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Media Briefing, 18 November 2002
by Dai Williams, M.Sc C.Psychol, Independent researcher.
Latest reports on Uranium weapons and health crises in Afghanistan
1. New UMRC reports
I urge medical and military correspondents to read the Uranium Medical Research Center's
latest reports published on 15 November at: http://www.umrc.net/whatsNew.asp
a) Dr Asaf Durakovic's paper presented in Qatar, 20 October 2002. This included the first report
of 100 times normal Uranium levels in medical samples from seriously ill civilians Afghanistan
(see page 4).
b) Extracts from a report of UMRC's 2nd field survey of bombing locations in Afghanistan
conducted in September - October 2002, published on 15 November. Analysis of new
samples is continuing, though delayed by shortage of funds.
c) Self-diagnostic questionnaire for suspected DU contamination (for troops, NGO staff
and other civilians).
2. Medical crisis reports from Afghanistan
The issue of Uranium contamination in Afghanistan since US bombing started is becoming more
urgent in view of the growing number of reports of severe medical problems in several regions.
Correspondents can search news reports on the Reuter's Health website
at http://www.reutershealth.com/en/index.html and search "Afghanistan". (NB a subscription is
required for more than a few reports).
Correspondents can then compare symptoms of the illnesses reported with descriptions of the
health of civilians adjacent to bombing targets in the UMRC field trip report and the self-assessment
questionnaire for local civilians, troops, aid-workers and others they also published yesterday.
Reuters Health highlights deep concern for very high levels of maternal mortality in Afghanistan
in two recent reports - one from the American Medical Association published in September at
http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v288n10/ffull/jlf20033.html and the latest (6th November) from
the CDC / UNICEF study for the Afghan Ministry of Health (6 November) at
The researchers who did these studies were unaware of suspected Uranium hazards and did not
report on the health of the infants who died unborn, or survived maternal mortality. Post-mortem
examinations were not reported.
There have also been several lethal epidemics of "mystery illnesses" this year in Afghanistan
including an influenza-like epidemic in March, several outbreaks of suspected "haemorrhagic fever"
and currently another undiagnosed illness similar to whooping cough that has killed at least 60
3. Suspected connections between Uranium and severe illnesses
The possibility that endemic health problems may have been greatly exacerbated by spreading
uranium dust contamination, or that severe illnesses are direct results of the toxic and radiation
effects of Uranium dust, have not been addressed in any local medical reports. WHO, ICRC,
MSF and Oxfam were warned of this risk many months ago but the US and UK governments
have given repeated assurance that no depleted uranium weapons have been used in Afghanistan.
Similar fatal illnesses were reported in Bosnia and Kosovo within the first year after US bombing
in 1995 and 1999 (refer pages 10-11 of my second report with links to the WHO epidemics and
4. Urgent need for independent Uranium testing
The initial UMRC test results greatly increase the need for rigorous environmental testing by
the UNEP Post Conflict Assessment Unit. They finally started work in Afghanistan in
September but with no published plans for Uranium testing due to US assurances. They
also indicate the urgent need for Uranium testing to be included in diagnostic tests by WHO
and other NGO medical aid teams.
Very few independent laboratories have the equipment and experience to conduct such tests
- mostly in Europe since the Canadian Government curtailed the work of Pat Horan, pioneer
of Depleted Uranium testing for Gulf Veterans in Newfoundland. She was forced to quit her
research in July this year after months of harassment.
5. Background on suspected Uranium weapons and health hazards
For background on the weapons systems used in Afghanistan suspected of containing
Uranium warheads and potential health hazards for civilians and troops see:
1) Depleted Uranium weapons 2001-2002: Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan
31 January 2002 at http://www.eoslifework.co.uk/du2012.htm (+ PDF copy of full report)
2) Hazards of Uranium Weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq, 23 October 2002 at:
http://www.eoslifework.co.uk/u232.htm (plus linked files).
For the latest assessment (13 November) by Prof Marc Herold (who analysed civilian Bombing fatalities
in December 2001) see http://www.cursor.org/stories/uranium.htm This contains some errors about
details of the weapons and asserts that Uranium weapons have been used. That is not proven yet but
he adds further details about locations attacked and emerging medical concerns about Uranium
My research includes evidence from official sources (US Patent Office, MOD, Jane's) of the development
of Uranium warheads since 1985 in several different kinds of guided weapons - hard target penetrators
(Bunker busters), shaped charge warheads (air to ground and anti-tank missiles) and at least one cluster bombs.
23 guided weapons systems are currently suspected of Uranium warhead components. There is
also evidence from two sources (Pentagon and UMRC) of recent uranium contamination in parts of
Afghanistan. There is not yet conclusive proof linking specific weapons with Uranium contamination
of targets. But on the precautionary principle accumulating evidence should now be sufficient for
civilian and military employers to acknowledge a potentially life threatening health hazard from Uranium
contamination for personnel assigned to Afghanistan.
6. US and UK Government disclaimers
My hope is that US and UK Government denials about the use of Depleted Uranium weapons are true.
Unfortunately no one suspected or asked them about the use of Undepleted Uranium weapons until
my letter to the Prime Minister of 13 October and my latest report sent to Geoff Hoon and other UK
Ministers on 23 October.
The MOD's reply to me of 12th November on behalf Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon included this
comment covering both the UK and US positions:
As I have said before (response to my first report), references to "dense metal penetrators" are certainly
not necessarily references to depleted uranium (DU). I have already confirmed that there are no air-launched
bombs or missiles containing DU in UK service, and that none are planned to enter service. I reiterate that
neither Storm Shadow nor BROACH contain DU. Furthermore, although the US does not generally share
information on the contents of its munitions with the UK, the MOD has been advised that no bunker-busting
bombs containing DU have been used by the US in recent conflicts." (GVIU, MOD, London).
The reply did not respond to the proposition in my latest report (in the light of the UMRC test results) that
the US may be using undepleted uranium in guided weapons. However the MOD is working on a new project
to review the health effects of Depleted Uranium welcomed by independent researchers in the UK. In September 2001
it set up a DU Oversight Board with veterans and independent researchers (including Professor Malcolm Hooper and
Dr Chris Busby) see www.duob.org.uk <http://www.duob.org.uk> . They are currently inviting laboratories to advise
on and tender for a screening project.
7. Need for Uranium testing NOW
The MOD project should produce valuable results in the medium term. However the extent of Uranium contamination
in Afghanistan, acknowledged by Donald Rumsfeld in January and confirmed in at least one location by UMRC last month,
remains otherwise unassessed, despite the warning I sent to the Prime on 1st November 2001 of the need for "an immediate
environmental and health hazard assessment of all hard target zones in Afghanistan", repeated in my January report and
in my letter to him of 13 October 2002.
There were already dire public health problems in Afghanistan before the bombing started last year.
These seem to be escalating since the bombing - despite the presence of international aid teams previously
excluded by the Taliban. An impoverished and weakened population now faces a deepening humanitarian
disaster as the second winter since the bombing sets in.
If endemic public health problems have been exacerbated by widespread contamination from
radiological bombs it is vital that this potential hazard is quantified so that civilians and troops
can be relocated from the worst affected areas. Widespread Uranium contamination in Afghanistan
may have even more tragic consequences than the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
8. Need for international exposure and action in Afghanistan
Uranium contamination in at least two parts of Afghanistan is now a fact. The latest JAMA, CDC/UNICEF
and UMRC reports should provide sufficiently reliable and disturbing facts for the UK Parliament
and media to give these questions rigorous, public investigation. This is needed to give
maximum political and financial support to UN agencies that are best placed to take the necessary
Until these issues receive full international exposure UNEP and WHO are required to accept US assurances
(repeated by the MOD above) that these secret warheads do not contain uranium. Until then they have neither
the mandate nor resources to establish the full scale of the Uranium problem in Afghanistan. They are required
to take advice from the IAEA which could play a vital role. Unfortunately the IAEA effectively represents the
nuclear industry, dominated by US interests. In September ex-IAEA Director, Pier Roberto Danesi, claimed
"There is a consensus now that DU does not represent a health threat" (page 14 of my latest report). IAEA's
independence is compromised unless mandated to review all Uranium hazards in Afghanistan impartially by
the international community.
Five strategic actions are required by the international community:
1. Immediate, independent investigations by UN inspectors and Parliamentary
representatives to verify the materials used in all the suspected Uranium weapons
identified in this analysis (report Table 1). These to include current weapon stocks and
manufacturing facilities in all countries, and full disclosure of combat use since 1990.
2. Rigorous environmental monitoring for Uranium contamination in Afghanistan
and re-survey of other recent combat zones. Both UNEP studies (2001, 2002)
of Depleted Uranium in the Balkans excluded guided bomb, missile and cluster bomb targets.
3. Independent and ongoing health monitoring of troops and civilians (local residents, refugees and expatriates)
exposed to suspected Uranium weapons in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq.
4. Medical aid and environmental protection for all civilian communities at risk
of Uranium contamination.
5. Review of past medical research, hazard assessments and policy advice
concerning Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons based on Uranium exposure from
small penetrator warheads (less than 6 kg), or overlooking widely varying levels
of U235, U 236 and Plutonium contamination (Dirty DU).
These are spelled out in more detail in section 12, pages 13-16, of my full report at
9. Implications for the proposed war on Iraq
The weapon systems used in Afghanistan for targeted underground caves and bunkers
were originally designed for neutralising Chemical and Biological warfare targets. These
and new ones (e.g. the 10 ton Big BLU Bunker Buster suspected of containing 5-7 tons
of Uranium) are essential to US war plans in Iraq.
Alice Mahon MP warned the UK Government against supporting the use of such weapons
in the Iraq debate on 7 November:
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): It is clear to many commentators, and I too believe it, that this
is a war resolution. The United States, with the help of our Government, shamefully, appears
to have bullied and intimidated people into coming on line, and, perhaps, also promised the
spoils of war÷oil. The resolution is mined with trip wires to trigger a war. It should be named
after the film "Wag the Dog", because if Iraq does not trip up soon, I am pretty certain that the
United States will make sure that it does.
I have two questions for when we go to war. First, can we have an absolute assurance that
our Government will have nothing to do with the use of nuclear weapons, bunker busters or
depleted uranium? Secondly, can we be told the truth about civilian casualties this time?
Whenever there is a statement on Afghanistan, nobody in the Government seems willing
to tell us how many civilians have died there.
Mr. Straw: I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that view, and I have to say that I profoundly
disagree with everything she has said. [Extract from UK Commons Hansard].
These latest reports from Afghanistan may be cause for Jack Straw to review his reply. Alice Mahon's
reference to the situation for civilians in Afghanistan was profoundly important in view of these latest
Dai Williams, M.Sc C.Psychol, Independent researcher.
Eos, Woking, Surrey
Page created November 20, 2002 by Charlie Jenks