The Pentagon’s manna from heaven

On 7 February 2000, Nato’s then Secretary General, Lord Robertson, wrote to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan: I can confirm that DU (Depleted Uranium) was used during the Kosovo conflict … during approximately 100 missions. The GAU-8/A API round (left) is designated PGU-13/6 and uses a streamlined projectile housing a sub-calibre kinetic energy perpetrator machined from DU, a non-critical by-product of the uranium refining process … A total of approximately 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition was used in Operation Allied Force. The major focus of these operations was in an area west of the Péc-Djakovica-Pritzen highway … However, many missions using DU also took place outside of these areas. At this moment it is impossible to state accurately every location where DU was used.

Before that admission, Finland’s Minister of the Environment, Satu Hassi, issued a statement: I think the EU should make an initiative: military use of DU should be forbidden. Depleted Uranium is a waste from the nuclear industry. In the industry itself, the handling of DU is strictly regulated and controlled, and waste is kept in guarded areas. But in military use, in combat situations and test shooting, the very same waste is dispersed into the environment, where the spread follows a haphazard pattern. Munitions containing DU are now part of the armament of many countries. I am of the opinion that the use of DU should be banned … It will permanently contaminate the areas where it is used with toxic heavy metal.

DU is seen by the Pentagon as manna from heaven. Nuclear waste costs next to nothing, the supply is unlimited and uranium-tipped ‘tank-busters’ have extra ‘penetrative power’. Therefore when the DU controversy arose after the Gulf war, and refused to go away, the Pentagon became even more secretive than normal. Like all debates which leave the public dependent on the competence and integrity of scientists, this one often generated more heat than light. The topic’s vulnerability to journalistic oversimplification assisted the Pentagon and arms industry, which share a determination to obstruct or subvert DU research. When the US government commissioned a Rand report, in response to growing public disquiet, its authors omitted to mention DU’s most dangerous feature, its transmutations into ceramic aerosols. (Pliable - the senior staff at Rand have included James Schlesinger, former CIA director and pro-nuclear Secretary of Defense, and Henry Rowen, former head of the CIA's National Intelligence Command).

In August 1999 the ceramic aerosol phenomenon was explained by Dr Rosalie Bertell, an epidemiologist with thirty years’ experience of studying the health effect of exposure to ionizing radiation: DU is radioactive waste, and it attains special deadly properties when it is fired in battle. Because of its density and the speed of the missile or bullet containing it, DU bursts into flame on impact. It reaches very high temperatures, and becomes a ceramic aerosol which can be dispersed 100km from the point of impact. Because the radiation dose to te person depends on the strength of the source of the radiation, and the time duration of the exposure, this ceramic aerosol formation is important. Ceramic (glass) is highly insoluble in the normal lung fluid, and when inhaled, this ceramic particulate will remain in the lungs and body tissue before being excreted in urine … Much of the ceramic DU aerosol is in respirable size particles and it stays in the lungs for upwards of two years … Ingested uranium is excreted in faeces, basically never entering into the human blood and lymph system. In contrast, the DU ceramic aerosol released in war enters directly into lymph and blood through the lung-blood barrier and circulates throughout the whole body …Women (because of their radiation sensitive breast and uterine tissue) and children (because their bones are growing, thus able to pick up more DU than adults) wil be more at risk from delayed DU weapon action … DU is also a heavy metal and is chemically toxic to humans … The aerosol can be resuspended in wind or when disturbed by traffic and this inhaled DU represents a seriously enhanced risk of damage immune systems and fatal cancers.

The chilling account above is from Dervla Murphy's 2002 book Through the Embers of Chaos, Balkan Journeys (John Murray ISBN 0719565103). Not happy reading, but essential reading nevertheless.

The 26 member countries of Nato are – Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States – but not Finland, home of Satu Hassi, or Ireland, home of author Dervla Murphy.

Now playing - Peter Maxwell Davies' (below) exquisite five minute solo for piano Farewell to Stromness. Both this piece and Yesnaby Ground are piano interludes from The Yellow Cake Revue, a sequence of cabaret-style numbers first performed at the St. Magnus Festival, Orkney in Scotland, by Eleanor Bron, with the composer at the piano, in June 1980. The Yellow Cake Revue took its name from the popular term for refined uranium ore, and the revue was written to highlight the threat of a proposed uranium mine to the economy and ecology of the Orkney Islands. Stromness, the second largest town in Orkney (pop. 1500), would have been two miles from the uranium mine's core, and the centre most threatened by pollution. Yesnaby is the nearby clifftop beauty spot under whose soil the uranium is known to lie. Farewell to Stromness also exists as a guitar arrangement.

If you do not know Farewell to Stromness or Yesnaby Ground you are missing something seriously beautiful. Here linked from the excellent MaxOpus web site are audio files:

Farewell to Stromness -

Yesnaby Ground -

* Dr Rosalie Bertell is is an internationally recognized expert in the field of radiation and has been a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart for more than fifty years. After the Bhopal disaster in 1984, she directed the International Medical Commission investigating the effects of the Union Carbide chemical spill that contributed to some 15,000 deaths, and after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 resulted in 31 dead and forced the evacuation of 135,000, she helped convene a tribunal to fight for the rights of those victims.

* For more on Depleted Uranium follow this link.

Image credit - Depleted Uranium ammunition round from Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
For more on the terrible aftermath of Operation Allied Force take An Overgrown Path to The Beautiful Blue Danube - Pancevo, and take this Path to find out about Musicians against nuclear weapons


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