(NaturalNews) The use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by the U.S. military may lead to a death toll far higher than that from the nuclear bombs dropped at the end of World War II.
DU is a waste product of uranium enrichment, containing approximately one-third the radioactive isotopes of naturally occurring uranium. Because of its high density, it is used in armor- or tank-piercing ammunition. It has been fired by the U.S. and British militaries in the two Iraq wars and in Afghanistan, as well as by NATO forces in Kosovo and the Israeli military in Lebanon and Palestine.
Inhaled or ingested DU particles are highly toxic, and DU has been classified as an illegal weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority has estimated that 50 tons of DU dust from the first Gulf War could lead to 500,000 cancer deaths by the year 2000. To date, a total of 2,000 tons have been generated in the Middle East.
In contrast, approximately 250,000 lives were claimed by the explosions and radiation released by the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing [of nuclear bombs] has been released from DU weaponry since 1991," said Leuren Moret, a U.S. nuclear scientist. "The genetic future of the Iraqi people, for the most part, is destroyed. The environment now is completely radioactive."
Because DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, the Middle East will, for all practical purposes, be radioactive forever.
The two U.S. wars in Iraq "have been nuclear wars because they have scattered nuclear material across the land, and people, particularly children, are condemned to die of malignancy and congenital disease essentially for eternity," said anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott.
Since the first Gulf War, the rate of birth defects and childhood cancer in Iraq has increased by seven times. More than 35 percent (251,000) of U.S. Gulf War veterans are dead or on permanent medical disability, compared with only 400 who were killed during the conflict.