President Obama’s undeclared and congressionally unauthorized war against Libya may be compounded by the crime of spreading toxic uranium oxide in populated areas of that country. Concern is being voiced by groups such as the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, which monitors the military use of so-called depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank and bunker-penetrating shells.
As of late March, the US has not introduced its A-10 Thunderbolts, known also as Warthogs, into the Libyan campaign, probably because these sub-sonic, straight-wing craft, while heavily armored, are vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Libyan forces are known to possess in large numbers. Once the air-control situation is improved by continued bombardment, however, these specialized ground-attack aircraft will probably be added to the attacking forces. The A-10 has a particularly large automatic cannon, which fires an unusually large 30 mm shell. These shells are often fitted with solid uranium projectiles.
A-10s were heavily used in the Balkan conflict, and Kosovo officials were dismayed to learn that some 11 tons of uranium weapons were fired there, leaving dangerous uranium dust fallout in their wake.
The US military is fond of DU weapons because the material, made from uranium from which the fissionable U-235 has been removed, is extremely heavy and, in alloy form, also extremely hard. Because of its mass, such projectiles can penetrate even the heaviest armor. Then, in the heat caused by the collision with an object, the uranium bursts into flame at extreme heat, causing an explosive (and toxic) inferno inside a tank or other vehicle. Soldiers inside a target vehicle are incinerated. The problem is that the resulting uranium oxide produced by such explosions, besides being highly toxic, is also a microscopic alpha-emitter, which if inhaled or ingested by human beings is extremely carcinogenic and mutagenic.
“Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya with Depleted Uranium as They ‘Protect’ Civilians?”, Dave Lindorff, This Can’t Be Happening, March 23, 2011. http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/530
Student Researcher: Nathasha Terry-Ulett, Florida Atlantic University
Faculty Advisor: James Tracy, Florida Atlantic University