science and their legal status", November 22, 2007.
- SPI SUpplies, "SPI-Chem™ Depleted Uranium Products", SPI, accessed December 2007.
- "Gulf War Veterans and Depleted Uranium", Hague Peace Conference, May 1999. (To (You can view Bertell interviewed on Youtube here).
- Naomi H. Harley, Ernest C. Foulkes, Lee H. Hilborne, Arlene Hudson and C. Ross Anthony, A Review of the Scientific Literature As it Pertains to Gulf War Illness, RAND, 1999.
Iliya Pesic,"Depleted Uranium: Ethics of the Silver Bullet" Santa Clara University.
"Depleted Uranium Munitions: Nuclear waste as a Weapon", Military Toxics Project, June, 2003.
Related SourceWatch articles
- arms control
- Iraq Coalition Casualty Statistics
- Iraq Coalition Casualty Statistics/Depleted Uranium
- Manhattan Project
- National Nuclear Security Administration
- Nuclear Threat Initiative
- nuclear weapons
- nuclear weapons complex
- Nuclear Weapons Council
- Post-war Iraq/Iraqi casualties
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D. "Gulf War Veterans and Depleted Uranium", Hague Peace Conference, May 1999.
- J.J. Richardson, "Depleted Uranium: The Invisible Threat," MotherJones, June 23, 1999: "NATO used depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo. Now, critics are concerned that DU contamination may cause serious health problems for returning refugees."
- Damacio Lopez, "The Use of the Radioactive Material Depleted Uranium U-238 (DU) as a Military Weapon" International Depleted Uranium Study Team October 20, 2000.
- "WHO studies depleted uranium in Iraq", BBC News, August 23, 2001; [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/europe/2001/depleted_uranium/default.stm "Depleted Uranium Fears," update January 6, 2003.
- "Fact Sheet on the Health Effects of Depleted Uranium. Studies find no evidence linking DU to serious health risks," U.S. Department of State, October 7, 2002.
- Larry Johnson, "Iraqi cancers, birth defects blamed on U.S. depleted uranium," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 2002.
- January 2003: World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Depleted Uranium
- February 25, 2003: (http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercuryn...ics/5258148.htm25 Inactive Link): "If war again comes to Iraq, depleted uranium munitions will be a mainstay of the American arsenal. For years, the Pentagon has discounted reports that the shells and bullets, made of solid nuclear-waste byproduct and used for the first time on a large scale in the Iraq war, bore calamity.... 'There just isn't any scientific foundation to draw a connection between exposure and the incidents of leukemia, other cancers or birth defects,' said Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of deployment health support at the Pentagon. ... Last month, the Bush administration, intent on launching those munitions again if war breaks out, accused Iraq of tricking the media into reporting on false links to depleted uranium arms and cancer deaths. ... Dr. Doug Rokke...worked...securing depleted uranium depots for the army. Today, Rokke ... has become an opponent of depleted uranium arms . All of the soldiers assigned to the cleanup in Iraq have suffered chronic health problems, he said. ... 'When you go to war, you go to kill. The problem with (depleted uranium),' he said, 'is that it keeps on killing.'" SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News.
- "UN warns of growing public health risk in Iraq", World Environment News, March 27, 2003.
- Neil Mackay, "US forces' use of depleted uranium weapons is 'illegal'," Sunday Herald, March 30, 2003.
- Beth Hawkins, "Death by DU. Depleted uranium: A deadly tool in the U.S. arsenal," City Pages, April 23, 2003.
- Alex Kirby, "Afghans' uranium levels spark alert," BBC News, May 22, 2003.
- Frida Berrigan, "Weapon of Mass Deception," In These Times, June 20, 2003.
- Gay Alcorn, "Blowing the N-whistle: Depleted uranium: How dangerous is it?" The Age (Australia), June 28, 2003.
- Larry Johnson, "Use of depleted uranium weapons lingers as health concern. War's unintended effects," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 4, 2003.
- Steve Hesske, "Mystery pneumonia is being caused by America's weapons of mass destruction: A theory," Unknown News, August 9, 2003.
- James Conachy, "Thousands of US troops evacuated from Iraq for unexplained medical reasons," WSWS, September 9, 2003.
- Katherine Stapp, "Iraq: Experts Warn of Radioactive Battlefields," Inter Press Services, September 12, 2003.
- "Mystery pneumonia toll may be much higher," UPI, September 16, 2003.
- "Outbreak of pneumonia-like symptoms in US troops serving in Iraq", The Herald October 2, 2003.(UK),
- Hillary Johnson,  Rolling Stone, October 2, 2003]
- Nao Shimoyachi, "Ex-Pentagon doctor decries use of 'depleted' uranium weapons," Japan Times Online, November 23, 2003.
- "Depleted uranium causing high radioactivity levels", Observer (UK), December 14, 2003.
- Antony Barnett, "Army shells pose cancer risk in Iraq. Depleted uranium causing high radioactivity levels," Guardian (UK), December 14, 2003.
- Ewa Jaziewicz, "Uranium in Your Koolaide: an interview with Cancer Specialist Dr. Jawad Al Ali" Voices in the Wilderness January 26, 2004.
- Joan A. Duffy, "Bioweapons Conference. Presentations on Agent Orange and Depleted Uranium," Veterans for Peace, January 17, 2004.
- "Warning of Uranium Contamination Risks to NGO Staff, Coalition Forces, Foreign Contract Personnel and Civilians in Iraq", [http://www.umrc.net Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC), February 9, 2004.
- Jackie Notham, "Soldiers' accounts reveal new details: 'depleted' uranium rounds devastated US troops at An Nasiriyah," Traprock Peace Center, March 19, 2004.
- Bob Nichols, "There Are No Words ... Radiation in Iraq Equals 250,000 Nagasaki Bombs," Dissident Voice, March 27, 2004.
- Peter Slavin, "Brazil Shielding Uranium Facility. Nation Seeks to Keep Its Proprietary Data From U.N. Inspectors," New York Times, April 4, 2004.
- Juan Gonzalez, "Army to test N.Y. Guard unit. [Senator] Hillary Clinton demands that all veterans of Iraq get checked,"] New York Daily News, April 5, 2004.
- Mick Youther, "Depleted Uranium: The Toxic Killer. The Bush Administration knows about the health and the environmental consequences of using depleted uranium but it doesn't care," Intervention Magazine, April 27, 2004.
- Amy Worthington, "Death By Slow Burn: How America Nukes Its Own Troops," EnvirosAgainstWar.org, April 27, 2004.
- Katherine Stapp, "Evidence Grows Against Depleted Uranium Weapons," Inter Press Services, April 28, 2004: "Washington's insistence that depleted uranium (DU) munitions are not toxic has been undermined by revelations that four U.S. soldiers recently home from Iraq are suffering from radiation poisoning."
- Frida Berrigan, "Depleted Morality, The first signs of uranium sickness surface in troops returning from Iraq," In These Times, May 18, 2004.
- Leuren Moret, "A Death Sentence, Here and Abroad," SFBayview.com, August 18, 2004.
- Christopher Bollyn, "Depleted Uranium Released During Canadian Plane Crash. Little-Known Use of DU in Commercial Jets Exposed," American Free Press, October 22, 2004.
- Rita J. King, "Depleted Uranium: The New Agent Orange,", Ruminations on America Project, November 10, 2005: "The piece tells the story of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" veteran Herbert Reed and his entire unit, currently suing the US Government for, they believe, knowingly exposing them to DU." [from Rita J. King, see Talk].
- "UN warns on Iraq environment fate. Derelict factories, military scrapyards and battle sites across Iraq pose a threat to the environment and to public health, the United Nations has said," BBC, November 10, 2005: "Narmin Othman, Iraq's environment minister, said that some 311 sites were polluted by depleted uranium, the Associated Press reported."
- "The perfect monster kills quietly, Iraq's cancer crisis," Nulwee (uruknet.info), June 19, 2006.
- Craig Etchison, PhD "Depleted Uranium: Pernicious Killer Keeps on Killing", Truthout.org, February 19, 2007.
- Sherwood Ross, "Radioactive Ammunition Fired in Middle East May Claim More Lives Than Hiroshima and Nagasaki", Global Research, November 22, 2007.
- Peter Eyre, "The Deceit of Depleted Uranium Use in Afghanistan: Part 2 – The Vital Evidence"Extreme Pacifist, My Space article, October 22, 2009.
- International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUUW)
- Radiation Weapon documents and links at Encyclopedia.com.
- Traprock Peace Center
Reference Links on Depleted Uranium in ammunition and armor
- World Health Organization
- DU Watch .... site and Yahoo! group
- National Gulf War Resource Center, DU_LINK (inactive link)
- http://past.thenation.com/issue/970526/0526mesl.htm (broken link)
- Gulf War Syndrome: Depleted Uranium, Gulfwarvets.com a compendium of articles and reference material.