Depleted uranium weapons in Ukraine: of course!

At a press conference on September 11, 2023, IAEA Director General Raphaël Grossi asserted that there was no danger in the use of shells containing depleted uranium. Of course! This is an astonishing statement. Indeed, what did we find when we analyzed the residues of these weapons during the conflicts in Iraq, the Balkans and Serbia-Kosovo? Other isotopes that shouldn’t have been there had been found. Traces of other radioisotopes, not least plutonium and neptunium, have been detected in Iraq, Bosnia and Serbia. It’s an unfalsifiable signature of post-combustion waste from nuclear power plants. This is confirmed by official reports from the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme), an official UN body, and therefore unlikely to be falsified(for the Balkans, and for Serbia-Montenegro).  » The presence of these radioactive elements [plutonium, neptunium] in depleted uranium indicates that at least some of the depleted uranium came from reprocessed material from spent nuclear fuel or equipment contaminated during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. And, of course, this had no impact on health!

In a way, we’re witnessing the perfectly organized laundering of nuclear power plant waste: it’s sold to the army (well done), which then disperses it abroad, unseen and unheard of (because the media, of course, won’t talk about it!).

I take issue with R. Grossi’s assertions about the absence of health risks. It is based on reducing the risk of depleted uranium in two ways: on the one hand, by reducing the load of uranium 235 and 234, the source of some of its radioactivity (this is why it is depleted), and on the other, by largely eliminating the isotopes of the uranium 238 filiation (the one that remains) inherent in the process. For example, the concentration of bismuth 214 (specific to uranium 238) is very low. But the use of nuclear waste has added to the « post-combustion depleted uranium » heaps of atoms that are themselves radioactive, with their own radioactive parentage that we could have done without.

On an individual level, in a normal individual, the radiological risk incurred by exposure to depleted uranium, while real, is nonetheless low and far less significant than other usual environmental risks. In the admittedly arbitrary division into zones of unacceptable risk, « acceptable » risk (according to a cost-benefit, i.e. societal, calculation) and trivial risk, we would apparently be in the zone of acceptable exposure. (I’m not raising the chemical risk of uranium here, which is substantial).

But what about people whose susceptibility to radiation is greatly increased, because, for example, genetically they lack the tools needed for effective repair of genome damage? Let me give you two examples. 

1. people heterozygous for ataxia-telangiectasia (who present a normal appearance but where defects in DNA repair persist), this specific heterozygosity affects almost 1% of the population. 

2.The fetus between the 7th and 24th weeks of gestation: this is a highly radiation-sensitive period, when we literally observe the cellular explosion of the brain, followed by the establishment of organization and connections between the billions of new cells. This means that, in a general population, around 98% of those exposed to depleted uranium are in the position of workers chronically exposed to ionizing radiation. The effects are not neutral, but we consider them « acceptable ». This is disputed (see the summary and references of Chris Busby’s article, below). But for the remaining ~2%, is the picture likely to be very different?

What do we know about the use of depleted uranium shells in Ukraine? Not much, except that there was a serious incident at Khmelnytsky in Western Ukraine, during a Russian bombardment on the night of May 13, 2023. An ammunition depot exploded. There were reports of a sudden increase in radioactivity, but the sources were quickly censored. This resulted in a data blackout, if not real concern among the population, who rushed to pharmacies to obtain iodine. And, of course, our media took up the Ukrainian narrative: there’s nothing to see. Some believed that theincrease in Bismuth 214 found in Lubin, Poland, two days later, indicated the existence of depleted uranium released by the explosion at Khmelnytsky. But in reality, you only have to look at the record over a year to see that bismuth 214 peaks are numerous and perfectly correlated with rainfall peaks. The precise examination of the night of May 15 when this peak was observed corresponds perfectly to a rainy peak. So, no, the observed increase is a mere coincidence, all the more so as while continuous measurement of bismuth 214, used as a proxy, is well suited to radon monitoring, it is not for airborne depleted uranium contamination.

In short, we didn’t know… until Chris Busby’s November 2023 publication, which can be found on « Research Gate »: » The Khlemnitsky Ukraine Uranium explosion revisited. The calculated source term is 50 tons. Public Health implications for Poland and Western Ukraine. « (The uranium explosion at Khlemitsky-Ukraine revisited. The calculation of the quantity of the source is 50 tons. Implications for public health in Ukraine and Poland).

Publication summary (translation): lhe explosion at Khlemnitsky, Ukraine, on May 13 involved large quantities of uranium contamination in the air. This was unequivocally demonstrated by the arrival of measured excess quantities of uranium particles in the high-volume air samplers deployed by theUK Atomic Weapons Establishmentin Aldermaston, near London, in May and June 2023. So it’s something we know. What we don’t know is the source term, how much uranium was dispersed in the explosion, and secondly, where did it go before arriving in England? The question of its effects on the health of populations living in the plume zone is also addressed here. Using the increased radiation measurement of 32 nSv/h recorded by gamma detectors at the Polish-Ukrainian border, it is possible to recalculate the source term using the tables published by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the emission ofs isotopes of the Uranium of Uranium-238: Thorium 234 and the Protoactinium 234m. This gives the activity of U‑238 in the cloud as it passes in front of the detector. The source term can be obtained from the Gaussian plume equations and the atmospheric from the UK’s National Radiological Protection Board. The result is a source term of around 50 tonnes of Uranium 238. Plume activity levels per unit area are similar to those that caused genetic effects in Iraq after the Gulf War, so similar health consequences are to be expected. These have been measured in Iraq by numerous researchers concerning infant mortality, birth defects and increased cancer risk. Other possible scenarios are discussed.

It’s worth pointing out that, according to measurements taken, this « depleted uranium » can be found in Lebanon and Palestine, apparently causing similar health problems, as Chris Busby also explains. In my opinion, Grossi’s assertion, « no risk from depleted uranium », coming from a « consecrated » authority, is a form of arrogance and cynicism, when applied to a population, apart from the fact that at the very least it lacks the most elementary prudence. What’s more, I find it inaccurate when confronted with the facts. It’s very much in the vein of the behavior and bankruptcy of our current Western elites.

Because it’s our health we’re talking about: the least we can do is to have the real, observed data, not the narratives that hide them, for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of the health of us all.

Unfortunately, we’ve long been calling for a definitive ban on the use of uranium in weapons. I think that needs to be said.

Christophe de Brouwer, honorary full-professor and former president of the School of Public Health at the Free University of Brussels, December 20, 2023.

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