proliferation of D.U. arms has sparked concern at the United
Nations. Last August, Margaret Papandreou, the former first lady
of Greece, led a delegation to the U.N. calling for the lifting
of sanctions against Iraq and an investigation into Iraqi claims
of increased cancer rates in the Basra region that Iraqis
attribute to the 300 to 800 tons of D.U. left behind by U.S.
forces. The U.N.
Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities passed a resolution that includes language
calling for a prohibition on the use of depleted uranium; only
the U.S. representative voted against it. The full U.N. Human
Rights Commission is now taking testimony on D.U. and is
expected to release a report sometime later this year.
DEAD CHILDREN, SICK SOLDIERS
The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) armour piercing shells by
U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War was uncovered by the German
professor, Dr. Siegwart-Horst Gunther. A survivor of world war
and internment in a Nazi concentration camp, Dr. Gunther is a
tireless campaigner in the struggle to highlight the
little-reported and ongoing human suffering resulting from the
Gulf War. We reprint a South movement interview of professor
Gunther in Nov 1995.
DAVID MULLER: Professor, I gather that Depleted Uranium is
a by-product of the nuclear enrichment industry. Is this
PROF. GUNTHER: Uranium ore, as found in nature, is a compound
which consists for the most part, of the isotope 238 and about
0.70% of the isotope 235. Now, as the isotope 235 alone is
fissionable and hence of use for the reactors, the uranium ore,
poor in that element, must be enriched. Such a process involves
masses of material and creates consequently huge quantities of
depleted uranium (composed mostly of the sole isotope 238).
DAVID MULLER: Why did the U.S. use Depleted Uranium shells
in the Gulf War?
PROF. GUNTHER: Depleted Uranium possesses characteristics
which make it very attractive for the weapon technology : It is
the heaviest element occurring, so to say, naturally on earth: 1
cm3 weighs 18.95 grams; Possibly related to a German technology,
because of its density, uranium tipped projectiles have a very
high penetrating power. DU is best suited for the production of
ammunition to break through steel armours; Moreover it is a
naturally pyphoric material. After penetration, so much heat
develops at the exit point, that DU particles catch fire. A hit
tank, for instance, explodes releasing highly toxic and
radioactive products. After experiences during the Gulf War,
since 1992, U.S. tanks are getting increased strengthening, all
around, by DU. These U.S. tanks are ironically called Radiation
DAVID MULLER: Professor you were one of the first people
to expose to the world that the U.S. had used Depleted Uranium
in the Gulf War. How did you make this discovery?
PROF. GUNTHER: I found on the 7th of May, 1991 on the highway
between Baghdad and Amman, in the desert, projectiles in the
form and size of a cigar, which retained my attention, because
of their unusual appearance and weight. In that region, columns
of refugees, aid transports and others had been submitted to
attack by A-10 planes equipped with this type of ammunition.
DAVID MULLER: That's a long way from the tank battles on
the Kuwait border. So you found an unexploded shell fired from a
U.S. Warthog ground attack plane that attacked traffic on the
way to Jordan?
PROF. GUNTHER: Yes. Later on I happened to see children
playing with these projectiles. A little girl who possessed 12
of them died of leukaemia. Also in the children hospitals of
Baghdad, Mosul and Basrah the number of leukaemia, aplastic
anaemia and tumour development is noticeably on the increase.
Moreover a new up-to-date undiagnosed disease is seen with
abnormal abdominal distension possibly related to disturbed
liver and kidney functions. Because of the impossibility of
treatment the children die, most painfully from secondary
DAVID MULLER: I believe that you took one of the DU shells
back to Germany for analysis ?
PROF. GUNTHER: The possible relation to German technology
prompted me to take one bullet to be analysed by four German
institutions. The bullet under examination exhibited a
radioactivity of 11 to 12 microsivert per hour and was highly
toxic. Because of its danger the projectile was seized by German
police in special protective clothing and transported to a safe
place. In radiology in Germany, personnel should not be exposed
to more than 50 millisivert per year.
DAVID MULLER: What are the short term and long term
effects of DU contamination in Iraq?
PROF. GUNTHER: From my own observations in Iraq, the long
term effect of contact with DU results in the breakdown of the
immune system. Other effects noticed have been:
- Many infectious diseases, with serious complications are
on the increase. Sometimes diseases break out which are
known in Europe only through text books;
- Herpes infections, Zoster infections and AIDS-like
symptoms are dramatically on the increase, all of them
possibly related to the breakdown of the immune system;
- Premature births are numerous. Congenital malformations of
the newborn show a high postwar percentage (26.8% according
to Dept. of Pathology, College of Medicine, University of
Baghdad). In the countryside, children die in great numbers
and are buried without possibility of diagnosis;
- During the lambing season in 1993 a high percentage 10%
according to IPA Agricultural Research Center) of abnormal
newborn lambs have been observed. Most of them died a few
days after birth.
DAVID MULLER: U.S. authorities closed a DU penetrator
ammunition factory on the edge of Albany, in upstate New
York because of air borne contamination levels exceeded 150
microcurie per month contaminating populated areas up to 26
miles away. This was the equivalent of 1 or 2 of these 30mm
canon shells per month releasing its toxicity to the
environment. We can only guess at the toxicity levels in
Iraq when the Desert Storm 100 hour ground offensive
exploded some 40 tonnes of these DU shells.
PROF. GUNTHER: According to American Greenpeace,
documents released under the Freedom of Information Act,
indicate that the Allied Forces would have left 300 tons of
DU on the battle fields between Kuwait and Iraq, mostly in
the form of toxic and radioactive dust. Much of the uranium
dust has been scattered about thousands of square miles of
desert. As the Gulf region has a rainy season, it is feared
that uranium particles get at one time or the other into the
ground water and finally reach the food chain. Highly toxic
uranium dust, if inhaled, can result in lung cancer. Many DU
projectiles spread over the battle fields have been
collected by children and used as toys with possibly
devastating consequences. The toxic nature of DU
contamination is highlighted with the U.S. Department of
Defence erecting a highly secret $4 million facility in
Barnwall, South Carolina just to detoxify 22 military
vehicles hit by friendly fire. Some of the vehicles are so
badly contaminated that they have had to bury them.
DAVID MULLER: The Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in
the United States tested Gulf War veterans suffering from
Desert Storm Syndrome for radiation toxicity following Gulf
War veteran outrage and Congressional pressure.
PROF. GUNTHER: My observations of the effects of DU
contamination in Iraq show a similarity described in the
so-called Gulf-War-Syndrome of U.S. and British soldiers in
Kuwait. Right now one hears about odd ailments among Gulf
War veterans from the U.S., which could possibly be
attributed to contact with DU. One hears about hair loss,
skin disease, damage to different organs etc. Even pregnant
women are giving birth to crippled children. Many of these
effects had remained unknown to the public.
Newspapers recorded that a U.S. staff-sergeant held the view
that many soldiers now felt uncertain and fear that they may
have been used as Guinea-Pigs in a radiation experiment.
Laura Flanders recently reported in the Nation
magazine on a U.S. Veterans Administration state-wide survey
of 251 Gulf War veterans families in Mississippi. Of their
children conceived and born since the war, 67% have
illnesses related to severe or missing eyes, missing ears,
blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.
DAVID MULLER: Which companies are still manufacturing
PROF. GUNTHER: Different types of DU ammunition have been
manufactured in the U.S. by Honeywell, Aerojet and others,
the mass-production began in 1977. DU penetrators were
extensively used for the first time during late in the Gulf
War in 1991, with impressive results. At present there
exists also mass-production in Britain and France and the
export to other NATO countries, as well as to Japan,
Australia and New Zealand are not excluded.
DAVID MULLER: Professor, Australia exports Uranium
Yellow cake to Europe ostensibly for peaceful purposes. From
what I understand from your speech you see collusion between
commercial enrichment plants and the military?
PROF. GUNTHER: Yes, it is a question of cutting costs.
Generally speaking, because of their toxicity and
radioactivity, wastes from the uranium industry are in
Europe deposited in salt galleries. These wastes must be
safely deposited for a very long period of time. Such
deposition processes seem to be extremely expensive. So, to
save money, the uranium industry are giving depleted
uranium, free of charge, to institutions or others, who are
interested in it.
DAVID MULLER: One final question! I noticed that you
are circulating a petition about Depleted Uranium. What is
the purpose of your organisation Yellow Cross?
PROF. GUNTHER: Yellow Cross International makes a
vehement appeal for the total ban of using DU ammunition as
well as the newly developed laser weapons provoking
irreparable damage to the eyes. Since 1991 I have been
constantly warning about the DU dangers for the populations.
Unfortunately at that time only few people believed me. Also