More Fuelish War Talk

The U.S. employed munitions containing depleted uranium during the Gulf War in 1991 and more recently during NATO's campaign in the Balkans and in Vieques as part of military exercises. In Afghanistan, there have been reports of depleted uranium in bunker bombs and other munitions; some contain a "mystery" metal, either tungsten (most of which comes from China) or depleted uranium.

A 1994 report to Congress by the secretary of the army said, "Like naturally occurring uranium, DU has toxicological and radiological health risks." The report goes on to say that "in combat, DU wound contamination and fragment implantation become more significant pathways of entry. Based on the lessons learned in Desert Storm, the army is developing procedures to better manage the internal exposure potential for DU during combat."

But who's using it? In January 2001, a French TV documentary reported that the depleted uranium in munitions may come from a contaminated reprocessing plant in Paducah, Kentucky. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a French publication in January that the U.S. had found radiation in Afghanistan—but that it was from depleted uranium warheads belonging to al-Qaida. On Monday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Central Command said that it has "not used depleted uranium in Afghanistan." Dai Williams, a depleted uranium researcher, has told reporters that if al-Qaida is responsible, there may be even more of a risk: that could mean the depleted uranium might have come from Russia, and it could be even dirtier than that from Paducah.

Additional reporting by Gabrielle Jackson, Meritxell Mir and Michael Ridley.
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