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

  2. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  3. Depleted Uranium • The basics • Military uses of DU • Health effects • Action MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  4. The Basics

  5. 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%. MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  6. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  7. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  8. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  9. ISOTOPE NATURAL DEPLETED HALF-LIFE U-238 99.2749% 99.7947% 4.49 billion years U-235 0.7196% 0.2015% 710 million years U-234 0.0055% 0.0008% 248,000 years Isotope Composition, Chemical Half-lives and Isotope Ratios in Natural and Depleted Uranium MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  10. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  11. DU is Radioactive and Produces: • Alpha Particle, • Beta Particle, • Gamma Ray (small). MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  12. Military Uses of DU

  13. Military Uses of Depleted Uranium MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  14. Military Uses of Depleted Uranium • 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  15. Military Uses of Depleted Uranium • 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  16. Military Uses of Depleted Uranium MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  17. Military Advantages Of Uranium Weapons • 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  18. Countries with DU Munitions or Armour China France Greece Israel Pakistan Russia Saudi Arabia Turkey Ukraine United Kingdom United states of America MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  19. Health Effects of DU

  20. 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) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  21. Uranium Health Effects MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  22. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  23. Medical Effects of DU • 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) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  24. Problems from 238U Dust • After burning, 238U 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  25. Problems from 238U 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  26. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  27. DU – Concerns, Recommendations • 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) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  28. Action

  29. International Legal Issues • Not banned by a specific treaty • Contravenes international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  30. 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 MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  31. 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 (www.banuraniumweapons.org) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006

  32. 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 www.mapw.org.aumapw@mapw.org.au Australian affiliate of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) MAPW (Australia) Depleted Uranium 2006