Depleted Uranium Weaponry

Jim Williams, April 2017

Internet sources have been reporting that the U.S. Defense Department has admitted to using “depleted” uranium (DU) in Syria [4] after having been outed by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons [15]. DU is, among other things, a chemical weapon. But unlike Sarin, its devastating action continues forever.

Known toxic effects of DU

The graphic below shows some of the toxic effects of DU [3]. But there are other effects as well. For example, DU also has devastating effects on the eyes. This graphic does not reflect prevalence of toxic effects because the U.S. government has prevented, suppressed, and whitewashed epidemiological studies. An interesting undated, anonymous whitewash example can be found on the Air University website [6].


Despite efforts by the Defense Department, some useful localized studies have emerged. Cancer deaths in Basra have shot up 12 fold since the first gulf war [1]. Four studies conducted in 2012 showed the people of Fallujah as having “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” [2]. Studies in mice have shown that genetic damage from DU persists through many generations. “The only way mutated genes disappear is when carriers don’t have children” [8]. Additional documentation on harmful effects of DU is available from the 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq [9].

The harmful effects of DU are also apparent in U.S. Iraq war veterans. No epidemiological studies have been published regarding veterans, but there is ample evidence of exposure. And evidence of consequences: Their children have a higher than normal rate of birth defects, and a third of Iraq war veterans are permanently disabled [14].

Warning: Do not search for images of DU birth defects, they’re hideous.

What is depleted uranium?

DU consists mainly of Uranium-238, which itself is not particularly radioactive. It has a half live of 4.5 billion years, which is about the age of our solar system. However, like other heavy metals it is quite toxic.

Commercially produced U-238 is called depleted uranium to make it sound less threatening. Most DU is produced as a byproduct of processing spent fuel rods. It is known as “dirty DU” because it is contaminated with plutonium, Uranium-235, and other radioactive elements [3, 20]. So most DU is, in fact, dangerously radioactive.

Testing for DU in the environment or the human body involves ruling out the presence of natural uranium. DU is distinguished as having a higher U-238/U-235 ratio [21]. It also contains man made elements not found in nature such as U-236 [20].

Unfortunately, dirty DU actually has a negative cost because it is essentially a waste product that would otherwise be carted off to permanent storage sites at considerable expense [1, 12]. By 2006, the  the Department of Energy had 100 million tons of DU [14].

DU is pyrophoric, meaning that it burns spontaneously producing uranium oxides, the most stable of them being the well known yellow cake. In the case of DU munitions, these oxides form an aerosol that condenses into a widely dispersed fine dust. The dust enters the lungs and from there gets into the bloodstream and lymph system. The dust also finds its way into the soil where it pollutes crops forever [1, 9]

Where DU has been used

Syria. We don’t entirely know how much DU is being used in Syria or how it’s being used, though we do know it has been used against oil tankers [4]. This use is contrary to Department of Defense guidelines, which call for it being used only against tanks and other “hard” targets. Leuren Moret, who left her research position at Lawrence Livermore after learning too much about uranium contamination, claims that the U.S. not only used DU weaponry in Syria from the beginning, but provided it to terrorists fighting against the Syrian government, and as a result the whole country is now contaminated. Unfortunately, Leuren isn’t very good about saying where she gets her information [10].

Iraq. Armor piercing DU shells were used extensively throughout Iraq during desert storm [5], amounting to a total of 320 tons of DU [9]. U.S. bombings in Iraq have been occurring ever since; presumably some of them use DU as well. News reports during George W Bush’s war indicated that DU “bunker busters” were used to take out Saddam Hussein's bunkers. Recent FOIA requests have revealed unexplained use against soft targets in Iraq, as shown in the following diagram [7].

Radiation levels in parts of Iraq where DU was heavily used are high; Dr. Souad N. Al-Azzawi has collected a great deal of research on DU in Iraq, as well as documentation on U.S. suppression of research [11].

Kosovo and other Balkan states. NATO used DU weapons during “Operation Allied Force” in 1991. Kosovo appears to be most heavily affected by DU pollution, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina [13]. There have been dramatic increases in cancer in Bosnia and Serbia [12]. Most of the research on DU effects in the Balkans has been carried out on NATO troops with mixed results, rather than on inhabitants who are much more heavily exposed. The U.S. has made a concerted effort to block research [22]. An early NATO report on the effects on inhabitants was classified and then illegally circulated [19].

Afghanistan. There have been repeated accusations of DU use by Pakistanis and others. The Taliban have 600 tanks and armored personnel carriers that the U.S. presumably attacks with DU artillery [16]. People have observed DU munitions being transported to Afghanistan, and a German NATO manual advises troops in Afghanistan on how to avoid DU exposure [17]. International health officials have been prevented or obstructed from doing medical studies of DU sites in Afghanistan, which is further evidence of significant DU use [18].


1. Frida Berrigan,“Weapon of Mass Deception: What the Pentagon doesn't want us to know about depleted uranium,” These Times, July 2003

2. Phil Butler, “Armor Piercing, Toxic Shocking – the US’s Ongoing Depleted Uranium Manifesto,” New Eastern Outlook, February 2016

3. “Dangers and Health Effects of Depleted Uranium,” Disabled World, September 2013 

4. Samuel Oakford,  “The United States Used Depleted Uranium in Syria,” Foreign Policy, February 2017 

5. Betsy Bradshaw, (untitled letter), Atomic Vigil, March 2003

6. “Depleted Uranium Fact Sheet,” Air University, undated

7. Samuel Oakford, “Exclusive: Iraq War records reignite debate over US use of depleted uranium,” IRIN, October 2016 

8. Barbara Koeppel, “How the U.S. Made Dropping Radioactive Bombs Routine,”, April 2016 

9. “The Excessive Use of Weapons and Banned Weapons,” Akira Maeda, Sayo Saruta, Koichi Inamori, World Tribunal on Iraq: Istanbul Session - The Final Outcome, June 25, 2005. Captured by the Internet Archive and the Information Clearing House 

10. Gary Walton, “Radiation expert claims Syria is plagued with radioactive contamination: US used depleted uranium weaponry and gave it to terrorists to fight Assad,” The Big Wobble: Geophysics on Steroids, February 2017

11. Souad N. Al-Azzawi, “Depleted Uranium Radioactive Contamination In Iraq: An Overview”, Harvard preprint (nicely formatted), 3rd ICBUW International Conference Hiroshima, August 2006

12. Ken Adachi, ed, “The Continuing Legacy of Depleted Uranium Poisoning in Yugoslavia,” Educate-Yourself, August 2013

13. Larisa Besica, Imer Muhovica, Adna Asica, Amina Kurtovic-Kozaric, “Meta-analysis of depleted uranium levels in the Balkan region,” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, April 2017 

14. Christopher Bollyn, “The Real Dirty Bombs: Depleted Uranium,” August 2004

15. “Pentagon confirms its forces used depleted uranium in Syria, Iraq,” AMN - Al Masdar News, February 2017

16. “Military of the Taliban,” Wikipedia, December 2016 

17. “German Bundeswehr manual challenges US and UK denials over depleted uranium in Afghanistan,” International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, July 2009 

18. Dave Lindorff, “Depleted Uranium Weapons: Dead Iraqi and Afghani Babies Are No Joke,” Huffington Post, March 2010   

19. “UN hid alarming report, almost 10 tons of depleted uranium dropped on Kosovo,” InSerbia News, February 2014    

20.  “Spent nuclear fuel: fission products,” Wikipedia, December 2016   

21. Keith S, Faroon O, Roney N, et al., “Toxicological Profile for Uranium: 7 Analytical Methods,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, February 2013

22.  John Catalinotto, “U.S. blocks UN probe of depleted uranium bombs in Yugoslavia,” International Action Center, Workers World, October 1999  

An extensive bibliography on DU has been compiled by the International Action Center. All URLs were current at time of publication.

Jim Williams, April 20, 2017