Campaign Against Depleted Uranium


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The Royal Society - A Royal Whitewash?

The Royal Society published its report into Depleted Uranium in May this year. In the  absence of a public enquiry on the issue of Depleted Uranium which the government has  refused to set up, concerned groups and individuals were led to believe that the so-called  independent Royal Society would produce an acceptable alternative. Indeed, it has made several important recommendations and suggestions for further  action.However, CADU  has serious criticisms of the report which can be summarised as  follows :-  Given the Royal Society’s own remarks about the paucity of information in this area it  seems incredible and deplorable that such definite conclusions, ( e.g. “ but the risks of  leukaemias and other cancers from depleted uranium radiation are likely to be very low for  all possible battlefield situations”) have been drawn. This is particularly lamentable since  civilians and veterans exposed to depleted uranium and suffering ill-health could be  receiving treatment to alleviate some of the effects. (see note a.)  The IRCP model used to estimate radiation exposure is not appropriate in relation to those  people exposed to battleground ‘Depleted’ Uranium and, therefore, invalidates any  conclusions drawn. (see note b.) The Royal Society report, like the Rand Report, has relied heavily on research conducted  on uranium workers and miners. Again, this research has limited application to those  exposed to battleground ‘Depleted’ Uranium. (see note c.) We question how far the Report can be said to be impartial when the foreword by  Professor Spratt describes ‘Depleted’ Uranium as being “weakly radioactive”. Certainly,  an inert piece of DU can be so described but this enquiry was to focus on  battleground  DU which behaves quite differently and so the statement is misleading. The foreword by  Sir Robert May, President of the Royal Society, repeats the assertion that DU is weakly  radioactive which makes us wonder whether there is a deliberate attempt to mislead. (see   note d) Additionally, Professor Spratt commented in an interview on the ‘Today’  programme on January 9th 2001 that DU weapons are “ here to stay because they are very  successful.”  Significantly, DU is practically given away by the nuclear industry because there is so  much lying around at nuclear facilities and safe storage has yet to be managed. Is his  statement more evidence of the outcome of the working group having been pre-judged?  In a further interview on Radio 5 Professor Spratt stated that “ the aim [of the working  group] was to reassure Gulf War veterans that they are not at risk [from DU]” This is a  highly unscientific statement to make before the results of the working group were known.  The veterans and civilians don’t want false re-assurances. They deserve treatment and  compensation. No veterans have yet been tested by the Ministry of Defence for ‘Depleted ‘ Uranium  contamination. This means that there is a serious gap in crucial information. Neither have  any epidemiological studies been undertaken.

Epidemiological studies referred to in  paragraph 3 of Professor Spratt’s foreword are of nuclear miners and workers. This is  not made clear and it is, therefore, misleading to say that lessons have been learned,  particularly given point (iii) above. (see note e) The Report addresses only the radiological effects which may or may not lead to cancer  and does not look at other possible effects, for example, on the immune system, or on the  development of a foetus. (See note f) The working group should have considered evidence emanating from areas where DU  weapons have been tested. In Vieques, for example, which the US navy has used as  bombing range, including the test firing of DU weapons, figures compiled in 1990-94 show  that the 9,300 islanders are 27% more likely to get cancer than those inhabitants of  mainland Puerto Rica. Dr. Rafael Rivera-Castao, who lives on the island says that the rate  has risen since then to 52% more than the Puerto Rican average. ( see note g)  The remit of the working group specifies that an estimate should be made of  “the  exposure, doses and possible health effects for the general        population” “and {of} the  longer term consequences for health of environmental contamination.”  It is our opinion  that these areas have been inadequately addressed, particularly considering the dramatic  increases in childhood cancers and leukaemias, and birth deformities in Iraq.  In fact,  civilians have been largely overlooked by the working group. More recently, similar  evidence is emanating from the Balkans. Moreover, the air-borne potential of aerolised ceramic particles of ‘Depleted’ Uranium has  not been acknowledged. Notes Note a) The Royal Society’s Report states:-    (I) “ most of these uncertainties ( re estimates of DU intakes that could occur in different  situations on the battlefield arise as a consequence of the paucity of good experimental  data on the amounts of DU that may  be inhaled within and close to tanks struck by a DU  penetrator and almost complete lack of any measurements of DU in urine samples taken  soon after exposure to a DU impact aerosol” page vii  (emphases added) (2) Appendix 3 states:- “ It is unclear how relevant the exposure of uranium nuclear  workers are for DU exposed soldiers, although it is noteworthy that some nuclear industry   workers would also have been exposed to DU, albeit in a different form.”  Page 77  (emphases added) ( 3 ) Appendix 3 also states:- “ Many people who work in uranium processing plants or  similar places do not actually handle uranium themselves- for example security officers,  builders, administrators, clerical workers and cooks would have minimal exposure. Thus  the mortality experience of workers who actually handles uranium may be diluted by the  experience of people with little or no direct exposure. ”            page 77 (emphases added) Note ( b )  We would draw your attention to studies produced by  Dr.Chris Busby of the  Low Level radiation Unit and, in particular , his evidence submitted to the Royal Society  Working Group 2000- available  at www.llrc.org/  Also to the work of Dr. Rosalie Bertell.“  No Immediate Danger ” 1985 printed by the Women’s Press and her contribution to “ The  Metal of Dishonor 1999. ISBN: 0-9655569916-0-8 Note ( c )  We would draw your attention  to points (a) 2 and 3 above and to the work of  Rosalie Bertell. Note ( d ) See Rosalie Bertell’s work to understand how dangerous inhaled aerosolised  ceramic particles of  DU can be, emitting as they do radiation to localised tissue over a long  period

Conclusion 
Given the inadequacy of the Royal Society Report, we believe that the Ministry of  Defence should apply the precautionary principle and stop the use of Depleted Uranium  weapons until they can prove that it is not a weapon of indiscriminate destruction. The  Report asserts without hesitation that the smoking of tobacco leads to cancer. Thirty  years ago this would have been a contentious statement to make. We have heard  scientists and government ministers assert that BSE posed no risk to humans. For how much longer will the military endanger the health and lives of its own personnel  and the even greater numbers of civilians?   

Dr Malcom Hooper’s Response can be seen by clicking here

The Royal Society report - ‘The Health Hazards of Depleted  Uranium Munitions. Part 1.’ costs 17.50 and is available from The  Royal Society, 6 Carleton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG, email: depleteduranium@royalsoc.ac.uk.

According to the Royal  Society, the first part addresses the likely levels of exposure to  DU, the resulting radiological risks, and the lessons to be learned  from epidemiological studies. Part 2, to be published later this year  will address the toxicological risks and environmental issues.

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From CADU News 8: Summer 2001

Read more articles about The Health Effects of Depleted Uranium


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Page last updated: January 28, 2003