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Outrage grows as Pentagon confirms depleted uranium rounds headed to Ukraine

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Picture: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Taken on April 3, 2022 – A Ukrainian serviceman walks past destroyed Russian tanks not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Tanks carrying depleted uranium in other wars such as in Iraq, have contaminated the areas where they are left, causing rare cancers and other health risks, the writer says. The Biden administration, which has already caused grave concern in supplying Ukraine with cluster bombs, is now sending tanks with ‘depleted uranium — which will cause babies to be born with severe deformities and cancer’, according to anti-war group Just Foreign Policy.

By Jake Johnson

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that the US will send depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine as part of a new $175 million military aid package, drawing outrage from progressive foreign policy advocates who have warned against such a move and noted the horrific impact such weapons have had in Iraq and elsewhere.

A by-product of natural uranium enrichment, depleted uranium is highly dense and often used for projectiles designed to pierce tanks and other armoured vehicles. On impact, depleted uranium weapons produce a cloud of particles that can be inhaled by soldiers and nearby civilians.

The Pentagon said it is sending Ukraine 120mm depleted uranium rounds that can be fired from the Abrams tanks the US is also set to begin delivering.

The announcement came weeks after the US shipped widely banned cluster munitions to Ukraine, ignoring human rights groups’ warnings about the potentially devastating consequences for civilians in the present and years into the future.

“It wasn’t enough for the US to send cluster bombs that will kill children for generations to Ukraine,” Aída Chávez, communications director for the progressive anti-war group Just Foreign Policy, wrote on social media. “Now, the Biden admin is sending depleted uranium — which will cause babies to be born with severe deformities and cancer.”

“To this day,” Chávez added, “children in places like Fallujah are being born with gruesome birth defects due to the US military’s use of depleted uranium.”

The US-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 used thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium bombs and shells over just a three-week period that year.

Research suggests the lasting health effects for Iraqis have been severe.

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution in 2020, proximity to a US military base in Iraq was linked to “higher levels of uranium and thorium” and a greater risk of birth defects, including heart problems and missing limbs.

The study notes that thorium is “a radioactive compound and a direct depleted uranium decay product”.

A 2021 study published in BMJ Public Health also found “possible associations between exposure to depleted uranium and adverse health outcomes among the Iraqi population,” though the authors noted that “US sanctions on Iraq may have played a role in limiting research and publication on the health impacts of weaponised uranium”.

“Biden’s decision to send tanks with depleted uranium to Ukraine has been made possible in large part because Britain led the way.”

The US is not the first country to send depleted uranium to Ukraine as it fights invading Russian forces. The United Kingdom announced in March that it would deliver thousands of rounds of depleted uranium ammunition to the Ukrainian military.

Moscow decried the US decision to arm Ukrainian forces with depleted uranium as “an indicator of inhumanity” and has threatened to use its own stockpile of depleted uranium.

Phil Miller, chief reporter for Declassified UK, said in a Democracy Now! appearance on Wednesday that “Biden’s decision to send tanks with depleted uranium to Ukraine has been made possible in large part because Britain led the way on this”.

Earlier this week, Miller reported that a UK tank capable of firing depleted uranium rounds was destroyed in Ukraine, prompting contamination fears.

“What we’ve seen in other conflicts, notably in Iraq, is that these tank hulls litter the battlefield for many years after the conflict,” Miller said Wednesday. “Children go and play on them, thinking they’re some kind of climbing frame, and they can become contaminated with depleted uranium, leading to very rare forms of cancer.”

“It really is quite alarming to now think that this is going to be used or is being used in Ukraine in areas where, you know, we want Ukrainian civilians to be able to live after the conflict,” Miller added. “On top of dealing with unexploded cluster munitions, they’re also going to have this huge hazard of depleted uranium to contend with, as well.”

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams