Operation Enduring Uranium
June 29, 2003 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Bizarre results showing elevated levels of NON-depleted uranium in Afghan civilians who showed symptoms of uranium poisoning following Operation Enduring Freedom. "Uranium levels found in the Afghan civilians’ urine are 4-20 times higher than those of a control group and the isotopic signature is that of Non-Depleted Uranium. The only explanations of this finding are either anomalous geological and agricultural conditions (fertilizers) or the presence of uranium extracted from the front-end of the fuel or weapons production cycles. [...] There are no geological, commercial and agricultural phenomena or activities and uses in the environs of the contaminated populations that might explain the contamination." This is very odd. [via wrh; these preliminary results are unpublished but UMRC’s Gulf War Veterans’ studies are in peer-reviewed journals]
posted by Bletch (13 comments total)
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on June 29, 2003

So, given that they're poisoned with fissionable isotopes of uranium, what on earth were we using in Afghanistan? There's no way it could have anything to do with this sort of thing, right?
posted by Bletch at 4:52 PM on June 29, 2003


Maybe this is part of a giant freakish plan to harvest uranium from people in a wierd matrix-like way for the building of our bombs.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:40 PM on June 29, 2003

There is, however, a military activity in the environs that might explain the contamination. And you might be surprised to learn which military.
posted by darukaru at 7:09 PM on June 29, 2003

Baluchistan is not really in the environs, is it, darukaru?
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2003

That was an underground test, IIRC. Bletch, I was trying to understand the difference between non-depleted uranium, and good ol' vanilla uranium, but got a sore head.
posted by carter at 8:50 PM on June 29, 2003

Who is the UMRC? What are their credentials? And, following the money, who underwrites their efforts?

Also, considering that "4 to 20 times" may or may not be a significant amount, who was the control group?

IOW, is this a valid study? Or, a vehicle for propaganda?
posted by mischief at 9:53 PM on June 29, 2003

The reasonable assumption at this point is propaganda, for any number of reasons. The study is not peer reviewed - it's entirely possible that the review will end up saying "this study is crap." They don't provide even the most basic information about their study - specifically sample size, the difference between their control and experimental groups, and whether the observed uranium levels in the subjects are consistent with the reported medical effects. Then there's the whole "Non-Depleted Uranium" nonsense. A quick Google check showed that they're the only ones who use that term, the rest of the world preferring the less ominous-sounding but equally accurate "naturally occuring uranium." More importantly, the US does not use naturally occuring uranium in weapons. DU is vastly cheaper than the natural stuff, and we've got huge quantities of it lying around.

It's also (very!) suspicious that this study was being talked about back in January and it's still not out of peer review yet.
posted by jaek at 1:08 AM on June 30, 2003

don't we use depleted uranium for tank shell cores? denser than a lot of things..
posted by shadow45 at 4:35 AM on June 30, 2003

It could be coming from paint, ceramic glazes, or glass.

Of course, one has to ask what the Russians were doing back in the day.

And then there's always this.
posted by Cerebus at 6:13 AM on June 30, 2003

We do use depleted uranium. But that's not what they found.

Naturally occuring uranium is about 99.3% U-238 and 0.7% U-235. Think of it as orange juice. Nuclear power reactors require uranium that is around 4% U-235. Think of it as extra-pulpy orange juice. Nuclear bombs require >90% U-235. It's practically pure pulp. Given the relative concentrations, if one was to produce that much enhanced-pulp orange juice, you're going to be left with enough pulp-free orange juice to fill swimming pools with. And the US is - 750,000 tons at last count.

It's easy to measure the isotope ratios of a sample of uranium, so there's little doubt that the ratios were in line for naturally occuring uranium. And given the way that uranium is used, if it's not depleted it didn't come from a US weapon, and probably not a Russian one either.
posted by jaek at 12:34 PM on June 30, 2003

I'll bank on pollution from Russian (and later Afghani) uranium mining.

As a second runner-up, I'll put my money on uranium-containing paints.
posted by Cerebus at 12:46 PM on June 30, 2003

The answer to mischief's question: the mainstay of the UMRC's funding comes from Susan Riordon, the widow of a Canadian Gulf War veteran who died of causes believed to be related to Depleted Uranium. Sincerity aside, this must be considered a biased source; add to that the peer review issues and the use of bespoke terminology such as non-depleted uranium, and you have a somewhat less than authoritative source.

Other reasons for greater contamination, type of uranium aside, include testing much closer to the time of presumed exposure. It's also unclear why the contamination is so similar across all sites, presumably covering different areas of Afghanistan, different weather and water patterns, and so forth. Even similar weaponry would likely have much more variation in apparent exposure than the purported "100%". Finally, though exposure is given in relational terms to a normal population (e.g. 20X) there is no information given to compare this to human risk studies. Radiation exposure varies widely and some people in naturally-occurring mineral areas receive much higher exposure than the norm. Twenty times almost nothing isn't necessarily something.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 PM on July 1, 2003

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