The proliferation of D.U. arms has sparked concern at the United Nations. Last August, Margaret Papandreou, the former first lady of Greece, led a delegation to the U.N. calling for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq and an investigation into Iraqi claims of increased cancer rates in the Basra region that Iraqis attribute to the 300 to 800 tons of D.U. left behind by U.S. forces. The U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed a resolution that includes language calling for a prohibition on the use of depleted uranium; only the U.S. representative voted against it. The full U.N. Human Rights Commission is now taking testimony on D.U. and is expected to release a report sometime later this year.

The use of Depleted Uranium (DU) armour piercing shells by U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War was uncovered by the German professor, Dr. Siegwart-Horst Gunther. A survivor of world war and internment in a Nazi concentration camp, Dr. Gunther is a tireless campaigner in the struggle to highlight the little-reported and ongoing human suffering resulting from the Gulf War. We reprint a South movement interview of professor Gunther in Nov 1995.

DAVID MULLER: Professor, I gather that Depleted Uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enrichment industry. Is this correct?

PROF. GUNTHER: Uranium ore, as found in nature, is a compound which consists for the most part, of the isotope 238 and about 0.70% of the isotope 235. Now, as the isotope 235 alone is fissionable and hence of use for the reactors, the uranium ore, poor in that element, must be enriched. Such a process involves masses of material and creates consequently huge quantities of depleted uranium (composed mostly of the sole isotope 238).

DAVID MULLER: Why did the U.S. use Depleted Uranium shells in the Gulf War?

PROF. GUNTHER: Depleted Uranium possesses characteristics which make it very attractive for the weapon technology :

  • It is the heaviest element occurring, so to say, naturally on earth: 1 cm3 weighs 18.95 grams;
  • Possibly related to a German technology, because of its density, uranium tipped projectiles have a very high penetrating power. DU is best suited for the production of ammunition to break through steel armours;
  • Moreover it is a naturally pyphoric material. After penetration, so much heat develops at the exit point, that DU particles catch fire. A hit tank, for instance, explodes releasing highly toxic and radioactive products.
  • After experiences during the Gulf War, since 1992, U.S. tanks are getting increased strengthening, all around, by DU. These U.S. tanks are ironically called Radiation Deponents.


    DAVID MULLER: Professor you were one of the first people to expose to the world that the U.S. had used Depleted Uranium in the Gulf War. How did you make this discovery?

    PROF. GUNTHER: I found on the 7th of May, 1991 on the highway between Baghdad and Amman, in the desert, projectiles in the form and size of a cigar, which retained my attention, because of their unusual appearance and weight. In that region, columns of refugees, aid transports and others had been submitted to attack by A-10 planes equipped with this type of ammunition.

    DAVID MULLER: That's a long way from the tank battles on the Kuwait border. So you found an unexploded shell fired from a U.S. Warthog ground attack plane that attacked traffic on the way to Jordan?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yes. Later on I happened to see children playing with these projectiles. A little girl who possessed 12 of them died of leukaemia. Also in the children hospitals of Baghdad, Mosul and Basrah the number of leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and tumour development is noticeably on the increase.
    Moreover a new up-to-date undiagnosed disease is seen with abnormal abdominal distension possibly related to disturbed liver and kidney functions. Because of the impossibility of treatment the children die, most painfully from secondary infections.

    DAVID MULLER: I believe that you took one of the DU shells back to Germany for analysis ?

    PROF. GUNTHER: The possible relation to German technology prompted me to take one bullet to be analysed by four German institutions. The bullet under examination exhibited a radioactivity of 11 to 12 microsivert per hour and was highly toxic. Because of its danger the projectile was seized by German police in special protective clothing and transported to a safe place. In radiology in Germany, personnel should not be exposed to more than 50 millisivert per year.

    DAVID MULLER: What are the short term and long term effects of DU contamination in Iraq?

    PROF. GUNTHER: From my own observations in Iraq, the long term effect of contact with DU results in the breakdown of the immune system. Other effects noticed have been:

  • Many infectious diseases, with serious complications are on the increase. Sometimes diseases break out which are known in Europe only through text books;
  • Herpes infections, Zoster infections and AIDS-like symptoms are dramatically on the increase, all of them possibly related to the breakdown of the immune system;
  • Premature births are numerous. Congenital malformations of the newborn show a high postwar percentage (26.8% according to Dept. of Pathology, College of Medicine, University of Baghdad). In the countryside, children die in great numbers and are buried without possibility of diagnosis;
  • During the lambing season in 1993 a high percentage 10% according to IPA Agricultural Research Center) of abnormal newborn lambs have been observed. Most of them died a few days after birth.


    DAVID MULLER: U.S. authorities closed a DU penetrator ammunition factory on the edge of Albany, in upstate New York because of air borne contamination levels exceeded 150 microcurie per month contaminating populated areas up to 26 miles away. This was the equivalent of 1 or 2 of these 30mm canon shells per month releasing its toxicity to the environment. We can only guess at the toxicity levels in Iraq when the Desert Storm 100 hour ground offensive exploded some 40 tonnes of these DU shells.

    PROF. GUNTHER: According to American Greenpeace, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that the Allied Forces would have left 300 tons of DU on the battle fields between Kuwait and Iraq, mostly in the form of toxic and radioactive dust. Much of the uranium dust has been scattered about thousands of square miles of desert. As the Gulf region has a rainy season, it is feared that uranium particles get at one time or the other into the ground water and finally reach the food chain. Highly toxic uranium dust, if inhaled, can result in lung cancer. Many DU projectiles spread over the battle fields have been collected by children and used as toys with possibly devastating consequences. The toxic nature of DU contamination is highlighted with the U.S. Department of Defence erecting a highly secret $4 million facility in Barnwall, South Carolina just to detoxify 22 military vehicles hit by friendly fire. Some of the vehicles are so badly contaminated that they have had to bury them.

    DAVID MULLER: The Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in the United States tested Gulf War veterans suffering from Desert Storm Syndrome for radiation toxicity following Gulf War veteran outrage and Congressional pressure.

    PROF. GUNTHER: My observations of the effects of DU contamination in Iraq show a similarity described in the so-called Gulf-War-Syndrome of U.S. and British soldiers in Kuwait. Right now one hears about odd ailments among Gulf War veterans from the U.S., which could possibly be attributed to contact with DU. One hears about hair loss, skin disease, damage to different organs etc. Even pregnant women are giving birth to crippled children. Many of these effects had remained unknown to the public.
    Newspapers recorded that a U.S. staff-sergeant held the view that many soldiers now felt uncertain and fear that they may have been used as Guinea-Pigs in a radiation experiment. Laura Flanders recently reported in the Nation magazine on a U.S. Veterans Administration state-wide survey of 251 Gulf War veterans families in Mississippi. Of their children conceived and born since the war, 67% have illnesses related to severe or missing eyes, missing ears, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.

    DAVID MULLER: Which companies are still manufacturing DU weaponry?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Different types of DU ammunition have been manufactured in the U.S. by Honeywell, Aerojet and others, the mass-production began in 1977. DU penetrators were extensively used for the first time during late in the Gulf War in 1991, with impressive results. At present there exists also mass-production in Britain and France and the export to other NATO countries, as well as to Japan, Australia and New Zealand are not excluded.

    DAVID MULLER: Professor, Australia exports Uranium Yellow cake to Europe ostensibly for peaceful purposes. From what I understand from your speech you see collusion between commercial enrichment plants and the military?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yes, it is a question of cutting costs. Generally speaking, because of their toxicity and radioactivity, wastes from the uranium industry are in Europe deposited in salt galleries. These wastes must be safely deposited for a very long period of time. Such deposition processes seem to be extremely expensive. So, to save money, the uranium industry are giving depleted uranium, free of charge, to institutions or others, who are interested in it.

    DAVID MULLER: One final question! I noticed that you are circulating a petition about Depleted Uranium. What is the purpose of your organisation Yellow Cross?

    PROF. GUNTHER: Yellow Cross International makes a vehement appeal for the total ban of using DU ammunition as well as the newly developed laser weapons provoking irreparable damage to the eyes. Since 1991 I have been constantly warning about the DU dangers for the populations. Unfortunately at that time only few people believed me. Also in Iraq! 

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