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Asymmetrical warfare, I

Over the last fifteen years the militaries of the United States and its allies have scattered radioactive dust onto the territories of the countries they have occupied. This dust results from the use of depleted uranium (DU) arms, which saw their combat debut during the first Gulf War and have been used ever since. That the directors of these militaries have done so knowingly is undeniable—if we may cite their continued efforts to suppress and cover-up evidence of the effects of DU as evidence—but their intent in irradiating swaths of the earth demands effort to understand, as the effects of DU are so abominable that to unleash them seems to broach madness.

It may be seen as darkly comic to future historians that the first widespread use of nuclear arms came after the Cold War’s epic fear-mongering. Or the fact may perhaps be made to make a bitter sort of sense, a confirmation of the truth of Mutually Assured Destruction. In any case, during the first Gulf War the US military, along with at least the British, shelled and bombed the deserts of Iraq with depleted uranium rounds, which though lacking the trademark mushroom cloud scattered bits of radioactive dust that have a half life of 4.5 billion years. Gulf War Syndrome, the name give to symptoms displayed by servicemen returning from this war, has been shown to result from exposure to DU. Iraqi civilians exposed to DU dust, such as children who play the husks of tanks ‘killed’ by DU arms, are prey to the entire spectrum of diseases that are known to follow radiation exposure: leukemia, monstrous birth-defects, multiple instances of cancer. These things have been repeated during the war in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and during the second Gulf War, as has been well documented, and likely in Somalia as well, but the situation there remains so unstable as to make treatment of radiation sicknesses difficult to document—time will tell.

Why use a material that leaves cancer and deformity in its wake, for generations to come? (We ask, in assumption that ‘to kill for generations to come’ is not the response.) For one thing, it seems that the alternative to DU in arms manufacture is tungsten, which for several reasons is less appealing to the industry: DU is more effective as an armament than tungsten; it’s also more cost effective as it derives from the process of nuclear enrichment—literally, it is a nuclear waste (1). Tungsten on the other hand must be imported—most imports coming from China—and worked at high temperatures (3422 °C), while DU is offloaded by nuclear refineries and melts at a much lower temperature (1132°C) (2). Using the wastes of the nuclear industry is an economiser’s dream, killing the two birds of Overhead and Waste Disposal with one stone: no cost outlay for tungsten shells, and a place to put our toxic wastes. One wonders which interest groups leveraged for the decisive switch from tungsten to uranium—certainly someone knows or some trace remains.

The efficacy of DU arms is often cited as well: because uranium is so dense, and because it is propelled so rapidly, it can penetrate a dozen meters of reinforced concrete, before exploding upon reaching the opening behind and reducing everything there to a “fine black powder” (3). Doug Rokke, a specialist on DU weapons, on how DU works:

Uranium munitions are probably the most effective weapon your ever going to encounter. These things are the silver bullet. They kill and destroy anything in their path. They are EXTREMELY effective. And what you need to understand, and contrary to what they say in the media, the DU ground is not coated and it’s not tipped. The DU round is solid uranium 238. The M1 tank round is over 10 pounds of solid uranium 238, contaminated with plutonium, neptunium, and americium.

We’ve got a plastic sabot that fits in there that takes the diameter of round, which is about three-quarters of an inch up to 120 mm. The minute that thing leaves the tube—the bore of the gun—the plastic sabot falls away. And all you have is a gigantic uranium dart—just like your playing darts—moving and unbelievable velocity down range to impact anything and everything.

When that 10 pound uranium dart strikes wood, metal, steel, iron, or anything — this thing is already on fire in flight. The uranium is pyrophoric and very soft. Uranium is not hard. It’s soft. But the density is unbelievable. Extremely heavy per unit volume. So, you got this uranium dart, that basically three-quarters of an inch in
diameter, 18 inches long, moving at better than 3000 feet per second. And when strikes, you have what we call, spalling is formed.(4)

Spalling is the name given to the explosive fragmenting of the DU slug as it burns up and splinters on impact; this is what makes DU effective and also what makes it unacceptible. As DU spalls, somewhere between 30 and 100 percent of it burns—it depends on the type of shell used. An entire missile will burn, while of a 30 mm bullet perhaps a third will. The majority of the DU that oxidizes measures less than 1.5 microns and is so breathable—it can enter into the lungs and lodge there, indefinitely(5).

  1. Abdelkrim-Delanne, Christine, ““Guerre dan les Balkans: ces armes si peu
    conventionnelles.”Le Monde Diplomatique, June 1999 .
  2. Parsons, Robert James, “Le Grande Mensonge des ‘Guerres Propres’: de la réalitlté des armes à l’uranium appauvri.” Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2002.
  3. Parsons, “Le Grande Mensonge.” Rokke, Doug. Speech given 21 April 2003, Los Altos CA. Learn About Depleted Uranium From The US Army’s Expert on Depleted Uranium (DU): Nuclear Holocaust and The Politics of Radiation. Available here.
  4. Parsons, “Le Grande Mensonge.”

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