ECRR Uranium report 2010
This is a comprehensive review of the literature on health effects of Uranium, with particular emphasis on Weapons Derived Uranium (WDU). It has been excerpted and published separately from the Committee’s forthcoming 2010 Recommendations, in which it will appear as Chapter 12.
The element Uranium is the parent of almost all releases of radioactivity to the environment yet, curiously, it was quite neglected as a hazardous component of those releases until it began to be employed as a weapon. It is not routinely measured with any great rigour – it is treated as if it were natural, although its form as a Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) and the levels at which it is concentrated near nuclear power stations and reprocessing sites are quite unnatural.
Intense and growing interest in the health of soldiers and civilian populations exposed to so-called Depleted Uranium (DU) has produced evidence from theory, from laboratory studies and from epidemiology showing far greater genotoxicity than was officially believed. Despite this evidence of its anomalous propensity for harm, the use of Uranium as a weapon of war continues to be sanctioned by reference to the risk model of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). A 400 page report published by UNSCEAR in 2008 devoted a mere eleven lines on just one page to considering and denying DU effects. The UNSCEAR position was based on three cited desktop reviews – the RAND corporation 1999 report, the US Institute of Medicine 2001 report and the Royal Society report, also of 2001. None of these reports was peer-reviewed, and the RAND corporation is believed to be closely associated with the US Pentagon. All were selective in their references. All were out of date. None of them could deal with respirable nanoparticles of Uranium from weapons fallout, since no-one had studied it. Yet all three (and also countless reports from agencies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) employed the ICRP model to show that the doses were too low to be of concern.
It is interesting that the military and the nuclear industry internally take Uranium exposure very seriously as far as handling the material is concerned. Spills, even small ones, have to be dealt with all the rigour associated with contamination by radioactive material. Internal military publications warn of potential health effects. However, in all official reports and denials, Uranium suddenly becomes benign as soon as it has been fired from a gun and has contaminated the theatre of war.
The effects of exposure to Uranium are not, of course, restricted to WDU.
The Committee believes that this is an important issue and accordingly publishes its report as a freely downloadable PDF. (180Kb)