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Fears grow of depleted uranium use in Libya

Campaigners from the UK Uranium Weapons Network and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today expressed their growing alarm at the possibility that highly toxic and radioactive depleted uranium (DU) weapons have been used in Libya. The inhalation of DU particles, spread when the weapons hit their target, is thought to be linked to the sharp increases in cancer rates and birth defects reported in affected areas.

On Monday (28th March) the US Admiral William Gortney told the press that: “We have employed A-10s and AC-130s over the weekend“. It is believed that six A-10s from 81st Fighter Squadron, which are typically armed with DU rounds, have been deployed.

A-10 gunships are designed to attack tanks, armour and other ground targets with their primary weapon – a cannon capable of firing either DU or high explosive rounds at a rate of 3,900 a minute. As armoured vehicles are being targeted it seems likely the cannons are loaded with the PGU-14 30mm armour piercing incendiary round, which contains a 300 gram DU penetrator. Strafing runs from A-10s can typically see hundreds of rounds being used, resulting in many kilograms of DU being fired.

A-10s were used against armoured targets in the Balkan and Iraq conflicts in the 1990s and 2003 and were responsible for the majority of DU used in Iraq and all that fired in the Balkans. Other US warplanes may also have deployed DU rounds.

Previously Admiral Gortney had suggested that only precision guided ammunition (i.e. bombs, not cannon rounds) was being used and stated that “At this time, [he was] not aware of any use of depleted uranium“. However it is now known for certain that the A-10’s cannon was used against two small boats on the evening of 28th March in an encounter involving the Libyan Coast Guard vessel Vittoria. This means the Pentagon’s earlier assurance on the type of weapons used no longer stands and thus their comments regarding DU use are in doubt.

After MPs raised concerns over the potential use of DU in Libya, David Cameron told the Commons that “we do not use those weapons and are not going to use those weapons.”  Whilst British DU weapon systems are land-based, campaigners are demanding the UK push all coalition countries to rule out the use of DU.

John McDonnell MP said:

Whilst I welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that British forces will not use depleted uranium weapons in this conflict, I am concerned that our allies may still do so. These weapons have the potential to cause long term health risks to civilian populations recovering in post-conflict zones – we have seen cancer and birth defect epidemics in Iraqi cities where it is believed that these weapons have been used.

I have written to the Prime Minister asking for his assurance that he will do all he can to persuade our allies to refrain from using this weapon in Libya, and assure us that the government will add depleted uranium weapons to the list of other weapon systems that have been banned on humanitarian grounds, such as cluster munitions and landmines.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said:

Depleted uranium weapons are weapons of indiscriminate effect – the cancers and birth defects they are thought to cause cannot be ‘targeted’ at troops. Using them in built up areas in effect targets civilians. This runs counter to everything the coalition has claimed about protecting civilians. This would mark the first DU use in conflict in more than eight years and would be an appalling step backwards. It is completely unacceptable – indeed illegal – to use weapons that cause long-term damage both to civilians and the wider environment for years after the conflict. Britain must demand clarity from the US and all coalition partners that DU is not, and will not be used in Libya.”

Lev Eakins, spokesperson for the UK Uranium Weapons Network, said:

The stated purpose of the military action is to protect Libyan civilians. This will not be achieved if depleted uranium weapons are used as they have the potential to harm civilians for decades to come. The coalition of states involved in this action should immediately give an assurance that depleted uranium will not be used and we call on the UK government to dissuade its allies from using them.”

3 Comments

  1. Malcolm Bush says:

    Whilst I’ve no doubt that DU weapons are a major problem; we are stuck with them. Unless someone with more money and more smart lawyers than the international establishment can prove every individual case, it will remain a conspiracy theory. Even then it would be the responsibility of a subcontractor’s subcontractor in some third world country. Outsource the problems and any research, seems to be the way it’s all done; just like renditions, private armies, carbon credits and so on.

  2. Bob Perillo says:

    There’s no “conspiracy theory” here. DU weapons violate International Humanitarian Law, which requires the protection of civilians — and after all,”protecting” Libyan civilians is the justification ofr this “humanitarian intervention” by the traditional imperialist powers now involved (UK. France and Italy) and by their neo-colonial leader, the U.S.

  3. norbert suchanek says:

    I am correspondent here in Rio de Janeiro, working mainly for German newspapers.
    I think to forbit DU Weapons in the EU is important! Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla now has banned Uranium Weapons also. See my Interview with Uranium-238 expert Damacio A. Lopez.

    Uranium weapons pose a serious risk to civilians and their use runs counter to several principles of international humanitarian law. The United Nations Human Rights Sub-Committee has condemned them as weapons of indiscriminate effect with long-term consequences for the environment and human health. On April 27th, the Congress of Costa Rica passed a law prohibiting uranium weapons in its territories, becoming the second country in the world to do so. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla now formalized the law that prohibits the use, trade, transit, production, distribution and storage of uranium weapons on Costa Rican territory.

    Interview with Damacio A. Lopez, Executive Director of International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST), a non-governmental organization of researchers, activists, soldiers, doctors, and scientists. He was not only the major force behind the Costa Rican ban of U-Weapons. Damacio A. Lopez also has authored and co-authored many respected works about the subject, including the book “Friendly Fire, the Link Between Depleted Uranium Munitions and Human Health Risk” and the documentary “Uranium 238″, which last May won the Award of the International Uranium Film Festival of Rio de Janeiro 2011.

    Norbert Suchanek: What is depleted uranium 238?

    Damacio A. Lopez: Radioactive waste produced by the nuclear power industry.

    Why it is used in weapons, bombs and bullets?

    Because it is free and the bullet or projectile friction burns when they strikes the target.

    What are the effects or consequences of the use U-238 arms?

    The effects are that it destroys targets and the consequences are that it releases a radioactive and toxic smoke or gas that can be inhaled or ingested.

    Therefore battlefields in Ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq and may be now in Libya became radioactive…

    Any battlefield where DU is used becomes contaminated for 4.5 billion years

    Who is most affected?

    Whoever comes in contact with DU will be negatively affected

    The soldiers become ill too?

    Soldiers are usually the first to be contaminated whether they fire the weapon or are the target, it is the same case that took place in Flanders Field during world war I in Belgium where poison gases where used by both the German and the allied forces. There was one big cloud of gas poisoning both sides and the local civilian population as well.

    Which countries are using U-238 arms?

    There are more than 18 countries that have these weapons, the USA and Great Britain use the weapon regularly, it is difficult to know what other countries have used the weapons since they keep this a secrete knowing that they would be violating international norms when they use the weapon. One of the reasons we know that USA and Britain have used the weapon is because independent researchers have gone into war zones with giger counters and taken out samples for analysis, (I did this in Irak, Kosovo and Palestine). Later the UN has sent in teams to verify the findings of the independent researchers

    Since when do you fight against these “in-human” weapons?

    I began this work in 1985 when I discovered that DU weapons were being tested less than 2 kilometers from my home by a state supported university called, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT) in Socorro, New Mexico

    Your mission is a global ban of U-238 arms, a ban by the United Nation?

    My goal is an International treaty banning these weapons.

    Belgium was the first country, which banned these Weapons. Now Costa Ricans

    President signed the ban of U-238-Arms, which was in a great part because of your work. What is the next step?

    My next step is to locate a country that will be interested in banning these weapons and I will be happy to go to their country and help in what way I can

    You have been recently in Rio de Janeiro at the International Uranium Film Festival, where the documentary “Uranium 238: The Pentagon’s Dirty Pool” by Pablo Ortega won the award for the best short film. Do you think that Brazils President Dilma Rousseff could follow her Costa Rican colleague?

    It would be wonderful if Brazil would follow Costa Rica’s lead.

    More information: http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/

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