Depleted uranium: the gift that keeps on giving

Over 4.5 billion years of radioactive waste await the good people of Iraq, courtesy of the U.S. Army liberation and freedom force. This gift can be enjoyed by the whole family, people of all ages, and may make its way back to the United States as well.

Depleted uranium (DU), the byproduct of the uranium enrichment process in nuclear energy production, has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. This means that it takes 4.5 billion years for it to radiate half as much as it does when it was first created. According to, as of 2003, the U.S. military has dumped an estimated 1,000-2,000 tons of depleted uranium across Iraq’s cities in this war alone. While the United States has refused to help clean up the waste, the United Kingdom has.

Major Douglas Rokke, member of the Army since 1967 and a nuclear, chemical and biological warfare instructor, says the use of DU weapons is a war crime and a crime against humanity. Internal documents show that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has known about the harmful environmental and health consequences of radioactive weapons since 1943. Despite this knowledge, the DoD has denied medical care to people exposed to DU, refused to clean up the environmental mess left behind by the weapons and has continued to lie about the adverse health effects for people exposed to depleted uranium.

According to the BBC, DU is “1.7 times denser than lead,” which is why the armed forces use it on the tips of bullets and shells, as well as in armor on tanks. It makes it much easier for ammunition to pierce through dense armor, but it also explodes into a dust on impact. This dust can be inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream, infecting the person with radioactive waste. This problem does not only affect people in war zones – it affects the American soldiers who are exposed to it as well. There has also been depleted uranium testing sites within the United States, which have sparked legal battles over health problems.

The use of this technology is a war crime, and our government is, by far, the largest consumer of DU-tipped shells in the world. Over the past 10 years, our government has bought more than 16 million DU shells and bullets from Alliant Techsystems alone. The use of such weaponry condemns all exposed survivors to higher rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and other illnesses. HR 2410, the “Depleted Uranium Munitions Study Act,” was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 17, 2005. The bill was cosponsored by 47 Democrats and one Republican, but has yet to be scheduled for debate or vote.

The mainstream media has remained largely and disturbingly silent on this issue. Instead, they have focused on passing along information based on what the government outlets are saying. The United States has seen this happen before, during the Vietnam era with the government’s denial of the health risks of Agent Orange. Now, they are doing the same by denying and ignoring the health risks of depleted uranium and claiming that there are no or fewer causes for concern than many independent studies have found. The government obviously puts corporate gain and military power before people’s lives, including those of U.S. soldiers, the individuals who the GOP claims to have a monopolized concern for.

José Ferrer is a sophomore majoring in sociology.