Letter: Uranium weapons

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The Independent Culture
Sir: It is Richard Bramhall who has not kept up to date with depleted uranium (DU) munitions (letter, 25 November).

No one is disputing that DU is an alpha emitter and that an alpha particle lodged in the lungs can irradiate the surrounding tissue. But consider: several workers in the US nuclear weapons programme suffered considerable exposures to plutonium, especially in the early days, and the plutonium entered their bodies through various pathways, including inhalation. Yet many of these workers are now healthy 70-year-olds despite the fact that they have carried plutonium particles around inside them for 40 years or more and that plutonium 239 is roughly 200,000 times more radioactive than depleted uranium.

Richard Bramhall also overstates the effects of the mobility of DU particles. Whilst it is true that DU oxides may be carried downwind for long distances, Dan Fahey, whose work with US Gulf war veterans was instrumental in pressuring the Pentagon to undertake their own DU study has recently written that "most of the oxides settle out within 50 metres of an impacted vehicle, and the remainder that are carried downwind would likely be dispersed into concentrations that pose little health risk".