by Massimo Zucchetti
7 July 2011
Reposted in light of new
scientific findings ascertaining NATO’s use of DU in
The military support
for the Benghazi rebellion against the Tripoli dictator
is provided to the great detriment of the civilian
population. Out of every 10 guided missiles,
approximately one goes out of control and crashes in the
targeted area at random. But all the missiles -
regardless of whether the depleted uranium is in the
warhead or in the wings for stabilization - contaminate
the area. Thus, in the years to come these so-called
"humanitarian" bombings will continue to kill countless
numbers of civilians, affirms Professor Massimo
The issues regarding depleted uranium
(DU) and its toxicity have sometimes, in recent years, gone beyond
the scope of science.
The writer has dealt with radiation protection
for twenty years and depleted uranium since 1999. After an
experience of publishing scientific papers in journals, conference
proceedings and international conferences on DU, this article
attempts to estimate the possible environmental and health impact of
the use of depleted uranium in the war of Libya (2011).
its use have appeared in the media since the beginning of the
Cruise missiles have been used since the first days,
and we will show there is the strong suspect that those missiles
bring Depleted Uranium either as flight stabilizers in the wings, or
as weight kinetic energy enhancer. In the last week of the conflict,
A-10 airplanes were deployed, and those too are well known for using
The ICBUW (International Coalition for the Ban of Uranium Weapons) has
thoroughly addressed the question .
Statements from US Air Force
that A-10 airplanes are not using DU bullets will be taken as a
starting hypothesis, however being very suspect since in all past
conflicts (Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan) A-10 airplanes have widely
DU ammunition. Also other suspected weapons bearing DU, such as
the AV-8B aircrafts, are pointed out here, but disregarded in the
following calculations and assessments, which largely focus on
Because of its unique physical characteristics, in particular the
density that makes it extremely convenient as a mass enhancer (about
19 kg/l), but also the low cost (the production cost of DU is about
$ 2 per kg) and the inconvenience to treat as radioactive waste, DU
has found its way use in the military field.
If properly treated, the U-Ti alloy is a very effective material for
the construction of kinetic energy penetrators, thick metal bullets
that can pierce armors when fired against it at high speed.
The penetration process pulverizes most of the bullet, exploding
into incandescent fragments of Uranium (violent combustion of almost
5000°C), when it hits the perforated armor, increasing the
destructive effect. This property is called "pyrophoricity", as for
example, the characteristic of sulfur in matches. So in addition to
the high density of DU, pyrophoricity too makes it a material of
great interest for these applications, in particular as an
incendiary weapon (API: Armor Piercing Incendiary).
Finally, during the impact on the objective, the relative hardness
of the DU (alloyed with titanium) provides the projectile
self-sharpening ability: in other words, the projectile does not
"flatten" against the armor that must break through, forming a
"head flat "- as for example a projectile of lead - but it retains
its shape tapering to the complete fragmentation, without thereby
losing the penetrating properties.
In battle, the DU has certainly been used in,
the Gulf War of 1991
during the NATO/UN bombings over the Serbian Republic of Bosnia in
against Yugoslavia in Spring 1999
in this century, during the
attack on Afghanistan and then further in Iraq in 2003
The use of DU devices in wars in Somalia and central Bosnia and
central-eastern Europe (especially large areas around Sarajevo) in
the 90s, in Palestine and shooting ranges under the responsibility
of NATO military forces, is still inadequately documented .
Among weapons that contain DU, we also include the Tomahawk Cruise
missile, whose use during the Balkan war of Spring 1999 - although
not recognized by NATO - has been confirmed by findings on site and
by European Union sources .
On the other hand, the Decalogue delivered to all the soldiers sent
to Kosovo in 1999 contained recommendations to be followed to the
letter, stating the presence of depleted uranium on the territory
and particularly in
Cruise Tomahawk missiles.
"The vehicles and materials of the Serbian army in Kosovo can be a
threat to the health of soldiers and civilians who were exposed to
them. The vehicles and equipment found destroyed, damaged or
abandoned must be inspected and handled only by qualified personnel.
The dangers arising from depleted uranium as a result of damage
caused by NATO bombing campaign in relation to vehicles hit directly
In addition, the collimators containing tritium and
the instruments and indicators can be treated with radioactive
paint, dangerous for those who had access to the means to inspect.
Here are tips on how to avoid exposure to depleted uranium.
"Avoid any medium or material suspected of being hit by
munitions containing depleted uranium or Tomahawk Cruise missiles.
Do not pick or collect with DU munitions found on the ground. Tell
your command immediately around the area that you feel contaminated.
Wherever you are demarcated the area contaminated by any material
found on site. If you are in an area contaminated, at least wear a
mask and gloves. Ensure good personal hygiene. Frequently wash the
body and clothes."
The evaluations on the amount of DU used in cruise missiles differ
In particular, they vary in different sources, including
values around 3 kg, but to go up to about 400 kilograms. In the note
 there is a compilation of different sources available on this
aspect, very important for the estimation of environmental impact.
The predictable official denial statements about the presence of
uranium in these missiles collide with the above publications, as
well as military sources.
This large variability in the data can be easily explained. Some
Cruise missiles have their head weighted with depleted uranium, some
have not. But even those which do not have a depleted uranium
warhead bring it in the wings, as a stabilizer in flight.
thus define two cases:
environmental impact and health effects
In the vast literature on depleted uranium produced by the author
, the calculation of radioactive contamination from uranium due
to cruise missiles particularly those launched on Bosnia in 1995,
has already been elaborated.
The study can also be accessed on the
Internet, as well as the scientific journal Tribuna Biologica e
Medica (Biological and Medical Forum).  
Returning to the models used in the above-mentioned article, one can
deduce which is the mechanism of contamination, at the point of
exposure and inhalation, through a calculation designed specifically
to determine if - at least in a realistic case - the relevance of
the doses does not allow the problem to be neglected.
Let’s consider the impact of a Tomahawk cruise missile that carries
3 kg (best case), or 400 kg (worst case) of DU.
The impact produces a cloud of debris of various sizes, after
violent combustion at about 5000°C. The dust is, as mentioned,
composed of particle sizes in the micron range [0.5-5]. Between
500 and 1000 meters from the impact one can breathe clouds with a
density sufficient to cause significant doses, consisting of
particles having a mass of about 0.6 to some 5 nanograms.
estimate was made using the GENII  code for dose and dispersion
calculations. We chose to neglect the effects of fire, considering
only the inhalation exposure due to the simple release of the
material, and not taking into account certain factors that could
cause a further increase of the exposure.
Critical group, in this case, it is precisely those people
"invested" by the cloud of dust after explosion.
After the missile hits the target, dust can ignite and disperse and
be oxidized into the environment, according to the estimates that
will be done in this work.
About 70% of DU, contained in the missile which is supposed to
always hit the target, being an “intelligent weapon”, burns. Of
this, about 50% are soluble oxides.
The size distribution of the constituent particles of DU oxide dust
belongs entirely to the small-size, breathable, and ultra-fine dust.
In particular, the diameter of the particles in this case is finer
than the dust of uranium usually encountered in the preparation of
nuclear fuel within the nuclear industry. It deals practically with
dust included in the range [1-10] micron, with a significant
proportion of particles with a diameter less than one micron.
As for the behavior of DU dust in the human body, the main route of
contamination is - as noted - inhalation. As mentioned, part of the
dusts are soluble and some insoluble into body fluids.
Given the characteristics of DU oxides of military origin, it should
be noted that they have different behavior with respect to
industrial dust of uranium. You can, however, still assume,
ICRP , that about 60% of the inhaled dust is
deposited in the respiratory system, the rest is re-exhaled.
It can be assumed that about 25% of the particles around 1 micron in
diameter are retained for a long period in the lungs, while the rest
is deposited in the upper breathing apparatus, then it passes into
the digestive system and hence is eliminated, while small parts go
to accumulate in the bones.
About 25% of micro-particles is held in the lungs, about half the
material behaves like a class M according to ICRP, which is slowly
soluble in body fluids, while the rest is insoluble.
This type of behavior and exposure has not been studied in any
previous situation of exposure to alpha emitters in the lungs, found
in the civil applications. The way of exposure is very different
from those under which equivalences-dose radiation damage were
It is therefore not entirely correct - though it is a starting
reference point - to use here the ICRP risk assessments, which were
derived from the radioactive dust data and the exposure of miners of
uranium mines, nor of course it is correct to use the correlations
derived from the epidemiological studies on the highly-irradiated
Hiroshima and Nagasaki population.
ICRP radiation protection
standards are based on these experiences, and therefore may
underestimate the risk in this case.
Moving on to another type of toxicity than the one due to ionizing
radiation, is also plausible that:
Given the component of fine and ultrafine dust of DU for military
Given the well-known chemical
toxicity of uranium, environmental contamination by DU
oxidized dusts of military origin has both chemical and
radiological toxicity: it must be evaluated the synergistic
effect of these two components
In other words, radioactivity and chemical toxicity of DU could act
together to create a "cocktail" effect which further increases the
We must also put emphasis on the fact that the arid climate of Libya
favors the dispersion in the air of particles of depleted uranium,
which can be inhaled by civilians for years after the explosion.
That is not the case, for instance, of the Balkans. The main
mechanism of exposure at the long-term concerns the re-suspension of
dust and consequent inhalation.
The methodology and assumptions for this model have already been
published in other works to which the author refers. 
mention here only the refinements and changes with respect to the
model applied and already published, and in particular:
The calculation of the dose commitment of 70 years and not more
than 50 years, as recommended by ICRP
The available data are used to approximate population distribution
around the points of impact, which also considers the use of the
main DU weapons in relatively populated areas of Libya
The model results can be summarized as follows:
CEDE (collective effective dose equivalent): 370 mSvp
in 70 y, for 1 kg of DU oxidized and released into the
CEDE annual maximum in the first year (76 mSvp), followed by the
second year (47 mSvp) and third (33 mSvp)
The entire route of exposure is
by inhalation of dust. The target organ is the lung (97.5%
contribution to CEDE)
Among the most responsible nuclides, 83% of the CEDE is U238, and
14% by U234. As for the total amount of oxidized DU in the
environment, we start from the data for this assessment by the
international press: in the first day of the war, about 112 cruise
missiles impacted on Libyan soil.  How many missiles will be
fired before the end of the war? That is unknown, however we will do
an assessment considering about 1,000 missiles fired, and in any
case the values are linearly variable with the actual amount of
fired missiles, by means of a simple proportion
Given the length of the military operations, the wide variety of
suspect DU-bearing weapons, we consider this statement to be on the
If all the missiles were "without" DU, it would still have a
1000 * 3 = 3000 kilos = 3 tons of DU (best case)
If all the missiles were using DU we have an amount up to:
400,000 kilos = 400 tons of DU.
Compare these data with the 10-15 tons of DU fired in Kosovo in 1999
to assess their seriousness.
Assume that about 70% of DU burns and it is released into the
environment, thus arriving at an estimate of the amount of DU
dispersed oxides of about 2.1 tonnes (best case) and 280 tonnes
This therefore allows to estimate a
CEDE (collective dose) for the
entire population of:
Best case: 370 mSvp / kg * 2100 kg = 780 Svp
Worst case: 370 mSvp / kg * 280,000 kg = 104,000 Svp
We state once again that it is not entirely correct - though it is a
starting point of reference - to extrapolate the risk assessments
for exposure to this type of micro-radioactive dust from the ICRP
radiation protection standards, which are those adopted by the GEN
However, if we apply here the coefficient of 6% Sv-1 for the risk of
cancer, we get about:
Best case: about 50 cases of cancer, to be found in 70 years
Worst case: about 6200 cases of cancer, to be found in 70 years
The risks from exposure to depleted uranium of the population of
Libya due to the use of this material in the War of 2011 were
evaluated with an approach as broad as possible, trying to take into
account some recent results of studies in the field.
This type of exposure has not been studied in any previous situation
of exposure to alpha emitters in the lungs, found in the civil
However, the assessment made of the doses and the consequent risks
to both situations (Cruise "without uranium" or "uranium") allows us
to draw some conclusions.
In the first case (best case), the expected number of cancers is
very small and absolutely not relevant from the statistical point of
view. This statistical difficulty - as is just obvious point out -
has nothing to do with the acceptation of this practice, its moral
acceptance, or even less with an allegation of a minor impact or
even a safety of this practice.
In the second case (worst case), however, we are faced with a number
of tumors of some thousands. Such an amount could easily be
detected in epidemiological studies and such a number of casualties
is, no doubt about that, quite a concern.
It should be useful, therefore, that the armies that are bombing
Libya clarify with evidence, and not simple assertions of
convenience, the presence or absence, and in what quantities, of
uranium in their missiles and other weapons.
In the past, there were "official" denials of the presence of
uranium in Cruise missiles, but they were coming from the military
area: the author allows, at least, some caution in their flat
Based on available data, estimates on the trend of cancer cases in
the coming years in Libya as a result of this practice are
absolutely unjustified and constitute a concern.
about the relative impact of each of the carcinogenetic substances
used in a war (chemical, radioactive, etc.), seems - at a certain
level - of little significance. Also, the author puts this as a
final reflection, such a discussion shows little respect for the
fact that the civilian casualties in Libya that will be caused by
this attack will exceed by far any amount that may be defined as "a
fair price to pay."
Finally, it is important to collect data and research - and there
are many - in the field of the effects of "new wars" on population
We must show how modern weapons, not at
all surgical and intelligent, produce unacceptable damage to
population that have been subjected to the "humanitarian" wars since
 "Uranio impoverito nei Tomahawk
sulla Libia", Contropiano, 20 mars 2011; "Libia, uranio
impoverito nei missili Usa e Gb", Peace Reporter, 23 March 2011;
"Libia, l’uranio impoverito farà più danni dei raid aerei";
Linkiesta, 15 April 2011.
 "Air Force Spokeswoman claims that A-10s were not loaded
with DU ammunition, but does not rule out future use in the
conflict"; 4 April 2011.
 Zajic V.S., 1999. Review of radioactivity, military use and
health effects of DU; Liolos Th. E.(1999), "Assessing the risk
from the Depleted Uranium Weapons used in Operation Allied
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Bukowski, G., Lopez, D.A. and McGehee, F.M., (1993) "Uranium
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Department of Defense", March 1993, pp.166, published by Citizen
Alert and Rural Alliance for Military Accountability.
 Letter from Satu Hassi, Environment Minister of Finland, to
all his European counterparts, stating that the majority of the
1500 missiles launched against Serbia in 1995 had depleted
uranium, about 3 kilos each.
 Different statements about the presence of DU in Cruise
- "Known & suspected DU weapon systems" in "Depleted Uranium
- "The Use of Depleted Uranium (DU) Bullets and Bombs by NATO
Forces in Yugoslavia", Nadir.org, December 1996;
- "Alcune tesi e fatti sull’uranio impoverito, sul suo uso nei
Balcani, sulle conseguenze sulla salute di militari e
popolazione", Comitato Scienziate e Scienziati contro la guerra,
9 January 2001;
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International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons;
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(Interfax), "NATO using depleted uranium weapons", Sunday
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Dave Lindorff, Atlantic Free Press, 28 October 2009;
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Depleted Uranium", by Vladimir S. Zajic, 1999;
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Center, Progressive Review;
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Nichols, Online Journal, 3 August 2004;
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Pesic, Santa Clara University.
 While the US Navy claims that they have replaced the MK149-2
Phalanx round with a DU penetrator by the MK149-4 Phalanx round
with a tungsten penetrator (with the DU round remaining in the
inventory), new types of DU ammunition are being developed for
other weapons systems, such as the M919 rounds for Bradley
fighting vehicles. Depleted uranium is also placed into the tips
of the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAM) during test
flights to provide weight and stability. The TLAM missile has a
range of 680 nautical miles (1,260 km) and is able to carry a
conventional warhead of 1000 lb. (454 kg). Older warheads were
steel encased. In order to increase the missile range to 1,000
nautical miles (1,850 km), the latest Tomahawk cruise missiles
carry a lighter 700 lb. (318 kg) warhead WDU-36 developed in
1993, which is encased in titanium with a depleted uranium tip.
 - M. Zucchetti, "Measurements of Radioactive Contamination
in Kosovo Battlefields due to the use of Depleted Uranium
Weapons By Nato Forces’’, Proc. 20th Conf. of the Nuclear
Societies in Israel, Dead Sea (Israel), December 1999, p.282.
- M. Cristaldi, A. Di Fazio, C. Pona, A. Tarozzi, M. Zucchetti,
“Uranio impoverito (DU). Il suo uso nei Balcani, le sue
conseguenze sul territorio e la popolazione”, Giano, n.36
(Sept.-Dec. 2000), pp. 11-31.
- M. Zucchetti, “Caratterizzazione dell’Uranio impoverito e
pericolosità per inalazione”, Giano, n.36 (Sept.-Dec. 2000), pp.
- M. Cristaldi, P. Angeloni, F. Degrassi, F. Iannuzzelli, A.
Martocchia, L. Nencini, C. Pona, S. Salerno, M. Zucchetti,
“Conseguenze ambientali ed effetti patogeni dell’uso di Uranio
Impoverito nei dispositivi bellici”. Tribuna Biologica e Medica,
9 (1-2), Jan.-June 2001: 29-41.
- M. Zucchetti, “Military Use of Depleted Uranium: a Model for
Assessment of Atmospheric Pollution and Health Effects in the
Balkans”, 11th International Symposium on "Environmental
Pollution And Its Impact On Life In The Mediterranean Region",
MESAEP, Lymassol, Cyprus, October 2001, p.25.
- M. Zucchetti, “Some Facts On Depleted Uranium (DU), Its Use In
The Balkans And Its Effects On The Health Of Soldiers And
Civilian Population”, Proc. Int. Conf. NURT2001, Havana (Cuba),
October 2001, p.31.
- M. Zucchetti, M. Azzati, "Environmental Pollution and
Population Health Effects in the Quirra Area, Sardinia Island
(Italy)", 12th International Symposium on Environmental
Pollution and its Impact on Life in the Mediterranean Region,
Antalya (Turkey), October 2003, p. 190, ISBN 975-288-621-3.
- M. Zucchetti, R. Chiarelli, "Environmental Diffusion of DU.
Application of Models and Codes for Assessment of Atmospheric
Pollution and Health Effects", Convegno ‘Uranio Impoverito.
Stato delle Conoscenze e Prospettive di Ricerca’, Istituto
Superiore di Sanità (Roma) October 2004.
- R. Chiarelli, M. Zucchetti, "Effetti sanitari dell’uranio
impoverito in Iraq", Convegno ‘La Prevenzione Primaria dei
Tumori di Origine Professionale ed Ambientale’, Genova, November
- R. Chiarelli, M. Zucchetti, "Applicazione di modelli e codici
di dose alla popolazione alla dispersione ambientale di Uranio
impoverito", Convegno ‘La Prevenzione Primaria dei Tumori di
Origine Professionale ed Ambientale’, Genova, November 2004.
- M. Zucchetti, "Environmental Pollution and Population Health
Effects in the Quirra Area, Sardinia Island (Italy) and the
Depleted Uranium Case", J. Env. Prot. And Ecology 1, 7 (2006)
- M. Zucchetti, “Scenari di esposizione futura In Iraq :
convivere con l’uranio impoverito” in : M.Zucchetti (a cura di)
“Il male invisibile sempre più visibile”, Odradek, Roma, June
2005, pp. 81-98.
- M. Zucchetti, “Uranio impoverito. Con elementi di
radioprotezione ed utilizzo delle radiazioni ionizzanti”, CLUT,
Torino, February 2006. ISBN 88-7992-225-4.
- M. Zucchetti “Depleted Uranium”, European Parliament,
GiethoornTen Brink bv, Meppel (Holland), 2009. ISBN
 "Alcune tesi e fatti sull’uranio impoverito, sul suo uso nei
Balcani, sulle conseguenze sulla salute di militari e
popolazione", Comitato Scienziate e Scienziati contro la guerra,
9 Janvier 2001. op. cit.
 Cristaldi M. et al., "Conseguenze ambientali ed effetti
patogeni dell’uso di Uranio Impoverito nei dispositivi bellici",
Tribuna Biologica e Medica, 9 (1-2), January-June 2001: 29-41.
 It is a dispersion and dose code, developed in the USA and
used worldwide: B.A.Napier et al. (1990), GENII - The Hanford
Environmental Radiation Dosimetry Software System, PNL-6584,
Pacific Northwest Laboratories (USA). In this instance, it can
only be used to estimate the doses inhaled, due to the
specificities of the case under examination.