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German Magazine: Depleted Uranium widespread and deadly

[posted 1-29-2001]


‘Don’t Worry, It’s Safe’ Department
Being Washington's instructions for handling urine samples from soldiers exposed to Depleted Uranium in Somalia, as reported in Der Spiegel

  • Every urine sample must be "sealed in an absolutely solid, one-liter, sealed container."
  • This customer must be placed in a second, "similarly watertight container," containing "sufficient absorbent material to suck up the entire urine sample were it nevertheless to leak."
  • The second container must be placed in a "heavy duty cardboard box" swathed in warning labels proclaiming: "Biohazard!"
    [From text below]


DU Used in Somalia and Germany
'Der Spiegel', 1-23-2001
Trans. by Max Sinclair, with Jared Israel and Peter Maher

[For more articles on Depleted Uranium see Further Reading at end of text]

Knowledge about deadly poisonous weapons lies hidden in the Internet. On the twentieth of January 2000, the US Energy Minster revealed in a written response to Tara Thornton, of the environmental group "Military Toxins Project" that "One would have to assume depleted uranium includes traces of plutonium."

The usual argument that the depleted uranium munitions used by the US army are harmless has been set aside by the Energy Department: "The biggest health concerns are about the uranium itself, not about the traces of plutonium." The U.S. military’s Radiobiological Scientific Institute is even clearer: "A thorough study shows overwhelming evidence that the risks of cancer are increased through DU."

These documents are on the Internet. They would have driven Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping’s experts into a rage, had they but known of their existence, but until recently hardly anyone in the Defense Ministry had an Internet connection.

The information coming in from the Internet is alarming. When a DU projectile hits a target not only is poisonous, weakly radiating uranium oxide released. Now, for the first time, we are aware that it is mixed with plutonium particles, which means almost certain death when they are introduced into the human body through the lungs or open wounds.

The extremely poisonous pollution results from the fact that the Americans get the depleted uranium for their weapons from the reprocessing of reactor fuel contaminated with plutonium, which radiates 57,000 times more strongly than DU, destroying the body.

Just how dangerous the US military considers its DU weapons is revealed by the warnings it has issued for handling victims of contamination. Examining the huge collection of files and electronic data stored at his Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS), the arms critic Otfried Nassauer discovered the fact that uranium munitions were used in Somalia, East Africa, a fact that was unknown until now.

In a telex sent to US troops in Mogadishu in October 1993, Washington warned U.S. medics that they might encounter soldiers "who had had unusually high levels of contact with depleted uranium." The stuff had to be poisonous; otherwise why the warning?

In their instructions, the military stated that with "normal handling" of DU munitions "no medical problems are to be expected." Nor were problems to be expected from "unusual contact."

But the instructions expose this as a cover-up, for they go on to say that special treatment should be given to all soldiers who "inhaled DU dust, whose wounds were contaminated with DU dust or particles," "who had been near the smoke" coming from burning vehicles and depots in which DU ammunition was stored, or who worked "in an environment contaminated by DU dust or by the aftermath of a DU fire." Also everyone who entered a "building or vehicle that was hit with a DU shell."

Extensive tests and urine samples were to be arranged for such soldiers. The packing instructions for these urine samples are almost funny, given that DU supposedly poses no threat:


  • Every urine sample was to be "sealed in an absolutely solid, 1 liter, sealed container".
  • This was to be placed in a second, "similarly watertight container," in which there was to be "sufficient absorbent material to suck up the entire urine sample were it nevertheless to leak."
  • This package was to be placed in a "heavy duty cardboard box" swathed in warning labels proclaiming: "Biohazard!"

While Washington warned its own soldiers about these health risks they didn’t bother to inform UN personnel about the dangers, not to mention other peacekeepers let alone the native population.

General A. D. Helmut Harff, at that time assigned to Somalia and later Commander of the German forces in Kosovo, insists that "no word came to us [about DU], neither from the Americans nor from the Homeland."

Also before and during the invasion of Kosovo, uranium was "never a topic among Commanders."

His assertion casts doubt on a note dated 14th of June 1999, which [Defense Minister] Scharping now proudly displays as evidence that the [German] troops were always kept "fully informed." On page 3 of a 17 page Order of the Day, this note devotes all of six lines to the "possible dangers" of Du ammunition. This is squeezed between paragraphs concerning the prioritization of daily reports and defective coffee machines.

Meanwhile, Scharping complained bitterly about U.S. information policy and called the U.S. envoy in, for talks. The envoy appeared supportive, but an assistant Minister summarized: "The Americans don’t give a damn." Meaning they believed the hysteria in Germany would soon die down.

While the Defense Minister can blame the bigger power for Somalia, there’s another problem that is probably going to give him a lot of difficulty.

Last week, ‘Der Spiegel’ published a report concerning 149 incidents involving DU during the period from 1989 to the beginning of 2000. The German Defense Ministry is aware of all these incidents; our [i.e., 'Der Spigel's'] report was based on a confidential Ministry record, which had two handwritten notes on the cover:

One of the notes, to Assistant Minister Dr. Wichert, definitely deserves praise: "This project was a challenge and we carried it out in what one would hope was the shortest possible time."

The reason for this haste could have been a PDS-organized [the PDS is the successor to the East German Communist Party] parliamentary inquiry. Perhaps there was a special reason for rushing, as well. On March 20, 2000, the Army high command announced that three soldiers were suffering from high blood counts that "could very possibly be due to radioactivity."

The reply on the cover [written by Dr. Wichert, apparently] is even more explosive: "This was most necessary! Many thanks. The Luftwaffe also shoots this stuff!" Didn’t this highest ranking Defense Ministry bureaucrat know what the troops do? Or perhaps he knew more about it than his own Minister?

The previous week, Scharping had publicly assured Parliament and the Public that the German Army never possessed DU munitions.

The poisonous stuff has undoubtedly been exploded on German soil. At the end of the week the Munitions Company Rheinmetall admitted they tested DU ammunition in lower Saxony in the beginning of the 1970s. A Göttinger Professor reported to "Der Spiegel’ that Rheinmetall "had offered in 1972-1973 to let him observe test firing of different projectiles that had been manufactured by the company from depleted uranium." In the Upper Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen the munitions company MBB tested DU ammunition for 17 years, until 1996.

On Friday, Scharping received from the headquarters of the US Army in Germany a promise to follow up on 9 incidents between 1981 and 1990 in which the insidious DU ammunition could have been used: Tanks with DU shells were burned up in bases or training areas, DU ammunition was fired.

But the list of these incidents was not so new. It has been languishing since August 1996 in the Ministry of Defense in Bonn.


Further reading on DU:


* ''Allies 'told in 1991 of uranium cancer risks''' by Felicity Arbuthnot, at

* 'Allies Deliberately Poisoned Iraq Public Water Supply in Gulf War,' by Felicity Arbuthnot at


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