Iraq's depleted uranium clean-up to cost $30m as contamination spreads

06/03/2013 22:09

Report says toxic waste is being spread by scrap metal dealers, and describes its 'alarming' use in civilian areas during Iraq wars

A US soldier with depleted uranium-tipped shells during the second Iraq war. Photograph: John Moore/AP

Cleaning up more than 300 sites in Iraq still contaminated by depleted uranium (DU) weapons will cost at least $30m, according to a report by a Dutch peace group to be published on Thursday.

The report, which was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warns that the contamination is being spread by poorly regulated scrap metal dealers, including children. It also documents evidence that DU munitions were fired at light vehicles, buildings and other civilian infrastructure including the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in Baghdad – casting doubt on official assurances that only armoured vehicles were targeted. "The use of DU in populated areas is alarming," it says, adding that many more contaminated sites are likely to be discovered.

More than 400 tonnes of DU ammunition are estimated to have been fired by jets and tanks in the two Iraq wars in 1991 and 2003, the vast majority by US forces. The UK government says that British forces fired less than three tonnes.

DU is a chemically toxic and radioactive heavy metal produced as waste by the nuclear power industry. It is used in weapons because it is an extremely hard material capable of piercing armour.

However, it can contaminate the environment, and has been linked to health problems in civilian populations. Iraqi doctors have reported increases in cancers, and an alleged rise in birth defects is under investigation by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

The health effects are disputed by the US and UK governments, who joined with France and Israel to vote against a resolution calling for "a precautionary approach" to the use of DU weapons at the United Nations general assembly in December; 155 countries voted in favour of the resolution.

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