Jan./Feb. 2008 issuse of Watershed Sentinel
The Watershed Sentinel is a bi-monthly magazine from the West Coast of British Columbia offering a unique mix of bioregional and global perspectives on environmental topics. The magazine focuses on society's effects on the land, water, and air and on the solutions, large and small, that will eventually result in sustainability.
by G. Turnbull
Saturday morning, April 15, 2006, I was listening to a favourite radio station, Malaspina College radio CHLY-FM, from Nanaimo. They were interviewing Leuren Moret, a geophysicist from Berkeley CA, who had worked at US nuclear labs.
She went on for 40 minutes about the horrors of depleted uranium (DU) in
munitions, which releases radiation into the atmosphere and its medical
effects on, for instance, the first Gulf War veterans, where it was first used
in quantity. Over 500,000 out of 700,000 vets are now on disability for
something called “Gulf War Syndrome,” a ‘disease’ with many symptoms
identical to radiation sickness. Or the test range off Vieques, Puerto Rica,
where the residents are suing the US Navy for all the cancer, etc. That test
range was finally moved to Rockhampton, Australia, where birth defects are
starting to show up. Part way through the interview, she said, “The US navy
used to test fire these munitions in Puget Sound until the local residents
complained. They then moved north across the border to Nanoose Bay and now
test in Canadian waters!”
I had just been told I was 30 miles downwind of a nuclear test zone!
I went into a bit of an anxiety attack with all the attendant brain chemicals associated with “fight or flight,” where the risk is usually assessed fairly quickly. But the risk assessment of when and how much DU was only partially answered 11 days later, (and for that period some friends thought I was a bit off.) I was certainly running on adrenalin.
I started on the internet where googling ‘du Nanoose Bay’ brought up 16 sites but nothing conclusive. (There are now more than ten times the sites!) Googling ‘du’ confirmed the horrors of its use, the quantities used in the first Gulf War, the Bosnian carpet bombing (where Rumanian and Bulgarian atmospheric testing detected dirty radioactive isotopes found only in spent nuclear fuel rods, what’s called RU), the Afghanistan and Tora Bora bombings, and the second Gulf War, where the US admits to using 2.5 million kg.
And its definition: when uranium is ‘enriched,’ what is left of the
original uranium is ‘depleted’ to 70% of its original radioactivity. There
is a lot more of the depleted stuff than the enriched stuff, and its storage
had always been a problem.
Yes, it is an excellent armour piercing weapon, but what is rarely mentioned is DU’s pyrophoric qualities. As a metal, it ignites and burns like magnesium at an intense 2-to-3000OC. Water does not put it out. It ignites at only 170OC, meaning it’s on fire as it comes out of the barrel of the gun, or, if used as a bomb, it ignites on impact, burning, vapourizing almost entirely, and condensing to tiny, hollow spheres with a density less than water that then float on the wind and water, and are just the right size to lodge in lungs. Essentially that 70% radiation is released to the atmosphere just as an atomic bomb releases its radiation to the atmosphere but in smaller doses.
DU tips, coats, and is solid in munitions from handgun caliber to 5000 pound bombs. Considering the quantities used (conservatively 3 million kg.), those small doses apparently add up to the radiation released by 400,000 Nagasaki A-bombs (500,000 by another source). I don’t know how to judge those numbers. There are 67 million kg. DU munitions ‘prepositioned’ in South Korea on three US bases!
The DU storage problem was solved and in fact DU is given free to the
I started noticing clicking on my line.
I still didn’t know my risk from exposure and it seemed the only
definitive way would be to scientifically measure the radiation in the
environment around me. Not knowing how best to test for this I called the
Provincial Public Health Officer on the morning of April 25. She was not
interested, couldn’t help me and put me on to the Ministry of the
Environment where a bureaucrat was interested, suggesting looking at disease
statistics, but couldn’t help me on how to measure radiation. He put me on
to the Ministry of Health Radiation Protection Branch, adding, “though they
might have shut it down.” (Slight rise in anxiety: “they?”)
Wednesday April 26th, I was talking to an unnamed source who used to be in the Canadian military and who was on board a Canadian naval ship when not only was the US navy test firing DU munitions in Whiskey Gulf but so was the Canadian navy and at least three other NATO navies, not only the Phalanx but every gun! This was in the late l980s, early l990, prior to their use in the l99l Gulf War. This source could face military justice for divulging this and therefore insists on anonymity. This information has since been confirmed by another ex-military person.
Finally, some sense of time and quantity though I don’t know about prior
to this period (the Phalanx was being installed at this time). From then to
now is also vague though the Phalanx has to be test fired twice a month to
maintain correct calibration, 400-700 rounds each time. Presumably Canadian
and US warships in these waters with this gun are test firing them still.
Given this information my local MP did nothing more than open a file.
I am not a political animal and, feeling against a wall, I came back to my original concern about my health and started researching uranium detoxification. DU in the body acts as a toxin like other heavy metals such as mercury and lead, plus it is radioactive, doing DNA damage wherever it is. DU stays in the body much longer than other forms of uranium, according to H.D.Sharma.
Detox research consistently referred to the Japanese experience after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The people that were irradiated but lived had a particular diet – miso, shitake and kombu [kelp]. The miso and shitake boosted health while the kelp detoxed. After Chernobyl, the Russians did a lot of research using this knowledge to test various algae and seaweeds, finally fixing on the brown kelp laminaria japonica and making a 40:1 extract that is sold in the US under the trade name Modifilan and in Canada as brown seaweed extract. I’ve been through the six month detox and feel much better.
After following the news of the CFB Gagetown NB Agent Orange class action
suit and noting the similarities to Whiskey Gulf, I contacted the law firm
about a possible suit here. After some correspondence, the prinicpal of the
firm, Tony Merchant, agreed to pursue the action, stating that he thinks the
case “ought to move forward.” He will need more input than just mine.
My interest in a litigious, rather than a political approach, is first to
publicize this criminal activity and then possibly to seek justice. Feeling
relatively fit for 60, I probably do not qualify for compensation, but some of