Depleted Uranium Rant
PLEASE CIRCULATE WIDELY, ESPECIALLY TO YOUR U.S. FRIENDS - DON NORDIN The Implications of the Use of U.S. Depleted Uranium Weapons in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq (Don Nordin's interview with Leuren Moret) Hello, this is Don Nordin. You're listening to the Monday Brownbagger (Vancouver Cooperative Radio - 102.7 fm) of February 23, 2004 and I will have on the line in a moment a guest from Berkeley. Her name is Leuren Moret. She is an independent scientist and international expert on radiation and public health issues. She is on the organizing committee of the World Committee on Radiation Risk, an organization of independent radiation specialists, including members of the Radiation Committee in the EU parliament, the European Committee on Radiation Risk. She is an environmental commissioner for the City of Berkeley. Ms. Moret earned her BS in geology at U.C. Davis in 1968 and her MA in Near Eastern studies from U.C. Berkeley in 1978. She has completed all but her dissertation for a PhD in the geosciences at U.C. Davis. She has traveled and conducted scientific research in 42 countries. She wrote a scientific report on depleted uranium for the United Nations sub commission investigating the illegality of depleted uranium munitions. Marian Falk, a former Manhattan Project scientist and retired insider at the Livermore Lab, who is an expert on radioactive fallout and rainout, has trained her on radiation issues. (Don) So let's get into it. I'll ask you to tell the folks what depleted uranium is. (Leuren) Depleted uranium basically is the radioactive trash from the nuclear weapons and the nuclear power plant programs, and three isotopes of uranium occur in nature, so when it is mined those three isotopes are extracted from the ore. The DU is about 99.9% U-238, 0.72% U-235 that is the fissionable isotope used in nuclear bombs and reactor fuel, and there's just a trace of U-234 left in a tenth of a percent of the remainder. So what they do is they make a gas out of it, and they extract half a percent of the U-235 and what is left, which is 99.95% of what they mine, is called depleted uranium because it is depleted in U-235. It does not mean that it is depleted in radioactivity; it's actually very radioactive., email@example.com (Don) What kind of a half-life do these constituents of the depleted uranium have? (Leuren) The half life of U-238, which is the majority of what we're talking about, is 4.5 billion years and it's actually a component of meteorites, planets, stars, space dust and it is distributed throughout the earth at about 2.4 parts per million, and because it is radioactive, it releases tiny amounts of heat over time and that is why we have a liquid or molten interior in the earth. It's from the decay of U-238. (Don) Do you have any idea of how much depleted uranium the U.S. has in its national inventory? (Leuren) Yes, the U.S. has about a million tons of depleted uranium. Most of it is stored in canisters as uranium hexafluoride, and it's just really an environmental problem. There is no place to dispose of it so in 1974, against the advice of the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense began testing and manufacturing weapons made out of DU and the first system was manufactured by Hughes Aircraft. It was called the Phalanx System developed by the Navy and within six months of the Navy testing it, they had sold it to 14 branches of the U.S. military and other countries. We have now sold DU weapons systems to 29 countries. (Don) In what kind of weapons is this DU used? (Leuren) Well, depleted uranium is made in every caliber [and used in projectiles] for handguns, tanks, cannons, all the way up to large bombs weighing more than 5,000 lbs [and also used in the body of] the Warthog airplane. So everything from handguns to bombs practically has...many have conventional weapons for ammunition but they also have them in depleted uranium. A lot of systems are interchangeable. You can put a DU warhead in a bomb or a conventional warhead in the same bomb. (Don) Did I hear you say they're using depleted uranium in the actual airplanes themselves? (Leuren) Oh, yeah. The US Air Force and the US Army are the largest users of depleted uranium. For instance, [DU is] very, very frequently used in the A-10 Warthog, but other [military] planes, and weapons systems carried by many planes, have DU. (Don) Now why would they use it in the construction of an airplane itself? (Leuren) Oh, depleted uranium or uranium metal is nearly twice as dense as lead and so instead of using larger amounts of a dense material like lead, they can use smaller amounts of depleted uranium as ballast in planes, so they use it in commercial planes and in military planes as ballast along the wings and the tail to balance the plane. [It's] very similar to the lead lugs they put on tires when we go and get our tires balanced. (Don) Well, I guess, anyway, the DU being in the wings and tail wouldn't be of any significant threat to the occupants of the plane itself. (Leuren) It's not to the occupants of the plane; it is to crash site investigators when a plane crashes. There was depleted uranium in whatever hit the Pentagon on 9-11 and I'm the only journalist in the world who even wrote an article about it. The German science journal Nature picked up my article and actually wrote its own [article] based on the interviews I did. It's used in golf clubsŠit's used in many, many surprising things and because there is so much of it, which the Department of Energy has, they're trying to find ways to dispose of it. And there are proposals now to put it inside building blocks to construct buildings with. So if this continues we'll be living in radioactive buildings and then the terrible thing is that when the aluminum from planes or the metal from planes is recycled, the DU is not removed, so the metal that is re-manufactured will contain radioactive DU mixed in with it. (Don) Now, of this one million tons of depleted uranium in the United StatesŠhow is that stored? (Leuren) Oh, it's stored at, for instance, Oakridge, Tennessee. There's a big nuclear weapons lab facility there and it's stored as uranium hexafluoride gas in huge drums, and they're just stacked outside on top of each other. It's also stored at Portsmouth, Ohio and other locations -- Hanford in Washington State. (Don) So the storage issue itself must be quite problematic. (Leuren) It's very problematic and the canisters that it's stored in, the big drums, are subject to corrosion on the outside and the barrels that are stored closest to the ground and subjected to moisture and heat and bacterial action corrode faster. (Don) Now, in the bombs that were dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan, what percentage of depleted uranium would be typically used in those bombs? (Leuren) That's a classified piece of information, but I would suspect that much of [the bombs' weight] is the depleted uranium ballast, and because it's so dense and heavy, as it falls there's a lot of kinetic energy [produced] and when it hits the ground or when a uranium shell hits a target, that kinetic energy is converted into heat. So when the bomb hits the ground, you can actually identify depleted uranium bombs because the uranium is very hot. Probably some of it is liquid or molten and there is a shower of tiny pieces of depleted uranium that are on fire. It splutters all over the place and at least 70% is aerosolized into particles and fumes and dust of radioactive depleted uranium oxides that are smaller than bacteria or viruses. These [particles] are hundreds and thousands of times smaller than blood cells, so it's inhaled by anyone in the contaminated areas, both enemy and our own soldiers. And [those particles] go directly into the bloodstream and are distributed like fairy dust throughout the body. And it's insoluble so the body cannot excrete it and it just destroys a person's body over time. (Don) So it's likely that practically all the individuals, let's say in Baghdad including the U.S. Marines, are contaminated with depleted uranium now. (Leuren) Anyone within 1,000 miles of Iraq; anyone within 1,000 miles of Afghanistan is potentially contaminated now. It's not just the people [living] in the country. Anyone going to Iraq or Afghanistan now will become contaminated. There's no way to escape it. (Don) Now, for the average soldier over there, what types of reactions would this likely be causing in the body? (Leuren) In the first Gulf War they used an estimated 340 or 350 tons of DU and the amount used is increasing every year. So there were terrible effects from that [which people know as] the Gulf War Syndrome. In Afghanistan a thousand tons were used, three times as much. The entire country, the water supplies, the infrastructure were bombed, and now in last March and April they used at least 2,200 tons, which is eight to ten times more than what they used in Gulf War One, and like Afghanistan, they bombed the whole country, the towns, the cities, the villages, the water supplies, the whole infrastructure of the country. So civilians and soldiers will be experiencing skin rashes, which is the heavy metal effect; they will have dental problems, respiratory problems. It's causing heart damage and brain damage. The effects will be much more severe and much faster now than what we know of in Afghanistan or the first Gulf War in 1991. In Kuwait, which is downwind [of Iraq], and DU was used in Kuwait, doctors are reporting three times the number of congenital heart problems with newborn babies. Those are the birth defects. Gulf War soldiers who served in 1991 had normal babies before the Gulf War. [In a study of 251 Gulf War veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was determined that 67% of the babies born to soldiers after the Gulf War had severe birth defects]. They were born without brains, without eyes, [with] organs missing, without legs or arms, or they had terrible radiation related blood diseases for instance. (Don) How many years is this effect likely to go on? (Leuren) It will be forever. The half life of depleted uranium is 4 and a half billion years, but even worse, over time as the Uranium-238 decays, it transforms four times into much more radioactive daughter products or daughter isotopes and they are more radioactive than uranium-238 by millions and billions of times, so the level of radioactivity will increase over time, and that's why we call depleted uranium the Trojan Horse of Nuclear War. Depleted uranium is a nuclear weapon and it is a weapon of mass destruction under the U.S. government definition of WMDs. (Don) Now you have done some comparison, I believe, as to the radiation effects from the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in relation to the radiation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would you like to talk about that? (Leuren) Yes. In October 16 to 19, 2003 there was a very, very excellent and very important world conference on depleted uranium weapons held in Hamburg, Germany. Two hundred people from 20 countries and five continents attended [including] scientific, medical, legal experts, organizers, and activists and there were also Iraqi medical doctors and scientists there. And I've never been to a conference like that. It was very, very interesting, very informative and sometimes difficult to have all of the affected parties involved. But some of the talks presented very important facts, and a Japanese physicist, professor Yagasaki from Okinawa, presented one of them. He had calculated the atomicity equivalent of the Nagasaki bomb to depleted uranium, and the atomicity means the number of radioactive atoms. So he calculated that 800 tons of depleted uranium is the atomicity equivalent of 83,000 Nagasaki bombs. So [the total atomicity], roughly estimating the amount of depleted uranium weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq and former Yugoslavia, is approximately equivalent to 400,000 Nagasaki bombs. In all of the testing by the nuclear states during the Cold War, the [atomicity] equivalent of only 40,000 [Nagasaki] bombs was [produced], so this is roughly ten times the amount of radiation that was released during nuclear weapons testing. This is just an absolutely horrendous amount of radiation. The U.S. has staged a nuclear war in Iraq and in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the northern half of India all the way through Turkey and Iran and the Russian oil-rich states, the Caspian oil region, and half of Egypt, Israel and the Saudi Arabian peninsula. These areas are now all contaminated. (Don) There are measurable signs of depleted uranium in those countries? (Leuren) There was before. There was in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, Kuwait, Hungary, Greece -- this was all reported after the 1991 bombing. Over time, [with] these very dry climates, the extreme dust storms and wind storms transport the radioactive material. The dust, as atmospheric dust, [is] scattered all over Europe. It's transported across the Atlantic to North Carolina and the southern United States coastal areas, the Caribbean, and these dust storms carry sand all over Europe. I've lived in England in the 1960s and 70s, and sometimes Sahara dust was on our windshields in the morning in the streets. It's known from mediaeval times. (Don) So it seems to me that, especially now and in future years, not so future either, with the lowering of our quality of food and of our immune system, that even in the fringe areas and areas around the world where there's not so much of this dust, that DU is going to have an effect on [the number of] cancer deaths. (Leuren) Well I am a geoscientist, so I study the earth and earth processes. [I do] research at U.C. Davis -- I haven't finished my dissertation yet, but my research has been on atmospheric dust. I was studying the ice record, glaciers on the top of the Andes and Greenland and Antarctica and on top of the Himalayas, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and [the study of] these ice records on glaciers are like the study of tree rings. They have an annual record of the dust transported around the world and also atmospheric gases, and the radiation released each year is preserved in each layer of ice. So we know from volcanic eruptions, like Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, that the dust from volcanoes, the volcanic dust and ash, is globally mixed throughout the entire atmosphere in one year. So whatever they have been bombing with is, in one year, globally mixed throughout the entire atmosphere. And right now the world is in a global cancer epidemic and other radiation related diseases, which is a result of the Cold War weapons testing. We've added ten times as much radiation to the Middle East and Central Asia. Much of it will remain in the area recycling through the waters, the dust, the food, and the air. It's inescapable. But a lot of it will also be transported throughout the world. And remember that cancer starts with a single atom of uranium, a single alpha particle or gamma ray released from one atom under the right conditions. So it doesn't just affect humans, it affects all life. Everything will mutate, will be affected, if it's exposed under the right conditions. (Don) Well, the question that comes to mind is: Do the people who are waging war against the world in the United States and those that are releasing depleted uranium to be used in these weapons, realize the effects of depleted uranium on the environment and on people? (Leuren) Of course. The United States has since spent 300 billion dollars-that's a conservative estimate up to 1995-on nuclear weapons development. I worked at two nuclear weapons laboratories: The Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and the Lawrence Livermore Lab. This entire time they have conducted detailed and very extensive studies on the biological effects of radiation. They absolutely know everything about the impact on the environment and on human health of what they are doing, and when I worked at Livermore from 1989 to '91, [before] I finally walked out one day and became a whistleblower, I watched teams of radiation experts leaving that lab monthly, weekly, yearly traveling to radioactive contaminated sites all over the world, taking collections of plant materials and living materials like the fish out of the rivers or the lagoons. [They also studied] the human guinea pigs, people at Chernobyl, at the Pacific Islands where nuclear weapons were tested and even Americans [in the] the nuclear weapons program and the nuclear power plant program. They have special laboratories at Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab and Livermore. They have special units with instruments to measure the radiation and samples, freezers to keep the samples in, and in the labs that I've worked in, there are charts with defective sperm on the walls. I remember walking by them every day. They know everything. (Don) So if they know the effects of depleted uranium on people, does that not then make them the highest type of war criminals? (Leuren) These are the highest types of war criminals. These people have developed weapons of mass destruction knowing full well what the health and environmental effects are, and they have spent tremendous amounts of money and effort to hide this from not just the American people, but from the global community. They have constructed a huge and a very connected apparatus of scientists, scientific journals, medical professionals, academic institutions, secret radiation labs, and nuclear weapons laboratories. We have over 550 national laboratories in the United States-I think the number has been reduced maybe to 250, but there were over 3,500 facilities in the United States, which functioned as part of the nuclear weapons complex. There's no way that they don't know everything and the international nuclear-I call them the nuclear Mafia-has mostly been controlled by the United States. It's all to hide the health and environmental effects. (Don) They seem not to be only the highest types of criminals, but they seem to be insane. I mean only an insane... (Leuren) It's a culture of insanity! You're absolutely right. I worked at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab. I saw people go to work every day. Their friends were dying of cancer. Some of them had cancer. You know that a nuclear weapons lab paycheck is about 30 to 40% more than scientists would make in a private sector academia. So people get addicted to that money and their wives die of brain cancer. Their children die of leukemia and they still go to work every day. (Don) Yeah, George W.'s son and progeny are going to be affected for all time. (Leuren) George Bush Jr., our president now, he and all of his siblings have learning disabilities as a result of being exposed to nuclear weapons testing fallout during the Cold War. And his toddler sister died of leukemia when she was just a couple of years old. His whole family has been affected by nuclear weapons testing. This is the insanity of it. They do it anyway. (Don) Yeah, it doesn't bode very well to be ruled by people that are brain cell deficient, that's for sure. (Leuren) Well, it's had a tremendous effect on the I.Q. and the learning ability of all American children. The SAT scores, the average SAT scores for the entire population of 18 year-olds, teenagers in their last year of high school when they are given the SAT tests, declined from 475 which was the average score for 20 years before bomb testing started and it started in about 1946. By 1963 the SAT scores for children born that year, [those children] exposed in utero to the radiation and receiving brain damage, [declined nationwide] to 425. As soon as the test ban treaty was signed between the U.S. and Russia in 1963, SAT scores started going up again. But what the United States did was sacrifice an entire generation of children to test nuclear weapons. The same thing is happening now because of nuclear power plants and one out of twelve children have learning disabilities in the U.S. What cost is that to our society? (Don) Hasn't Baghdad, and maybe even the whole country of Iraq, been made virtually an area that is not suitable for living in now? (Leuren) Oh, and the regions within a thousand miles. The Middle East and Central Asia are radioactive. People shouldn't be living there; nothing should be living there. And I began to read-I couldn't believe it-when I started researching it, I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe what had happened. I couldn't believe they were using depleted uranium in the amounts they were using. And when that Japanese professor calculated the atomicity equivalent of Nagasaki bombs, I started making maps of the areas contaminated and when I saw the map with circles drawn around Afghanistan and Iraq with a one thousand mile radius, I knew there was a deeper purpose. But I still couldn't understand why they'd used it. No other country has used it. The U.S. broke a 46-year taboo in 1991 and used it. No other countries have used it since then. There has to be a reason, and I began to read The Grand Chessboard by Brzezinski. Anyway he, Zbigniew Brzezinski -- it's called The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geo-strategic Imperative -- wrote it in 1998 but it's a blueprint, absolutely, for U.S. foreign policy being carried out in Central Asia and the Middle East. And they have basically bombed the major oil rich regions in the Eurasian area. This is not going to stop. It's going to continue. Call-in portion of Interview (Caller #1) Listening to your guest. Great topic. Good guest! I've just got a few things to say. I was just thinking about this. I think you are absolutely right when you say that the people who are doing these kind of things to humanity, there is no other reason: they must either just be insane or incredibly sinister and perhaps another reason exists that maybe we don't really think about. Has anyone ever thought that maybe these leaders, these mad bombers and serial killers such as George W. Bush and his father -- what about the theory that these people are really reptilians from another dimension or planet perhaps who have invaded our human areas and who are carrying out their own agenda? (Don) Well I don't know if I'd like to degrade the reptilian race by saying they're reptilians. (Laugh) (Caller #1) OK. I don't know what other reason exists other than I didn't realize people are [so] completely sinister and I throw in a guy like George W. Bush, of course. But I'll just hang up now and listen to your comments and perhaps your guest's comments. Thank you. (Caller #2) Well, I'd just like to discuss for example Helen Caldicott, who has been active in struggling against nuclear weapons proliferation, and there are groups out there struggling against radiation and all different types of organizations fighting to reduce the amount of damage done through militarism and international aggression and so on. But there seems to be a real lack of democratic decision-making processes within these organizations. (Don) That's for sure. (Caller #2) Yeah. There is very little in the way of public involvement and there is virtually no democratic decision-making that is taking place just based on the empirical information relevant to the decisions to be made, rather than the persuasive, coercive influence of leadership elements and PR firms, advertising agencies, media organizations, and different groups within these organizations. I wonder if maybe she could speak to that, if there is any organization she's aware of that are more democratic? (Caller #3) I just had a question for Leuren. I was wondering which countries in Europe would be safe from contamination? Where would it be safe to visit? (Don) I think she's said that basically the whole world is contaminated but it's just to a lesser degree. I would imagine that there's a gradual [reduction] of radioactivity away from the central bombing areas, but we'll go back to Leuren. (Leuren) In terms of less contaminated areas, I would think Europe would be OK. Turkey is in the region of potential contamination and, if you are going for short visits, you have a better chance of not becoming contaminated. Of course there is no safe level of radiation exposure, but the people living in these regions, chronically exposed 24 hours a day to air borne [and] water borne [radiation], and [to] food contaminated with radiation, will be the most affected. It's just everywhere. It's really, I think, the greatest tragedy that humanity has faced. So I feel terrible about people who went to Iraq as human shields, to media who were there-they're all contaminated. And when I was in Japan last summer I met the human shield people from Japan-they're sick with depleted uranium exposure and over time it just continues to act in the body. So people really need to think about where they are going and be aware of the potential risk. Now the other question the gentleman had about this need for openness and democracy in the decision-making process [concerning] the nuclear weapons program, nuclear power plants, and now the DU, because it's all the same-it's alpha, beta, or gamma exposure internally whether it's coming out of nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, or depleted uranium or the radioactive weapons. The problem is that the secrecy has allowed these programs to be developed when they do tremendous harm to human health and all species, as well as the impact on the environment. And right now the United States is gearing up for a nuclear war. We now have nuclear weapons spending at the highest level ever-even [than] during the Cold War. It's higher now than during the Cold War and the United States has no enemies. This is causing other countries to also increase nuclear weapons development and what I was shocked to discover in my research is that Japan and Germany are now tied in second place. They have passed Russia in nuclear weapons development. And the deeper purpose for all of this is to play nuclear blackmail and to frighten other countries into developing their nuclear weapons and thinking they need them. For instance, India is afraid of Pakistan. Pakistan is afraid of India. Japan is afraid of North Korea. North Korea is afraid of South Korea. So everyone is developing nuclear weapons and what's really happening is the US is manipulating these countries rimming China to develop nuclear weapons programs and we are enticing them to be our nuclear partners with China as a common and the real enemy. (Don) I have so many more questions to ask you. One of the ones I wanted to ask is, what about the groundwater? Is that going to be contaminated for all time and how far away [from the areas of conflict] would it be contaminated? (Leuren) The groundwater is contaminated of course. Over time, as the leftover bullets and ammunition that did not burn degrade and weather with the heat, and [with] the cold and seasonal changes-rain, snow, and the wind-[depleted uranium contamination] migrates into the groundwater. So there's just a constant new supply of depleted uranium oxides and metal which will be released into the air and migrate through the ground into the groundwater. A study that the United Nations Environmental Program released last March 2003 reported that 25% of the bare metal, uranium bullets and weapons in the soil in Yugoslavia, had dissolved since 1998. So if 25% of the munitions buried in the ground dissolved in four or five years in a wet climate, it will be slower in desert areas, but it's going to continue contaminating groundwater, soil, food and air. (Don) And I think-you have mentioned that these particles go down into very fine sizes, so [I would imagine] there's no way they can be filtered out of the water. (Leuren) There's no way to filter it out. It goes through all gas masks. It goes through all filters. These particles are a tenth of a micron or smaller. A red blood cell is seven microns and a white blood cell is about ten microns, so they are much, much smaller than even blood cells. (Don) Before we wrap it up, I would like you to give us contacts on the website where people can find more information. (Leuren) People can go to an excellent website: and just do a Google search on my name, Moret. They can also go to: . That's the Traprock Peace Center in Connecticut. They have an excellent website. Lots of people get a lot of good information from it and they have a lot of information on depleted uranium. Those are probably the two best websites that I know of. There's a letter to Congressman McDermott that I wrote. They could do a Google search on "letter to McDermott". He's a Congressman from Seattle, Washington who has introduced a bill in Congress, and I wrote him a letter with a lot of details. The attachments and the references are also on the website with a letter. That's on the mindfully.org website, and then [there's] my testimony for the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan of December 13, 2003, which is also on the mindfully.org website. That [testimony] has fourteen questions that the prosecutor sent me to answer, and there are questions like: What does the U.S. government know about DU? (My answer was twelve pages long). What is the connection between depleted uranium and fourth generation nuclear weapons? And then, what are the environmental and human effects? (Don) What I think has to happen is [that] some organizations in Vancouver have to get together and bring you into Vancouver for a large meeting. (Don asks remaining callers to give comments only) (Caller #4) Well I was wondering about the possibility of certain plants being used to decontaminate the human body and [the] possible development of bacteria that might be used for that purpose also? (Don) I was asking for comments. We don't have time for questions now. (Caller #4) Well my comment is that it is one big inhumane, parasitic, military-industrial, ecocidal and social atrocity. (Don) Thank you. ` Last comment of Leuren Moret: (Leuren) I would like to read a quote from Henry Kissinger. "Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy". This is what the elite believe about our military. I am now working with an international group of scientists and radiation experts. We are forming a World Committee on Radiation Risks comprised of honest researchers to help citizens, elected officials, affected populations and individuals to learn the truth about radiation, and to work toward an international moratorium on depleted uranium and other radioactive weapons. So watch for us. The European Committee on Radiation Risk, within the European Parliament, has just published an excellent report on low-level radiation and you can get it at: And now the citizens of the world, the scientists of the world, the radiation experts of the world-we have to all work together and it's not hopeless. But people need good information.