Depleted Uranium: Health Hazard

The Disarmament Commission at this year’s THIMUN Qatar conference is finding ways to regulate the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium. By looking at how we can safely handle ammunitions containing radioactive substances, in particular uranium, we can avoid fatal consequences.

According to The World Nuclear Association, depleted uranium is the by-product from uranium enrichment; a process in which uranium is enriched so that it can be utilized in nuclear weapons and reactors. The leftover (by-product) of this process is depleted uranium – which, due to density for its size, can be used in weapons as ammunition to penetrate armor plates as well as reinforcing military vehicles, making it impenetrable to bullets.

The Past Will Come to Haunt Us

Perhaps the most significant characteristic of depleted uranium is the health implication it has on humans. In a report by the World Health Organization, depleted uranium “has both chemical and radiological toxicity with the two important target organs being the kidneys and the lungs.” Apart from the kidney and lungs, depleted uranium also damages our immune system, cells, and brain and has proven to be cancerous due to its radioactive characteristics. It is in our best interest to find ways to safely regulate the use of anything containing depleted uranium, to prevent us from repeating what happened after the Gulf War in the 1990s.

After the Gulf War ended in 1991, there were numerous health concerns voiced by veterans and their families involved in the conflict. Those affected by the war are easily exposed, through various means including inhalation and ingestion, to depleted uranium, which become embedded in their muscle and tissue. However, the long-term health implications can only be felt now 20 years after the war, and unfortunately the most vulnerable groups of society are unjustly affected: newborns and youth.

Long Term Implications

There have been growing speculations over research findings on the rise of birth defects in Iraq. In 2013, the Iraqi Ministry of Health researchers confirmed to BBC News that there is evidence to support findings that birth defects are higher in areas experiencing heavy fighting. There have also been reports on babies being born with multiple heads, a single eyeball and other unfortunate deformations. Leukemia and other cancer cases amongst Iraqi youth living in war affected regions is also becoming more prevalent.

Will the 2014 THIMUN Qatar delegates pass a resolution to safely regulate — or better yet completely wipe out — depleted uranium used for military and non-military purposes? The Gulf War taught us that more often than not, the civilians suffer most from the callous actions of mankind. Let us not repeat history.

Written By: Afif Haitsam
Photo By: Yasmin Majali