Monday, May 26, 2003

Dr. Asaf Durakovic, of the Uranium Medical Research Center, which does research on the health effects of exposure to depleted uranium, has studied uranium levels in the urine of small samples of Afghans. He has found 'astonishing' levels (or here) of uranium, and, what is even more astonishing, the isotopic ratios show that the uranium is non-depleted uranium, rather than the expected depleted uranium (of which he found no trace). Depleted uranium exposure was expected because the allies are known to have used depleted uranium munitions (e. g., in the Gulf War and in the Balkans). The test subjects had concentrations of toxic and radioactive uranium isotopes many times what the researchers would have expected. A later sampling supported the original results. Many of the subjects suffer from symptoms similar to Gulf War Syndrome. Dr. Durakovic said:

"In Afghanistan there were no oil fires, no pesticides, nobody had been vaccinated - all explanations suggested for the Gulf veterans' condition. But people had exactly the same symptoms. I'm certainly not saying Afghanistan was a vast experiment with new uranium weapons. But use your common sense."

The only obvious possible non-military explanation for this exposure would be some source of natural uranium. It is interesting that the U. K. Defence Ministry says it used no DU weapons in Afghanistan, nor any others containing uranium in any form, while a spokesman for the U. S. Department of Defense told BBC News Online that the U. S. had not used DU weapons there (see also here), leaving open the question of whether other forms of uranium were used by the Americans. Most of the discussion has revolved around depleted uranium. Is it possible that the famous 'thermobaric' bombs, which were supposedly used for 'bunker busting' (and which may have triggered earthquakes in Afghanistan), may have warheads containing non-depleted uranium (ironically, one of the defenses made for the use of depleted uranium is that it is less radioactive than non-depleted uranium; it would be even more ironic if they were able to deny they were using depleted uranium because they were using non-depleted uranium)? If non-depleted warheads have already been used by the American military, this puts the recent approval of the Congress for the development of 'mini-nukes' in a new perspective, as there is no practical difference between a warhead which produces a small nuclear explosion and a warhead which does not produce a nuclear explosion but produces the same amount of nuclear fallout. If the Americans used experimental weapons with warheads which would create aerosol non-depleted uranium, and that is the cause of the health problems amongst the Afghans living in the area of the bombing attacks, this may create a long-term public health disaster for the Afghans, as well as soldiers and aid workers who have spent time in Afghanistan. I note that while the Pentagon apparently did not use the BLU-118/B or BLU-109/B bombs in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the U. S. military did use the new AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge Hellfire, which uses a 'thermobaric warhead' which is described in comparison with the munitions used in Afghanistan as having "a different warhead composition to create a similar blast wave effect" (scroll down to see the chart of various forms of such weapons and their use in various wars). It will be interesting to see if Iraqi civilians and 'coalition' soldiers start to pay the medical price for the Pentagon's new toys.