The Columbus Dispatch


U.S. military's use of depleted uranium in 3 wars criticized

By Suzanne Hoholik
Sunday, September 26, 2004
The Columbus Dispatch

The protective suit he wore when he handled depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War wasn't enough, said retired U.S. Army Maj. Doug Rokke.

He has cataracts, takes two medications a day for respiratory problems and uses a salve on the rashes that cover his body.

As former director of the Army's depleted-uranium project, it was his job to clean up destroyed tanks clad in the dangerous metal and ship the scraps back to the United States for full decontamination.

The military uses depleted uranium as armor on tanks to protect the troops inside. Depleted uranium is also used in armor-piercing ammunition.

It was used during the Gulf War, in the Balkans and in the current war with Iraq. Rokke said what's not cleaned up contaminates the air, water and soil in those countries.

"It's America's dirty bomb,'' said Rokke, who was one of the speakers yesterday at a conference at Columbus State Community College called "Red Alert: Nuclear Dollars vs. The Common Good.''

About 30 people attended the conference.

Rokke blames the radioactive metal for various cancers and respiratory problems, as well as the deaths of Gulf War veterans and deformities among their children.

"There's no way they're going to give this up,'' he said. "It's absolutely effective.''

Not everyone agrees that its use is so dangerous.

Contacted at his home near Los Angeles, Robert G. Williscroft, a former Navy submarine officer who specialized in nuclear weapons, said uranium is abundant in the Earth's crust and is not harmful to soldiers or their families.

"He's absolutely lying through his teeth when he says it will hurt children, cause cancers and deformities,'' Williscroft said. "That's total malarkey. It's not dangerous and no credible scientist would admit to it.

"There simply isn't any evidence anywhere going on 80 years.''

Some studies have suggested a connection. In 2002, the Royal Society, Britain's academy of scientists, reported that troops who served in the Persian Gulf and Balkans could suffer kidney damage from the depleted-uranium munitions that were used if they swallowed or inhaled enough of the dust.

Bonnie Awan, of Columbus, organized yesterday's conference. She said the world is "getting smaller'' and the public needs to care about the issue.

"Is it an effective weapon when you kill innocent civilians and your own soldiers?'' she asked.

Jack Byrum, a science teacher at Independence High School, attended the conference.

"I was shocked,'' he said of Rokke's talk. "I had no idea to what extent it's being used.''

Rokke said the problem isn't just half a world away, but here in the United States. He said the danger exists at a weapons plant in Indiana and a former weapons plant in Piketon.

"We're building them, we're testing them right here,'' he said. "People are sick building these.''

Williscroft said workers could be sick for other reasons.

"There simply isn't a shred of evidence that it causes any harm at all,'' he said. "Any heavy metal you get in your system causes problems. They're all toxic. But lead is more toxic than depleted uranium.''