Depleted Uranium

Depleted Uranium (DU) is a chemically toxic and radioactive, heavy metal which is produced as a by-product of the enrichment of uranium for civil nuclear power programmes. It is used in armour-piercing munitions because of its very high density; DU is 1.7 times denser than lead, giving DU weapons increased range and penetrative power.

Why is it a problem?

The use of DU in weapons disperses toxic and radioactive dust which can then be inhaled. It is thought that using DU has caused a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003.
It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields. While we have a reasonable idea how much DU was used in the Balkans (12,700kg) and the 1991 Gulf War (290,300kg) there is little data on the extent of its use following the 2003 invasion in Iraq. One estimate put the total at 140,000kg by early 2004. What is clear is that far more has been used in urban areas; this is because of a move towards asymmetric warfare and an increasingly cavalier approach to the use of DU.

A US Marine Corps Abrams Main Battle Tank fires on Fallujah, Iraq

Where has depleted uranium been used and who uses it?

DU was used on a large scale by the US and the UK in the Gulf War in 1991, then in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, and again in the war in Iraq by the US and the UK in 2003. At least 17 countries are thought to have weapon systems containing DU. Many of them were sold DU ammunition by the US while others, including UK, France, Russia, Pakistan and India are thought to have developed it independently.

The legal status of depleted uranium weapons

Although no sole treaty explicitly banning the use of DU is yet in force, it is clear that using DU runs counter to the basic rules and principles enshrined in written and customary International Humanitarian Law.
In 2006, the European Parliament strengthened its previous calls for a moratorium by calling for the introduction of a total ban, classifying the use of DU, along with white phosphorous, as inhumane.
In 2007, Belgium became the first country in the world to ban all conventional weapons containing uranium. Other states are set to follow their example.
In February 2008 the Italian government elected to offer compensation to Italian veterans made ill in Iraq and the Balkans and agreed to invest millions of Euros into DU research.

ICBUW - The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

cadu-logo_web_190px.jpgCND is a member of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). Based in Manchester, UK and administered by the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU), ICBUW has 95 member organisations in 26 countries worldwide,  ICBUW is the best initiative yet to achieve a ban on all conventional weapons containing uranium. Even though the use of weapons containing uranium should already be illegal under International Humanitarian, Human Rights and Environmental Laws, an international treaty, such as those treaties already banning chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster bombs, is vital to enforce their abolition.

There is a growing consensus among civil society groups, scientists and some military organisations that the health risks from DU have been seriously underestimated. Established scientific bodies have been slow to react to the wealth of new research into DU and policy makers have been content to ignore the claims of researchers and activists. Deliberate obfuscation by the mining, nuclear and arms industries has further hampered efforts to recognise the problem and achieve a ban.