War and the environment:The disturbing and under-researched legacy of depleted uranium weapons | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

War and the environment:The disturbing and under-researched legacy of depleted uranium weapons

While on a research trip to the Iraqi city of Basra in 1996, environmental engineer Souad Al-Azzawi encountered a mother taking care of three young children, all of them sick and unable to move on their own. With no idea why her children were ill, the mother hoped Al-Azzawi had come to help her family. Unfortunately, there was little Al-Azzawi—or anyone else—could do.

As the director of the doctoral program in environmental engineering at the University of Baghdad, Al-Azzawi had been researching radioactive contamination in Basra for years. She would go on to publish studies showing that cases of leukemia in children in Basra increased by 60 percent between 1990 and 1997, and that the number of children born with severe birth defects increased by a factor of three.

Al-Azzawi’s research points to depleted uranium as the culprit. Depleted uranium is a by-product of the enrichment of natural uranium, a process used to create fuel rods for nuclear power plants. Due to its incredible density, the United States and United Kingdom have used depleted uranium for tank armor and ammunition during military combat since the early 1990s, during the First Gulf War. While not as radioactive as natural uranium, the metal nevertheless poses a threat.

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