Sixty Minutes Puts Dangers of Depleted Uranium Back in the News

posted: 1/1/00

[Baltimore January 6, 2000: --See the Video "Metal of Dishonor" Special Guest: Elizabeth McAlister from the Jonah House will speak on the case of the Plowshare 4--Also hear, Sanctions Challenge Delegates, Mr. Walter Black and Sharon Ceci All Peoples Congress Hall, 426 E. 31st Street (Greenmount Ave & 31st St) Time: 7 to 9 PM]

On Dec. 26, 1999, CBS’s popular television newsmagazine Sixty Minutes did a segment of its show on the possible dangers from depleted- uranium weapons. People who have campaigned against the use of these radioactive weapons believe the attention generated by Sixty Minutes will give a new impulse to such organizing efforts.

Depleted uranium or DU is the waste product of the uranium enrichment process used to make nuclear weapons or nuclear power fuel. Since uranium is 1.7 times as dense as lead, DU can be used to make the core of a shell that can easily penetrate ordinary steel armor. U.S. forces used these weapons extensively during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraqi tanks and again in Yugoslavia. More than 600,000 pounds of radioactive waste was left in Iraq after the Gulf War. Many tons of DU dust and contaminants remain in Yugoslavia.

When a DU shell hits steel armor, it starts to burn and releases small particles of radioactive uranium oxide into the air. These particles can travel with the wind and be ingested or inhaled by humans, who may then wind up with a "hot spot" of radioactivity lodged in some vital organ.

The International Action Center is one group that has worked for years to expose the toxic and radioactive impact of DU. IAC coordinator Sara Flounders, a contributing editor to the IAC’s book about DU, Metal of Dishonor, said the Sixty Minutes show is "a new breakthrough in bringing the dangers of DU before the public in the United States. In our book, Metal of Dishonor, we reprinted several of the U.S. government’s own documents which prove the military knew the grave danger posed by the use of these weapons years ago. The fact that they proceeded with their development and use shows their callous disregard for their own troops, countless civilians and for the global environment."

Flounders said, "Now millions of people know that a serious investigation is needed to see if DU is responsible for or is at least a contributing factor toward Gulf War Syndrome, which affects over 100,000 U.S. veterans." She said that the Monday after the show, many people called up the IAC office "because they knew we had taken action on this issue or because they found us listed on the web."

"The Sixty Minutes coverage," said Flounders, "is only the latest and broadest evidence of growing interest in stopping DU use. On Dec. 19, Phil Berrigan and three other courageous people from his Plowshares group were arrested in Maryland, charged with damaging an A-10 ‘Warthog’ jet warplane. The group targeted this plane because it uses DU shells."

Ellen Andors, who works with the People’s Video Network, has produced a video about depleted uranium, also called Metal of Dishonor. Andors too said she believes "the Sixty Minutes coverage will increase the already growing interest in the issue and in the video. We’ve gotten calls in the last month from filmmakers in France and Canada asking to see our video and for permission to use footage."

Andors’ video was shown at the "Cinemambiente" Film Festival in Turin, Italy last October. Other films at the festival showed the poisonous effects of war on people and on the environment, from Agent Orange in Vietnam to NATO’s conscienceless bombing of the chemical complex in Pancevo in Yugoslavia last spring.

Write-ups in the Italian press described Andors’ video as "an in-depth analysis of the use of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War." The video reproduced parts of the talks given by political and natural scientists at a 1996 meeting on DU organized by the IAC at the UN. (Il Manifesto, Oct. 28, 1999)

Andors said the goal of her video was "not only to educate the public in the U.S. about the use of DU weapons and their effects. It also shows it was not the first time the Pentagon used weapons of mass destruction in such a way that even their own troops were guinea pigs. This happened with atomic bombs and with Agent Orange, and we show it."

The book and video Metal of Dishonor are available on the new web site LeftBooks.com: http://www.leftbooks.com . The organizers promise a quicker turnaround than on the usual commercial sites.

 

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