Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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CADU Conference Feedback

By Jack Cohen-Joppa

After welcoming speeches by the Lord Mayor of Manchester and Councillor Bill Risby, CADU Coordinator Rae Street introduced the first sessions. She asked us to acknowledge the sacrifices many have made to oppose DU weapons, including the Plowshares group, now serving prison sentences in Maryland - Philip Berrigan, Susan Crane, Fr. Steve Kelly and Elizabeth Walz.

Retired U.S. Army officer Dr. Doug Rokke, began with a lively presentation on DU munitions, the battlefield hazard assessment and cleanup procedures his team devised on the ground in Iraq and Kuwait, and his experience with government lies. Rokke was followed by Henk van der Keur of the LAKA Foundation, Amsterdam. He speculated that DU has also been used in pre-Iraq armed conflicts, including perhaps by Israel in Lebanon (1982) and by British Navy boats in the Falklands, using the U.S.-made Phalanx close-in ship protection guns that fire a DU armor piercing round. V.d.Keur also showed charts of worldwide DU test firings, including on 8 U.S. ranges.
Gulf war veteran Ray Bristow stepped carefully up to the platform from his wheelchair, to tell a compelling story of his and his buddies’ confirmed DU exposure and illnesses. He recently testified before a committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and encouraged lobbying of MEPs to bring the issue into the European courts of justice.

Professor Malcolm Hooper, advisor to British Gulf war vets and Emeritus Professor of Medical Chemistry, provided an overview of possible paths of toxic DU exposure to veterans. Most of these paths have been poorly studied if at all. Hooper noted the significance of recent research demonstrating that alpha-radiation induced cell damage can be passed on by biological action to adjacent cells, multiplying the damage. He underlined the “don’t look, don’t find” problem with current medical research and the reality experienced by veterans.

Baghdad University Professor of Molecular Biology Huda Ammash reviewed studies undertaken since 1996 by Iraq to inventory soil, water, air, plant, and wild animal samples from 200+ sites for evaluation for DU. She showed tables describing increased cancer incidence statistics, and informed us that Basra province, where most DU munitions were fired, accounts for 2/3 of the recorded increases in Iraq’s post-war cancer mortality. She said DU is not the only toxic contamination present in Iraq, that the problems are multi-faceted, and aggravated by the misleading “oil for food” program.

Three Yugoslavians told us that Government testing confirmed DU present at 50% more sites than NATO admitted, and only from A-10 ammo [not cruise missiles or cluster bombs]. Bombing of the Vinca Nuclear Institute and other industrial sources also added to the post-war DU and radiation burden.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell clearly explained the different biological impacts between inhaled and ingested uranium, and between more soluble uranium oxides vs. the insoluble “ceramic” oxide forms found in DU that has impacted a hard target or burned at high temperatures. She again reminded us that internal dose effect models were never calculated for Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. Dr Chris Busby, a sharp and persistent critic of most current radiation epidemiology, described a mechanism by which internal DU contamination can prevent the cell’s evolutionary ability to repair DNA damage by striking the damaged cell during early mitosis, its most vulnerable stage. This fits with the “second event” hypothesis to describe some radiation health effects.

Legal Arguments proved to be just that, as Karen Parker and Avril MacDonald presented quite different perspectives on the legal status of DU weapons. Parker’s opinion was against a specific treaty to ban DU weapons as it is not necessary, because under present international law, DU weapons already are illegal. MacDonald argued that the burden of proof of illegality of DU weapons cannot be established on the inadequate science and medical information we have at present, and advocated forcefully for an international convention prohibiting DU weapons by name.

Beginning the Public Information session, journalist Felicity Arbuthnot spoke from the heart about what she has seen in Iraq. Polish writer Dr. Peter Bein quoted NATO psy-ops objectives and how they affect DU info available for citizens. German Dr. Siegwart-Horst Gunther, prosecuted in 1991 when he began research on DU in Iraq by bringing into Germany an intact, oxidized DU penetrator, described his subsequent work documenting the health impact. Solange and Michel Fernex from France alerted us to an old agreement between the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Authority that effectively gives the IAEA authority over WHO radiation health studies, a conflict of interest that threatens necessary research on DU effects. Damacio Lopez, a long-time New Mexico DU activist, warned of dissent sown by instigators in our own ranks as a consequence of U.S. government-sponsored research. Lopez encouraged activists in areas where DU use is suspected to collect soil or rubble samples for testing by independent labs. he has made arrangements with through the International DU Study Team.

In the Community Activism Around the World session, Ciaron O’Reilly reported on the anti-uranium mining movement in Australia, and his own involvement, serving several months in prison for dismantling uranium mining equipment at Jabiluka. Ernesto Pena of Vieques, Puerto Rico, brought a beautiful cloth banner, picturing a map of the island with detail about the on-going protests and civil disobedience campaign to stop the Navy from bombing it for war practice. He reported on the Navy’s acknowledged illegal firing of 30mm DU rounds on the range, and asked for solidarity demonstrations as 400+ defendants from the protest go to court soon.

Rev. Kiyul Chung spoke and translated for a larger Korean delegation representing the besieged neighbors of the U.S. bombing range at Mae-Hyung Ri, where DU use is suspected during decades of A-10 practice fire. Masako Ito, volunteer director of the Depleted Uranium Center in Japan, spoke of her experience on visits to children in Iraq after the Gulf war. She exhibited photos, including clearly marked DU shell casings recently turned up at a Japanese metals recycler, pointing to DU firing on a range in Okinawa.

Marco Saba from Italy stressed the dangers of DU counterweights in civilian and military aircraft, and the significant local contamination they may cause during crashes, particularly those also involving fires.

Yugoslavian graduate student Nikola Bozinovic co-founded DU in YU as NATO began bombing his country last year, to draw attention to its use there and inform about areas of contamination and how local residents can avoid some of the risks. The group advocates for an international ban on DU.

Elfrida Topiciu, from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Albania, read a paper in English about the Albanian experience on the border of Kosovo, where most of the DU was fired during the 1999 NATO attacks.

I concluded this section of the conference with a report on the organizations in Military Toxics Project’s DU Network and their issues and activity in the United States. I reported that in the U.S. we are circulating a petition calling for a ban on DU weapons, and that we hope to incorporate this into a global petition campaign as such an effort comes into focus. I spoke of the A-10s that fly over my desert home every day, training to spray poison bullets elsewhere around the world.

Conference presentations concluded with Local Authority Responses in the UK, where a heightened awareness of the Gulf War veterans has brought attention to radioactive scrap metals and contamination by industrial fires involving DU, such as the Featherstone fire near Wolverhampton in 1999. The Fire Brigades Union is actively concerned for their members and public health, and have an important perspective and experience to share with local authorities in any country involved with DU hazards.

On Sunday afternoon, the conference broke into 5 strategy workshops to assemble recommendations for action. No final resolutions were produced, but some consensus was evident from the reports back to the final plenary.

Regarding International Legal Work, there was encouragement to initiate civil actions against industries and governments, as these actions, even when unsuccessful, can bring more information into public view. Timely preparation of a draft treaty to prohibit DU weapons is another action favored by most present. This would give petitioners a document they could point to as a possible mechanism for the goal of banning DU weapons.

Gulf War Veterans need more resources for proper testing and research. They announced plans for a March of Tears in London, Feb 10, 2001, to be led by the surviving wives of dead Gulf vets.

The Scientific and Medical workshop agreed on the need to disseminate information on how to properly test for DU, interpret the results, and treat victims. Research is needed on multiple types of uranium, particularly ceramic forms. And more research and publicity about internal low-level radiation effects is needed.

The Grassroots Activism workshop called for coordinated DU actions March 3-4, 2001, to mark the 10th anniversary of the ground war in Iraq; and endorsed the call for international demonstrations at U.S. embassies as the Vieques defendants come to trial over the next months.

The Environmental Strategies workshop looks to CADU to provide written literature about DU that environmental groups can be encouraged to use for educating their own constituency.

The conference concluded with an informal consensus on the gravity and necessity of the work to be done.

CADU will endeavour to undertake co-odination of as much of the work recommended by delegates as possible, and we will be applying for funding for a part time worker, as well as looking for volunteers to enable us to do this. If you feel you can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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From CADU News 6: Winter 2000/2001

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Page last updated: 6th December 2002