This article was published on the 16th of January 2012 in the Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet (social-democratic)
The government must investigate uranium weapons
Scientists: Causes cancer and birth defects - Swedish soldiers may
This year, Sweden's contribution to the war in Afghanistan will have lasted for ten years. Yet the question of health effects of uranium weapons is still relatively unknown in Sweden. Uranium weapons have been used by the U.S. and Great Britain during the Gulf War in 1990-91, the wars in former Yugoslavia, in Iraq again from 2003 and possibly in Afghanistan. The weapons are manufactured in the US, France, India, Russia and Pakistan - and maybe in Sweden by Bofors, which is part of the Arms Group BAE Systems. Bofors has refused to answer questions about this.
The questions concern projectiles containing uranium which is used because it is much heavier than lead, and has much greater penetration capability through tanks and bunkers. The uranium weapons consist mainly of the uranium isotope U-238, which is the waste from the enrichment of natural uranium into nuclear fuel. The waste is called depleted uranium= DU.
The weapons may also contain low-enriched uranium or the very dangerous uranium that has already been used in nuclear power plants, with small amounts of highly toxic plutonium.
On impact the projectiles burn at high temperature and form a fine dust of uranium oxide, which is easily spread. When the dust is inhaled or enters the body in other ways particles are trapped in the lungs or enter the bloodstream and reach other organs. A millionth of a gram of U-238 decays with thousands of alpha-particles per day, which damages cells and DNA.
Uranium weapons can cause cancer, birth defects and increased mortality. There has been a significant increase in childhood leukemia in Basra, Iraq, and a fourfold increase in cancer and a high level of birth defects in Fallujah, in the same country, where heavy fighting took place between troops from the U.S. and Iraqis in 2004. The proportion of boys to girls among newborn was lower than normal, just like in Japan after the atomic bombs in 1945, a sign of damage to the sex chromosomes
After analyzing samples from soil, water and the hairs from the parents of malformed children researchers concluded that the uranium residue is a likely cause of this imbalance. Their conclusions are supported by research on laboratory animals and cell cultures.
According to reports from Iraq up to 300 locations are contaminated with uranium residues. Increased cancer rates have also been reported after the wars in former Yugoslavia, including among some soldiers from Italy.
In November 2011, at a workshop at Luleå University,Sweden, researchers from Iraq and Sweden reported extensive contamination of the environment in Iraq of uranium dust and serious health effects. The researchers adopted a resolution describing uranium weapons as very dangerous, and demanded transparency from the states that produce these weapons .
In a resolution in December 2010 148 states of the UN General Assembly called on all member states to report the possession and use of DU. The U.S., Britain, France and Israel voted against, while Sweden , as well as several EU countries, abstained from voting. However, a large majority in the EU Parliament, has voted four times against DU weapons.
The Swedish Parliament has previously rejected motions banning DU weapons. The Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in 2008: "If convincing medical evidence was to show that depleted uranium in ammunition causes health and environmental damage, the Committee is prepared to push for a ban."
There is now sufficient evidence. Various data indicate that uranium weapons may have been used in Afghanistan. Should not the government investigate whether the Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan have been exposed to uranium weapons and whether Bofors manufactures or has manufactured, these weapons?
Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet,
and Professor Emeritus University of Stockholm.
Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, Department of Infrastructure
Planning and Natural Resources, Luleå University of Technology.
Professor, Department of Infrastructure Planning and Natural Resources,
Luleå University of Technology.
Professor Emeritus, Department of Infrastructure Planning and Natural Resources,
Luleå University of Technology.
Professor of Radiation Physics, Karolinska Institutet.