Uranium is an element which, like many others, is all over around us. However, natural concentration is 0.5-5gr. per 1 ton of soil. If there is more than 0.1% of it, than it is possible to open a mine since uranium is basic nuclear fuel. Natural Uranium has three shapes or isotopes: 234U, 235U and 238U, that are chemically the same but differ by their nuclear characteristics. Uranium is radioactive element and it emits nuclear rays that are result of its decay. There are three basic types of radiation, Alpha, Beta and Gamma that are not similar nor are of the same threat to living nature. While U235 ( the one that is used as a fuel for commercial purposes ) emits mostly Gamma rays, Uranium U238 emits almost only Alpha ones. Depleted Uranium is uranium that consists the least quantities of U235 ( below 1% ) and has most of U238 ( some 99% ). DU is, in fact, nuclear waste, residuum of uranium used in Nuclear Plants. There is about 1 million tons of it all over the world. Alpha rays that are emitted from depleted uranium are of the short range ( only several millimeters from the particle ) but they are 20 times more destructing for the living tissues than other nuclear rays. DU is very dangerous because it is highly radioactive and toxic!
Ammunition with DU is used to destroy enemy’s armed vehicles and shelters. It is made in various calibers – from 7.6 mm up to over 120 mm. Major part of this ammunition is sting or penetrator made entirely from alloy with most of depleted uranium. Formal reason why DU is used is covered by explanation that DU is the densest existing material (1.7 time more dense than lead is), thus making rounds of it, one should get the most penetrable and efficient weapon. This cynical explanation hides the fact that the countries, producers of such ammunition, dispose huge quantities of their nuclear waste introducing such a new type of nuclear war. Up to air strikes in Yugoslavia, most used caliber was of 30 mm that is fired from guns mounted on planes, A-10, AV-8B HARRIER or on tanks. Rounds of this caliber could penetrate steel of 6-7 cm wide. The ammunition of this size contains 292 gr of DU.
In the Gulf war, more than 940,000 pcs of DU rounds has been fired, mostly caliber 30mm and 14,000 pcs of calibers 105mm and 120mm. Overall quantities of DU dispersed over Iraq are estimated on 320 tons. Data from Bosnian war are not completed yet. Defence US Department and NATO officials admited use of DU ammunition in Yugoslavian war. Detailed and precise information are not disclosed and are still in posesion of NATO. However, Russian estinmations are that about 30 tonns were spread over this territory, mostry in Kosovo. Appart from mentioned DU ammunition, there are indication that DU has been used in cruise missiles and laser bombs, as well.
NATO refused to relese information on types, quantites, and places where DU ammunitionje have been used. However, all KFOR soldiers in Kosovo are supplied with radiological protection suits and are obliged to use all protection mesures when in vicinity of places suspected (?!) to be hit by DU rounds or near by objects that were destruct by bombs which »might have had« DU. Soldiers are also regulary examined on possible contamination. Why?
Apart from purely mechanical, DU ammunition has extremely dangerous radiological effect on human as well as on environment in all. To learn this, it is necessary to know what happens with the sting (penetrator) once it hits solid target, such as tank or concrete structure is. The penetrator disrupts into:
Large shrapnel ( tenths of grams )
Small parts ( grams)
Large particles ( over 10 micrometers ) and
Aerosolized particles ( uranium dust ) produced by burning
First three types of particles are solid depleted uranium itself and, being relatively heavy, drop in the close area ( 10 meters ) around impact spot. These particles, apart being radioactive are also very toxic and may intensively react with fluids around them - primarily water - contaminating such surface and underground waters as well as soil itself.
In case of direct hit, the high temperatures, of about 1200 oC, are developed on the impact spot. Since uranium burns on 700 oC, most of the penetrator (50-70%) combusts into uranium dioxide and uranium trioxide. One hundred grams of uranium burns out into about 1,000 grams of fine, black uranium dust. Inhaling just 0.002 grams might be fatal to human health.
Because of immediate cooling, fine uranium mist is formed. Particles do not exceed 2.5 micrometers in diameter and essentially have ceramic form, in other words, they are not soluble and stay unchanged for good. Most of the particles fall on the ground in the closest surrounding of the impact spot. In the distances that exceed 200 m, their number is smaller although they may be detected even tenths of kilometers from the impact spot because, in respect to their very small size, they can be easily moved by wind. This only underlines high danger of contamination which can be spread in very wide areas.
Dangerous effect of exposure to depleted uranium could be inducted by outside or inside radiation. Outside radiation is significant when the whole sting or its parts are close to humans. If such parts are in direct contact to skin, because of the alpha and beta radiation, it could be burned. Such cases are rare and could be avoided
Inside radiation is, however, difficult to avoid and is much more dangerous. Basic threat appears when inhaling or congesting DU particles. Once in taken, uranium endangers all tissues it encounters, primarily lungs, liver, kidneys but also other organs, such as spinal content tissue, etc. Inhaled uranium dust has soluble and insoluble particles. Soluble particles are toxic and they poison the organism while the insoluble parts are more dangerous because of their radioactivity. Increased risk to cancer is about 5% per sievert what means that someone that has been exposed to DU close to impact spot might have increased risk to cancer from 20% upwards.
Tiny uranium parts penetrate soil into underground water contaminating, such, the whole food chain on a long-term basis. DU half decay time is 4.5 billion years what practically means that, once spread, it stays in our environment forever. The most endangered are soldiers and individuals that were close to impact spots at very attack. It is not excluded that such persons might have inhaled hundreds of grams of DU. It is quite possible that people working on mending damages after bombing, inhale additional quantities of DU particles. This because dust is disturbed by people, vehicles or wind. Equivalent doses are, in such cases, less (tenths of micro sieverts ) but not less dangerous.
If the target is missed, just a little percent of DU will become insoluble dust. Solid uranium will be on the surface or under it where it will react with water. Depending on geological situation, there is high risk on contamination of underground water. Detailed examinations must be exercised for every particular case.
Uranium stings from 30mm DU ammunitions have shape of cigar, about 30 cm of lenght. They could be slightly deformed from impact or broken in to several pieces. Sometimes, at one end, parts of aluminnium holder might be found. Those needles or stings are essentialy made of solid DU. Since just 25% of DU rounds hit the target, many parts of this rounds could be found all over the target area, aither on the soil surface or buried under the surface.
· AVOID PLACES THAT HAVE BEEN BOMBED !
· DO NOT COLLECT FRUITS OR PLANTS CLOSE TO PLACES THAT WERE BOMBED !
· DO NOT LET YOUR LIVE STOCK INTO CONTAMINATED AREA. DO NOT USE WATER, NAITHER SURFACE ONE NOR FROM THE WELLS !
· DO FORBID THE CHILDREN TO PLAY NEAR THE PLACES THAT HAVE BEEN ATTACKED !
· DO NOT GROW CROPS ON THE SOIL THAT MIGHT BE CONTAMINATED !
· DO WASH YOURSELF MORE INTENSE AND CHANGE CLOTHES MORE OFTEN WHILE BEING CLOSE TO BOMBED PLACES !
What to do if you find parts of DU ammunition:
· DO NOT TOUCH OR COLLECT THE SHRAPNELS !
· TEMPORARY MARK THE PLACE WHERE RESIDUUMS ARE !
· WASH YOURSELF DETAILED AND CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES !
· INFORM POLICE AND ARMY ABOUT YOU FINDINGS!
· INFORM AND WARN YOUR NEIGHBOURS !
· DO NOT ALLOW CHILDREN TO GET CLOSE TO THE PLACE NOR TO PLAY WITH THE SHRAPNELS !
If you think that you have been exposed to DU contamination than:
· GO TO THE CLOSEST MEDICAL DOCTOR AND ASK FOR THE APPROPRIATE TESTS !
· INFORM AUTHORITIES ABOUT THE PLACE, TIME AND WAY YOU WERE EXPOSED TO THE CONTAMINATION !
· INSIST TO GET ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION ON CONTAMINATION IN YOUR AREA. IN RESPECT TO THE CURENT LOW ON PROTECTION AGAINS IONIZING RADIATION AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR EXTREEM SITUATIONS, AUTHORITIES ARE OBLIGED TO DISCLOSE AND PUBLISH ALL SUCH DATA !
· INSIST ON DETAILED AND ACCURATE MEASUREMENTS OF NUCLEAR POLLUTION IN YOUR AREA. IN THIS MANNER YOU WILL BE SURE ON LEVEL OF CONTAMINATION AND WHAT IS A REAL DANGER. INSIST THAT THE INFORMATION MUST BE PUBLIC AND ACCESSIBLE TO ANYONE ON REQUEST !
There are two types of measurements: examination of terrain in aim to fix the location and measurements of uranium contents in soil, water, food, air, plants and animals. There are several methods: gamma spectrometry, (most common and rather simple one), alpha spectrometry, alpha radiometry, nutron activation analysys (most acurate), mass spectroscopy and others. ALPHA RADIATION CANNOT BE DETECTED WITH GAIGER COUNTER!
For further information contact:
Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) – UK
The National Gulf War Resource Center – USA
Zeleni Sto – Yugoslavia