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Date:  Sun, 25 Apr 1999 11:38:54 +0900
From: Hendrik
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@hz.think.service>
Subject:  [NS] On the Environmental Impact of Modern Warfare (3)


old news for some, new news for others: the military-industrial complex is
continuing to prove an invaluable friend and helper in the quest for
extinction of our species.


* * * * *

Recycling the Army way

The Pentagon uses radioactive waste as armor and bullets.

By Edward Ericson Jr.

Since 1938, the U.S. government has had this problem: After extracting
U-235 to make bombs, what could be done with leftover U-238, the 99.8
percent of the uranium ore that is not explosive? As many as 700,000 U.S.
soldiers served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but it wasn't until last year
that the Pentagon finally admitted that some of those servicemen and -women
might have been exposed to chemical weapons.

Deborah Edward's didn't serve in the Gulf War, but she has all the symptoms
of Gulf War syndrome, a controversial medical condition -- still denied by
the military -- that is characterized by chronic fatigue, digestive
problems and joint pain. In the early 90s, Edward's worked at Vitro
Corporation, which tested bullets and other ammunition at Eglin Air Force
Base's Teefax facility in the Florida panhandle.

"I was low person on the totem pole, so I got all the bad work," she says.
After test firings, Edwards worked inside a big stainless-steel tank,
cleaning it of radioactive shell fragments.

Today, like many Gulf War veterans, Edwards is disabled, having had, she
says, three knee operations, two tumors removed from her foot, chronic
asthma, and nerve and muscle deterioration in her back and legs. Vitro has
given way to a new contractor, which continues the "advanced warhead
experimentation," while Edwards collects $471 a month in Social Security
disability benefits.

Until last February, Edwards never associated her ailments with the job she
held five years ago. Then Christina Larson, a psychologist at the
University of West Florida, told her about Depleted Uranium, the dense
radioactive waste product the Pentagon reprocesses into artillery shells
and armor plating for tanks. Edwards grows more certain each day she was
poisoned by her former employer.

Larson says she began her work on DU after speaking to an Air Force public
relations officer several years ago. "He told me if I wanted to ask about
sonic booms, that was fine, but DU, no. When he was telling me this, his
hands were shaking."

Since 1938, the U.S. government has had this problem: After extracting
U-235 to make bombs, what could be done with leftover U-238, the 99.8
percent of the uranium ore that is not explosive? Depleted uranium still
contains about 0.2 percent U-235. It is still radioactive. And it could be
enriched to plutonium 239, also a prime bomb material. For 50 years,
critics have urged that DU be disposed of with extraordinary care. But the
military has had other ideas.

DU was used to make components of the first two atomic bombs. Now it's
being fashioned into bullets. During the Gulf War, DU was used for the
first time on the battlefield and dubbed a "conventional" weapon. More than
twice as dense as lead, DU is the world's most impenetrable armor plating,
used in the skin of the Army's M1A1 Abrams battle tank. In fact, just about
the only thing that can stop a tank shrouded in DU is a bullet of the type
Edwards helped test as an electronics technician.

Like Edwards, the soldiers who used and handled these shells were mostly
not told what they were handling -- many didn't find out the stuff was
radioactive until years later. According to The Washington Post, a fire at
an ammunition depot at the Doha Army base in Kuwait may have contaminated
3,000 U.S. soldiers with uranium oxide dust and uranium hexafluoride.
Depleted uranium is only slightly radioactive, but as heavy metal, it is
extremely toxic, causing cancer, birth defects and serious kidney ailments.

DU's explode-on-impact properties turned the Army's A-10 "Warthog" attack
plane into a devastating weapon during the Gulf War. Its comparatively
small, 30-mm cannon shells destroyed Iraqi tanks by burning through their
steel armor instantly and killing everyone inside. "it leaves a nice round
hole, almost like someone had welded it out," says Army combat engineer
Dwayne Mowrer.

The United States fired 350 tons of DU projectiles during the Gulf War.
According to an Army report, when a DU projectile explodes, tiny particles
of uranium are inhaled by anybody in the area -- if they survive the blast:
rescue workers or bystanders who happen along days or weeks later.

About 80 percent of U.S. soldiers in the gulf climbed in or on destroyed
Iraqi vehicles; most could have been exposed to DU dust. According to
Leonard A. Dietz, a former Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory scientist, a
5-micron particle of uranium oxide can travel miles from its source and
lodge in the lungs permanently, where it would expose surrounding tissue to
a 1,360-rem radiation dose each year, 8,000 times the federally permitted
dosage. "The fallout range of airborne DU aerosol dust is virtually
unlimited," Dietz says.

After the Gulf War ended, Congress asked the Army Environmental Policy
Institute to prepare a report on DU; it was completed in June 1994, but was
not made public until last year, when a high-ranking Army official leaked
it to the Military Toxics Project. "Depleted uranium has no business being
used as a munition," says the project's national organizer, Dolly Lymburner.

The report notes positively that the comparatively cheap DU has already
been sold to the militaries of Turkey, Pakistan, Israel and Thailand, but
admits that its toxicity is inherent: "No available technology can
significantly change the inherent chemical and radiological toxicity of
DU." The report also acknowledges that DU is radioactive and should be
deposited in a "licensed repository." But the U.S. government has 500,000
tons of DU stockpiled or dumped in more than 50 nonlicensed installations
in the U.S.

Woody Cunningham, technical director for the Defense Nuclear Facilities
Safety Board, said last March that the long-term solution is to convert the
DOE's 46,000 rusting steel cylinders of uranium in Pikton, Ohio; Oak Ridge,
Tenn., and Paducah, Ky., into some usable form for manufacturing. The Army
is studying a process developed by a Tennessee-based partnership between
Lockheed Martin and Molten Metal Technology that allegedly breaks down
materials like DU into basic elements, which are then recycled into fuel
and ceramics.

Meanwhile, the Military Toxics Project's Depleted Uranium Citizens' Network
is trying to build support for an international ban on the military use of
depleted uranium.

For more information, contact The Military Toxics Project (207)783-5091,
email: <mtpigc.apc.org>


Source: http://www.enn.com/enn-news-archive/1997/05/052197/feature.asp


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