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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 14:14 GMT
Depleted uranium ban demanded

tank Tanks are a prime target for DU weapons

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Two leading authorities on the effects of depleted uranium (DU) have told UK Members of Parliament of their fears for those exposed to the substance in Iraq and Kosovo.

DU is used in weapons fired at tanks and other armoured targets. It is 1.7 times as dense as lead, and is highly effective.

On impact, a DU projectile bursts into a spray of burning uranium, and veterans who served in Iraq believe it to be one factor implicated in Gulf War Syndrome, the group of ailments from which thousands of them suffer.

plane US aircraft used DU weapons over Kosovo
The two are Hari Sharma, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and Doug Rokke, who teaches environmental engineering and nuclear physics at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.

Professor Rokke served in the US army medical corps, and was in charge of planning and implementing the clean-up of US equipment contaminated with DU in Iraq after the Gulf war.

Both men are visiting the UK, and have given evidence to the Parliamentary defence committee, and to MPs belonging to the Committee for Peace in the Balkans.

They told the MPs that medical care should be made available to everyone exposed to DU in both the Gulf and Balkan wars. That included civilians as well as troops.

They also urged a thorough environmental clean-up of both theatres of war, and of everywhere else where DU weapons have been tested. A number have been fired at an army range in southwest Scotland.

Higher risk

And they said DU weapons should be banned, because their use was a crime against humanity. It contaminated the environment, and caused suffering to civilians.

Professor Sharma has examined urine samples from a number of Gulf veterans, and he believes the risk of cancer is higher than many recognise.

He told BBC News Online: "Based on the samples I have examined, I think between 5% and 12% of those who were exposed to DU may expect to die of cancer.

man Many veterans believe DU made them ill
"It could take 20 years. And the figure could be greater or smaller. But there is a definite risk."

Professor Rokke said denials by the Pentagon and the UK Ministry of Defence that depleted uranium was likely to pose a significant risk were wrong.

He told BBC News Online: "To argue that there is little risk is to mistake the slight effect an inhaled particle of DU would have on the entire body with its effect on the lymph nodes.

"When a particle enters the lung, some lodges there. But 43% of it is soluble: it enters the blood, and can get anywhere in the body. The US Veterans' Administration has found DU in the semen of men who served in the Gulf, eight years after the event.

"That means chromosomal damage, and you would therefore expect birth defects. And there is some evidence of damage to veterans' children."

Professor Rokke said the Rand Corporation study on the use of DU in the Gulf, which does not accept a link with veterans' problems, had not interviewed any of them.

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See also:
11 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Pentagon's man in uranium warning
10 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium: a soldier's experience
30 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium 'threatens Balkan cancer epidemic'
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium study 'shows clear damage'

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