Magazine article New Internationalist

Asaf Durakovic: A Respected Scientist Fighting on Behalf of American Gulf War Veterans [Exposed to Radioactive Depleted Uranium]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Asaf Durakovic: A Respected Scientist Fighting on Behalf of American Gulf War Veterans [Exposed to Radioactive Depleted Uranium]

Article excerpt

PROFESSOR ASAF DURAKOVIC snaps to his feet as I enter the room. He towers grey-haired with the permanent tan of a fit, outdoor enthusiast and has the military bearing and formal courtesy of another age. When he speaks it's with the confidence of an experienced scientist, which is what he is--a world-renowned expert on radiation and nuclear medicine. He is currently Clinical Professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington. And he has written more than a hundred books and academic papers on all aspects of radiation.

But it's not his academic work Dr Durakovic wants to talk about. No, he has some-thing more pressing on his mind and he is visibly angry.

He tells me he has patients who are dying from the effects of radioactive depleted uranium (DU) to which they were exposed in the 1990 Gulf War. He is angry that US troops and their allies were unaware of the potentially deadly fallout--from their own weapons. And he is outraged that the entire population of the Middle East was put at risk. But more than that, he is furious at the lack of response from President Clinton to his demands that the health concerns of Gulf War veterans be investigated--and alarmed that depleted uranium weapons are still being tested in Scotland and throughout the US.

The Gulf War was a testing ground for new weapons systems, including the use of depleted uranium. This waste from the nuclear industry has replaced titanium as the hard armour-piercing plating for missiles, shells and bullets. For arms manufacturers it has the great advantage of being cheap--since the nuclear industry needs to dispose of it anyway. On impact an exploding weapon leaves a plume of radioactive dust to travel where the wind blows. The dust (which remains radioactive for 4,500 million years) is inhaled and absorbed into the gastro-intestinal tract. It also penetrates the soil and eventually passes into vegetables, fruits, plants and livestock.

Dr Durakovic served as Chief of Professional Clinical Services of the 531 Medical Detachment during the Desert Shield phase of the Gulf War. Yet at the time he knew nothing of the DU-coated US weapons. Later, 24 soldiers were referred to him for examination. "They had been based in Saudi Arabia from January to August 1991, working with damaged tanks hit by DU armour-piercing shells from "friendly fire". Soldiers trained in these tanks, lived near them, ate lunch in them and cooled themselves in them.'

In March of that same year a Battle Damage Assessment Team arrived from Washington. 'They were suited up in full radio-protective clothing,' Durakovic recalls. 'The tanks were so contaminated they were painted with the atomic symbol and removed from human contact.'

After tests Dr Durakovic found decay products of DU in 14 of the 24 patients. 'I only discovered indirectly in September 1991 that depleted uranium had been used on the battlefield. I was horrified. …

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