15 October 2009

Collateral damage ... where does it end?

Doctors in Iraq have recorded a sharp rise in the number of cancer victims south of Baghdad. In the province of Babil, about 500 cases were diagnosed in 2004. Two years later, the figure was almost 1,000. By 2008, it was 7,000 and this year there have been 9,000 cases to date.

Iraqi researchers believe the cancers are caused by radiation. The source of the radiation is a substance first used on the battlefield in the first Gulf war - depleted uranium (DU). The Iraqi people, and American and other military personnel, have been the guinea pigs in an experiment with what was largely an unknown material.

DU is a byproduct of the manufacture of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The heaviest metal in the world, bullets tipped with it are so tough they can easily slice through tank armour. Unfortunately, when they hit a target, they explode, sending millions of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. These particles can be inhaled, pollute water tables and enter the food chain. Exposure can cause genetic damage even unto the next generation because they easily cross the placenta to the fetus. The U.S. Department of Defense admits that at least 40 tons of DU were left on the battlefields of southern Iraq.

According to nuclear physicist Marion Fulk, because uranium has a natural attraction to phosphorus, it is drawn to the phosphate in the DNA. As it decays, it releases alpha and beta particles with millions of electron volts. When a particle makes this transformation in the human body it releases "huge amounts of energy in the same location doing lots of damage very quickly." The body's master code is altered.

We tend to think of wars ending with negotiations or surrenders. And maybe they do, but the death and suffering can go on for generations.

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