Ten Years after Use
Awareness of DU Hazard Penetrating
Calls for a Ban Intensifying in Europe
The momentum toward banning the use of depleted uranium munitions, a radioactive weapon, is growing in Europe but also in the US. The 17th of this month (January 2001) will mark exactly ten years since US and British troops first used this weapon in actual combat during the Persian Gulf War. However, the present movement is driven by the number of soldiers returning from Kosovo and Bosnia who are coming down with cancer and other serious disorders known this time as the "Balkan Syndrome." The rapid emergence of this movement shows that, ten years after the Gulf War, knowledge about the danger of depleted uranium (DU) is widespread among the people of Europe. (Akira Tashiro)
From fall 1999 until February 2000, I visited the US, Great Britain, Iraq, Serbia, and Kosovo to cover the stories of veterans and private citizens in southern Iraq, where the battles were fought, who are suffering with cancer and other severe health problems.
50,000 Hits on Chugoku Shimbun's English Website
TV special in Italy
Tashiro's series of articles entitled Discounted Casualties first appeared in April 2000 (six parts, 47 articles, seven special features). Now translated in its entirety into English, it is posted on our Chugoku Shimbun homepage. In the first two months (November and December), this English version was accessed 49,134 times, which indicates the magnitude of interest in this topic.
Fabio Paciucci (42), an Italian television producer living in New York who plans to make a special program about DU weapons, sent us an E-mail describing the thoughts of the Italian people, the epicenter of recent protests.
"Six young soldiers who went to Kosovo and Bosnia not to fight but to keep the peace have died of leukemia. Most of our people knew nothing about depleted uranium weapons, but now they feel betrayed by NATO, which continues to hide the information."
The veterans who have fallen victim to cancer in France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and other European countries are unconvinced by American and British assertions that DU is perfectly safe. They have sent their own survey teams to Kosovo and are conducting a comprehensive veterans health survey.
The Influence of Chernobyl
Dr. Malcom Hooper (66), Science Advisor to the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association and Professor Emeritus at the University of Sunderland (Medical Chemistry), insists, "In Iraq after the Gulf War, the incidence of leukemia and other cancers tripled or quadrupled among children and veterans. The number of children with congenital defects has also increased. Because Iraq is an 'enemy nation,' the world found it easy to look away from this reality. Now, the same reality is emerging in Europe's own back yard, and Europeans, who have already been through the fear associated with the Chernobyl accident, cannot just overlook it."
Shaun Rusling (42), president of the NGV&FA and suffering himself from frequent attacks of intense fatigue, states the case. "Since the Gulf war, 521 veterans have died. That's just the ones our association knows about, but it's already more than 10 times the number that died in combat." He goes on, "Now is the time. We banned anti-personnel landmines. Now we need to ban the manufacture and use of DU weapons."
In the United States, in response to a call from the Military Toxics Project (based in Maine), an alliance of American grassroots groups has established the first week of the Gulf War (15th to 21st) as "Action Week for a ban on DU weapons". Actions are planned for Washington D. C., New York and other locations around the US.
Fear of Compensation behind Denial
A thorough scientific investigation is needed to study the impact of radiation exposure from DU weapons used in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans on the health of veterans. However, with a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years, the age of the Earth itself, DU also has a deadly chemical toxicity similar to lead and mercury. Its potential for adverse health effects when used as a weapon is clear even from the US Defense Department's own internal documents. Behind the obstinate denials of such effects from both the American and British governments lies more than the fear of losing this opportunity to make "effective use" of DU, a radioactive waste product. If they admit the problem, they will have to pay enormous sums to compensate their own soldiers and clean up contaminated areas.