17|Depleted Uranium: Huge Quantities of Dangerous Waste (excerpt)

U.S. troops were used as human guinea pigs for the Pentagon. Thousands must have walked through almost invisible clouds of uranium dioxide mist, not realizing that micron-sized particles were entering into their lungs.

Dr. Michio Kaku

The use of depleted uranium for military purposes is a deplorable development that, if unchecked, could have serious consequences. The widespread use of DU in the Gulf War can be directly linked to the Gulf War Syndrome. Although most of the publicity has gone to plutonium-239, uranium-235, and uranium-233 (the only substances in the universe which can sustain an uncontrolled chain reaction), the dangers of waste uranium-238 are much more pervasive, simply because there are huge quantities of waste U-238 lying around and because most people do not think it is that dangerous. Now that DU is being used in warfare, steps must be made to prevent its use.

It has been known for over three hundred years that U-238 harms people's health. For example, Bohemian miners in what is now the Czech Republic would often come across pitchblende ore in their work. Pitchblende ore contains uranium-238. Because of its unusual weight, it would often be used as doorstops in Europe. It was also used to create beautiful colors in ceramic glazes. However, the Bohemian miners would often come down with a mysterious "mountain disease."

We now know that this mountain disease is really lung cancer, caused by the radioactive emissions of radon gas, a standard byproduct of radioactive decay. Even today the emission of radioactive radon gas and the dispersal of uranium particulates poses a health risk. In the American Southwest, there are hundreds of millions of tons of waste uranium "tailings" left over from the mining and milling of uranium ore. Unscrupulous contractors would sell the uranium tailings to Native Americans, who would then use them to build their adobe homes. It was also sold to developers, who would use the waste uranium for landfill for suburban housing tracts.

It is one of the great unpublicized scandals in this country that Native Americans would breathe the radon gas and uranium particulates, both as miners in unventilated mines, as well as residents in their own radioactive homes. Illness and death have ravaged those in the Native American community who came in contact with uranium waste. But most of the publicity went to several middle-class housing tracts (like Grand Junction, Colorado), which were actually built on top of waste uranium. Much to the embarrassment of the old Atomic Energy Commission, measurements of the radioactive waste uranium showed high levels of radiation and radon gas, so the basements of many of these homes had to be dug up at the taxpayers expense.

Even today, uranium ore poses a problem. During the scandals related to human radiation experimentation, it was revealed two years ago that several million pounds of uranium dust were dispersed over an area near Cincinnati, near suburban homes, in an experiment conducted by the U.S. government to determine the dispersal of radioactive materials in the atmosphere in populated areas. Not long ago, there was a truck accident where uranium "yellow cake" (uranium ore after being processed) spilled onto an interstate in the Midwest. Local, state, and federal officials argued for days as to who was responsible for cleaning up this radioactive mess, even as cars drove through the dust left by the yellow cake ore.

Even in many homes in the Northeast, a persistent problem is radioactive radon gas that seeps into people's basements, contaminating the house. Radon gas is quite radioactive but is also an inert gas, so it will seep right through the cracks in people's walls and floors. It will also go right through activated charcoal in a gas mask as if it weren't even there, so gas masks provide no protection whatsoever.

Today the military has found a new use for waste uranium—as a weapon of war. Precisely because uranium is quite heavy as a metal, it has ideal armor-piercing capabilities against tanks and artillery. If you hold uranium, you are surprised how dense it is.


The full text of this chapter is available in the book, Metal of Dishonor. Link here for order information.




Share this page with a friend

International Action Center
39 West 14th Street, Room 206
New York, NY 10011

email: mailto:iacenter@action-mail.org
En Espanol: iac-cai@action-mail.org
Web: http://www.iacenter.org
Support Mumia Abu-Jamal:
phone: 212 633-6646
fax: 212 633-2889

a donation to the IAC and its projects


The International Action Center
Home     ActionAlerts    Press