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Depleted Uranium A presentation prepared by the Medical Association for Prevention of War.

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Presentation on theme: "Depleted Uranium A presentation prepared by the Medical Association for Prevention of War."— Presentation transcript:

1 Depleted Uranium A presentation prepared by the Medical Association for Prevention of War

2 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20062 Why is Depleted Uranium of Concern? Australia exports uranium to states with weapons using depleted uranium (DU) Risks to those exposed to radiation from military uses of DU are sufficiently high to warrant concern DU constitutes an unacceptable cost of contemporary armed conflict to civilian populations

3 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20063 Depleted Uranium The basics Military uses of DU Health effects Action

4 The Basics

5 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20065 Uranium Silver-white, lustrous, dense, weakly radioactive element Found the natural environment Mixture of three radioactive isotopes 238U, 235U, and 234U Approximately 90 µg (micrograms) of uranium exists in the human body from normal intakes of water, food and air. About 66% is found in the skeleton, 16% in the liver, 8% in the kidneys and 10% in other tissues. Used primarily in nuclear power plants. However, most reactors require uranium in which the 235U content is enriched from 0.72% to about 1.5-3%.

6 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20066 Depleted Uranium The uranium remaining after removal of the enriched fraction contains about 99.8% 238U, 0.2% 235U and 0.001% 234U by mass; this is referred to as depleted uranium or DU Depleted uranium (DU) contains at least three times more 235U than natural uranium Weakly radioactive and a radiation dose from it would be about 60% of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass The behaviour of DU in the body is identical to that of natural uranium

7 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20067 Depleted Uranium Troops exposed to multiple agents including: DU, insect repellent, petrochemicals, vaccines, + nerve gas and drugs against nerve gas. May be implicated in Iraqi illnesses and congenital deformities Gulf war syndrome >25,000 US and UK veterans Precautionary principle: IPPNW calls for a ban on the use of depleted uranium for military purposes

8 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20068 Depleted Uranium Waste product of uranium enrichment (and reprocessing) U235 0.7% reduced to ~0.2%, 60% of radioactivity of natural uranium Half-lives: U238 4.5 b y U235 710 m y U234 250 k y Sometimes contaminated with U236, transuranics - plutonium, americium, neptunium, technetium-99 Huge quantities available (eg US DOE 728,000 T) Inexpensive

9 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 20069 Isotope Composition, Chemical Half-lives and Isotope Ratios in Natural and Depleted Uranium ISOTOPENATURALDEPLETEDHALF-LIFE U-23899.2749%99.7947%4.49 billion years U-2350.7196%0.2015%710 million years U-2340.0055%0.0008%248,000 years

10 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200610 DU Use Civilian: counterweights in aircraft, radiation shields in medical radiation therapy machines and containers for the transport of radioactive materials Military: defensive armour plate

11 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200611 Alpha Particle, Beta Particle, Gamma Ray (small). DU is Radioactive and Produces:

12 Military Uses of DU

13 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200613 Military Uses of Depleted Uranium Iraq/Kuwait 1991 Bosnia 1994-5 Kosovo/Serbia/Montene gro 1999 Afghanistan 2001-3 Iraq 2003 SourceUK tanks US aircraft US tanks US aircraft UK tanks US aircraft US tanks US fighting vehicles Quantity286 metric tons 3.2 metric tons 9.5 metric tonsUnknown

14 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200614 Twice as dense as lead, rel easy to work with, pyrophoric (ignites > 600°C), ‘self-sharpening’ Aerolisation, burning, oxidation Armour plating esp tanks Munitions 20 - 120 mm Used by various militaries (no longer Australia) Known use: Persian Gulf war 1991 350 tonnes Balkans mid 90s 11 tonnes Iraq 2003 1100 - 2200 tonnes Regarded by US /NATO as ‘conventional’ weapon Military Uses of Depleted Uranium

15 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200615 Military DU exposure: vehicles/tanks exposed to fires involving DU fragments resuspended dust Civilian DU exposure same as military residual munitions /fragments (70-80% of munitions used) Dust resuspended - children ingestion Food and groundwater Commercial and military use : precautions re exposure - personal protective equipment, respirators Military Uses of Depleted Uranium

16 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200616 Military Uses of Depleted Uranium

17 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200617 Uranium is a very dense metal Munitions with dense penetrators such as uranium and tungsten, pierce through most materials When it hits a target, the uranium tip of the penetrator melts so that the core gets sharper. In contrast, tungsten penetrators tend to blunt (‘mushroom’) on impact. Uranium particles ignite spontaneously (pyrophoricity), which can lead to combustion The huge waste stockpiles of the uranium enrichment industry require costly storage and monitoring. So the raw material (DUF6) is readily available at low cost Military Advantages Of Uranium Weapons

18 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200618 China France Greece Israel Pakistan Russia Saudi Arabia Turkey Ukraine United Kingdom United states of America Countries with DU Munitions or Armour

19 Health Effects of DU

20 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200620 Uranium Health Effects Toxic and radioactive heavy metal Soluble and insoluble forms, can enter body by ingestion, inhalation or embedded fragments Average adult intake ~500 mcg /y Soluble forms excreted by kidney fairly quickly, insoluble forms slowly (T1/2 10-20 y) Toxicity: kidney - esp proximal tubule (largely reversible) Radioactivity: alpha, beta and gamma major long-term issue is lung / lymph node alpha irradiation following inhalation (Royal Society 2002 estimate worst-case ~2x lifetime risk)

21 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200621 Uranium Health Effects

22 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200622 Medical Effects of DU Health studies have found that: populations with well-above-average occupational exposure to inhaled or ingested uranium do not suffer from increased rates of the cancers most likely to be associated with radiation Do not exhibit the blood disorders that might be expected as a result of chemical toxicity Studies do not account for: New experimental data suggesting a role for dust toxicity in the lung

23 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200623 In the kidneys, the proximal tubules (the main filtering component of the kidney) are considered to be the main site of potential damage from chemical toxicity of uranium Possible adverse effects on the central nervous system (studies have suggested this but difficult to draw firm conclusions from work done so far) Medical Effects of DU

24 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200624 Problems from 238 U Dust After burning, 238 U creates fine radioactive and toxic vapor and dust More than 50% of these particles are just the right size to be inhaled, where they lodge in the lungs and remain for years It is easily carried by the wind, and stays in the air for hours after impact It also easily dissolves in water Ground contamination allows resuspension into the air and eventual water contamination No ground cleanup has occurred in Iraq or Kuwait since the first Gulf War

25 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200625 Problems from 238 U Fragments Unburned, 238U remains radioactive – is classified as a “low-level” waste, subject to proper disposal and controls Fragments corrode with time, creating more dust and contaminated soil High levels of radioactivity have been measured from fragments found after the first Gulf War in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

26 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200626 Possible DU Exposure Level I: Personnel struck by DU munitions/fragments or who were in, on, or within 50 meters of an armored vehicle when it was struck Level II: Personnel who routinely enter DU-damaged vehicles or fight fires involving DU munitions as part of their military occupational specialty Level III: Personnel with “incidental” (insignificant DU exposures) -- infrequent exposure not expected to result in significant uptake of DU

27 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200627 WHO, UNEP, Royal Society recommend identification, signage, clean-up of impact zones proper disposal long-term monitoring food (esp milk) and water prevention exposure of children evaluation of exposures long-term studies (including reproductive) of exposed personnel IPPNW, MAPW In addition to long-term environmental and health monitoring: assessment of exposures ban on use clean-up of contaminated sites (refused to date) DU – Concerns, Recommendations

28 Action

29 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200629 International Legal Issues Not banned by a specific treaty Contravenes international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions)

30 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200630 International Campaign to Ban DU Weapons After over a decade of sporadic and ad- hoc campaigning the official campaign was launched by over 30 NGOs in 2004 Draft Convention to ban DU weapons being worked on currently by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

31 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200631 Take Action Today! Join MAPW in lobbying the Australian government against allowing the US military to test and use DU weapons in training exercises on Australian soil Support the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (

32 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 200632 Medical Association for Prevention of War Australia (MAPW) National Office: P.O. Box 1379, Carlton VIC 3053, Australia Ph: 03 8344 1637 Fax: 03 8344 1638 Australian affiliate of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW )

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