The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Depleted Uranium weapons and hazards in Afghanistan - synopsis

Dear CASI network

Re my message of 2 December I have just published the following report on my website.  This is a synopsis written for wider circulation.

The report explains why I think the US Government may be about to review its plans for attacking Iraq.  It also questions possible wider use of DU weapons in 1991 than previously disclosed, suspected use in subsequent operations e.g. in December 1998 and use of the no-fly zone as a testing ground for some of the weapons systems now suspected of containing DU warheads.

A message on another list recently questioned why and how such new DU weapon systems, if they are verified, should have been kept secret for several years.  This may be obvious in view of the references to the Geneva Conventions below and in the Conclusions in Part 5 of the Report.

The identity of the mystery metal is still secret. The official "group-think" in the military and US, UK and possibly other governments is that "DU is safe". This presumption increases the risk that it has been used indiscriminately as the report suspects. This is why the report calls for fast and rigorous international investigations in Afghanistan, and review of the use of any the suspected weapons and health effects on civilians in all conflict zones since 1989 including Iraq, Kuwait, the Balkans and Israel. 
I would like to be wrong. But if any of the suspected systems are DU-based the implications are too serious and risks too immediate to stay silent.

Dai Williams

New Report: Internet version published 8 February 2002

Depleted Uranium weapons in 2001-2002
(Occupational, Public and Environmental Health Issues)
Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan?
Collected studies and public domain sources
compiled by Dai Williams

Context and issues
This research started in January 2001 when first reports of the UNEP Balkans Depleted Uranium (DU) survey included strange anomalies - too little evidence and too much radiation from "dirty DU" contaminated with U236 and Plutonium.

These investigations question one of the best kept military secrets of the last decade. The facts about DU weapons are well known to military experts and arms manufacturers in the US, UK and at least 30 other countries.

But how much do politicians know about them? What have aid agencies been told? And why have the media stayed silent about new weapons in the Afghan war?

The conclusions have immediate implications for the health, safety and welfare of civilians, troops and aid workers in Afghanistan.

They question the role of Governments, UN agencies and the validity of official research studies concerning DU weapons and health hazards.

They raise serious questions about the global proliferation of DU in military and civilian applications and its suspected widespread use in Afghanistan.

They have fundamental implications for the classification of DU munitions as weapons of indiscriminate effect.

First confirmation of DU contamination & missiles
"One site registered an increased level of radioactivity but it appeared to be a result of depleted uranium in some warheads and not from any nuclear or radiological weapon of mass destruction," Rumsfeld said.  
[Reuters 16 January 2001, see page 120 of the report]

Recommendations include
Identification and verifiable disclosure of the secret "dense metal" used in US and allied guided weapon warheads and sub-munitions is needed urgently. Known and suspected DU weapons are identified in Part 3 and in Table 4 in Part 5.

[Note: This mystery "dense metal" is believed to be Depleted Uranium, alloyed with other metals.  It is used in at least three different types of hard-target warheads, ammunition and sub-munitions.  It is mentioned frequently in a US Air Force planning document in 1997 quoted in "Tip of the Iceberg" (see Part 1) and in weapon descriptions, but is never identified.]

Immediate risk assessments of potential DU contamination in Afghanistan are needed, plus relevant health and safety precautions for the population and expatriates, including aid workers and the UN peacekeeping force.
Urgent and rigorous environmental assessments and health monitoring are needed by UN agencies (UNEP, WHO) and aid organisations in Afghanistan.

International vigilance from many countries is needed to ensure that DU risk and casualty assessments are not delayed or compromised by military or political interference as happened after the Balkans War.

Initial distribution of the report
The prime concern of this project is to minimise potential DU exposure risks for personnel in Afghanistan.  It has been sent to UN agencies in Geneva for consideration in their plans for post-conflict support in Afghanistan.  These include the UNEP-PCAU, WHO, UNHCR and WFP.  It is also being sent to medical aid (ICRC, MSF) and de-mining organisations for consideration in their operations.

A copy will be sent to the UK Government to repeat questions and warnings first sent to them in October, and to MPs who have raised some of these questions in the UK Parliament. These questions and answers to date are listed in full in Part 2 of the report.

The Internet version will make the report available to all employers including armed forces, occupational health professionals, environmental and other researchers with responsibilities or concerns for people living and working in Afghanistan.

Further action
The 7 DU scenarios in the report range from no use of DU by either side, through varying levels of use by Al Qaeda, Taliban and / or US and allied forces.  Scenario 1 - no use of DU therefore no potential hazards - closed down with Donald Rumsfeld's comment on 16 January (see above). 

The author hopes that minimal amounts of DU contamination will have occurred, or that contamination by larger weapons may be localised in remote locations like Tora Bora, though even these may be water catchment areas.  Unfortunately past and recent US and UK government statements about the health hazards, properties and use of DU and suspected DU weapons are clearly unreliable (see Part 4).  This undermines the credibility of any re-assurances they offer in reply to this report without rigorous and independent investigations both of conditions in Afghanistan and the weapons systems involved.

Employers and aid organisations would be prudent to make risk assessments for all the scenarios including the worst case that 500-1000+ tons of DU have been dispersed in up to 50 locations including urban areas.
The report has implications for the suspected use of Depleted Uranium in a wider range of weapons than previously known about, during and since the Gulf War in 1991.  This will require investigation of the systems concerned and their potential health effects on civilians and troops involved in Iraq, Bosnia and the Balkans War (1999).  Previous health and environmental studies have only investigated DU contamination from anti-tank ammunition.  This will be important for veterans groups - and for human rights groups concerned about the epidemic of cancers and birth defects in Iraq.

The report is immediately relevant to the Parliaments of all countries that have committed military or civilian personnel to Afghanistan during the bombing or for the UN peacekeeping operation.  It seems likely that some of these Governments are aware of the risks involved e.g. the report that Bulgaria has committed a team of 20 radiation de-contamination personnel to the peacekeeping force (see page 104).  Why has this not been discussed in the Parliaments or media of any of the countries concerned?  

If the more serious scenarios prove correct the new Afghan Government will require a permanent environmental monitoring programme in regions found to be contaminated with DU.  This is likely to spread through airborne dust and water supplies in the summer, starting in April-May as temperatures rise, contaminated snow melts and summer winds develop.  (Has this been done in Iraq?).

The new UNEP PCAU (Post Conflict Assessment Unit) will require vastly greater resources than were made available to the UNEP Balkans Task Force in 2000.  Its initial results are needed BEFORE summer weather conditions develop to evaluate hazards to local communities and expatriates. A parallel health monitoring study is also urgently required by WHO - assuming the IAEA does not veto such action.  The potential implications for communities in Afghanistan and refugees returning are being considered by UNHCR.

The report urges clearness between the military, political and health and safety aspects of DU weapons (see Part 5).  The immediate priority is for health and safety precautions and assessments in Afghanistan, whether or not governments or the military are willing to disclose the identity of DU weapons and their use there and elsewhere. These precautions are now being considered by organisations operating in Afghanistan.

The support of medical and humanitarian organisations, and of parliaments may be vital to ensure independent UN risk assessments.  These need immediate action, without delay or deception by allied forces or the arms or nuclear industries, to establish the extent of DU contamination, casualties and people at risk. 

This report also has immediate implications for any other bombing campaigns planned by the US Government e.g. in Iraq or Somalia.  If any of the guided weapons identified in the report do contain Depleted Uranium warheads, their use in Afghanistan or any other country will contravene Articles 35 and 55 of the First Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. 
This calls into question the US Government's frequent allegations about other countries having weapons of mass destruction if they themselves are using weapons of indiscriminate effect.  

On 17 October 2001 Bill HR 3155 The Depleted Uranium Munitions Suspension and Study Act was submitted to the US Congress (see page 138). This report adds urgency to that proposed legislation and the need for similar action in many other countries and the UN.
Dai Williams, 9 February 2002.

First Edition published 31 January 2002,  Internet version 8 February 2002
Note:         The PDF version is available in separate files for each Part, designed for printing
                 and on-line viewing for web links at:
Author       Dai Williams, M.Sc C.Psychol, Independent DU researcher
Publisher   Eos Life-Work, Woking, Surrey, UK
(This and previous reports in the Community, Peace and Political Psychology projects index)

ISBN 0 953208 3 6 (Hard Copy);           0 953208 3 7 (Digital format)

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]