Depleted Uranium: Here, There and Everywhere

Major Doug Rokke interviewed by Dennis Bernstein

May 2003
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While ECOTECTURE mostly reports on topics to do with improving the environment by designing better human systems, leaving environmental conservation to others, we occasionally come across a conservation topic that is under reported and far too significant to be ignored. We felt compelled to present this radio interview on the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Iraq and elsewhere to our readers. After all, it is hard to create a sustainable environment in a radioactive waste zone.

The interview with DU expert US Army Major Doug Rokke was conducted by Dennis Bernstein, the producer of the program Flash Points on KPFA (Pacifica) radio in Berkeley, California, and broadcast on April 17, 2003. I heard it while driving my car, and was so upset that I had to pull over. I had heard of DU munitions, of course, but I thought they were used occasionally to attack tanks and had no idea of how widespread, deadly and permanent their damage was. ECOTECTURE obtained the tapes of the interview and republishes it with Mr. Bernstein's permission.

In a follow up interview to be published soon in ECOTECTURE, Major Rokke told Bernstein, "I do believe you're the first station to break this extremely world-critical story." ECOTECTURE is the first Journal to publish it, but we hope it will not be the last. We encourage our readers to copy and disseminate this material for any non-commercial use that will help expose the health effects of DU before any more people are exposed to it.




BERNSTEIN: Depleted uranium is now a key aspect of the US military's forward fighting capacity. It's currently being used in bunker-buster bombs and anti-tank penetrator missiles. The Pentagon swears by its effectiveness and is again using it widely in the current deadly attack on Iraq. While the US military sings its praises on the battlefield, it says little about the short- and long-term dangers of DU both to the troops that use it, and to the civilian populations who are subjected to it. While the Pentagon is busy covering up the danger of DU, Army Reserve Major Doug Rokke is blowing the whistle on its dangers.

Major Rokke in fact considers it his patriotic duty to tell the world about the dangers this radioactive material poses to his fellow soldiers and to the public at large. Flashpoints spoke with Doug Rokke about the toxic nature of DU and the military's ongoing coverup regarding the thousands of vets who may now be sick due to exposure to it. We began by asking Rokke to talk a little bit about his own military background and his expertise on DU.

ROKKE: I enlisted in the military in 1967 and spent my first few years in Vietnam as a bomb nab hardhat, especially with avionics and also involved with nuclear weapons and regular conventional munitions during combat missions over Vietnam. In 1980, I went back into the army as a combat medic and spent three years as a combat medic in a line infantry unit, and went on from there to become a medical instructor and also with expertise in nuclear and biological and chemical warfare as one of their instructors. In 1986 I received a direct mission as a nuclear medical sciences officer, some 19 years after I had initially enlisted in the military. At the time most people are retiring, I started all over at the bottom of the ladder as an officer again. tasking was to identify what are the true health and environmental effects of uranium munitions on the battlefield...


In 1990 I went to the Gulf War as a theater health physicist and was assigned the Bowers Raiders as an additional duty. Bowers Raiders was the third US army medical command's nuclear, biological and chemical warfare special operations and teaching team. With the completion of the ground war, I was reassigned by direct order from central command, that's General Norman G. Schwarzkopf, to clean up the depleted uranium mess that was caused by the deliberate use of uranium munitions by US and British forces during Gulf War I. After we finished that job—it took us 3 months to clean up 24 vehicles—we went back to the United States in June of 1991 and continued to write reports and trying to get everything done.

In 1992, while I was working for the US Army at their construction, engineering and research lab, trying to ensure that they did come under compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act which they were in violation of, I got involved in the preparation of the US Army Environmental Policy Institute's report on depleted uranium. In 1994-95 I was recalled to active duty as the depleted uranium project director for the US Army and the Department of Defense, which then blossomed into a NATO project. As part of that responsibility, my tasking was to identify what are the true health and environmental effects of uranium munitions on the battlefield, how do you clean it up on the battlefield. Another phase of this was to develop all the training and education materials that all soldiers and military personnel would receive to make it safe or to respond to the use of uranium munitions in combat.

BERNSTEIN: Well, that gives us a sense of how much you know about depleted uranium. Are you still in the military?

ROKKE: Absolutely. I'm still an Army Medical Services Corps officer and now, I guess it's the year 2003 — I can't even add and subtract anymore, that's well over 30 years since I initially enlisted in the military.

BERNSTEIN: First of all, Doug Rokke, remind people what depleted uranium is used for by the US military.

ROKKE: The United States military uses depleted uranium munitions to kill and destroy everything in its path. The uranium munitions are a high velocity, kinetic energy penetrator. Each individual tank round that's fired by the Abrams tank is over 10 lbs. of solid uranium-238. We know from the US Department of Energy reports and also from the US Army Environmental Policy Institute report that it's also contaminated with plutonium, neptunium and americium and submitted cases. The uranium munition that's fired by the A10 warthog aircraft is approximately 3/4 of a pound for each individual round, and the A10 can fire it at a rate of up to 4,000 rounds a minute. That's a ton and a half of solid uranium fired into a target per minute. The uranium munitions were also contained in a lot of the bunker-buster bombs and also sub-munitions, land mines such as the Atum and the Pedum (?). We also have it in a 25 mm round that is fired by the Bradley fighting vehicle and also by the US Marine Corps' lab. In addition to that we have a 20 mm round that's fired by the Navy and that's the Phalanx Naval system. Because uranium munitions are absolutely effective in combat, they are an absolute killer and destroyer, the military has put them into almost every munition they can find and think of. It's extremely effective. It kills and destroys everything that it hits.

BERNSTEIN: You're saying that for instance, these 5,000-lb. bunker-buster bombs that we're seeing dropped on the people of Iraq in civilian areas may very well be full of depleted uranium.

The thing called
depleted uranium is
kind of a confusing
term. There's nothing
really depleted about it.


ROKKE: Yeah, they more than likely contain uranium. The thing called depleted uranium is kind of a confusing term. There's nothing really depleted about it. If you take for every 100 lbs. Of solid uranium that you have which is put into the enrichment process you're able to retrieve .6 lb. of fissionable component. The other over 99.4 lbs. is what we call uranium-238, and that's what they deem depleted uranium. So there's nothing really depleted about it other than the fissionable component's been removed. Now, Dye Williams, who's an independent researcher over in England, has done extensive research looking at the patent office applications the US Patent Office reports to verify and to identify that a lot of these bunker-busters now contain uranium munitions. Independent researchers that have done onsite investigations to measure the contamination following these detonations have also verified that uranium was contained in these bombs. And then the other thing, too, is when you watch them go off on TV. Uranium munitions, if they are contained, leave a very distinctive signature. You'll see it in this conventional explosion, the fire, the blast and the concussion and everything going. In the uranium munition, you'll see sparklers and heavy metal uranium, which is pyroforic, will continue to burn for an extensive period of time after all of the other detonation, the initial fireball and the explosion with the smoke and everything, is over. It's very distinctive.

BERNSTEIN: Talk a little bit about the dangers of depleted uranium, the way it's being used now, and how it will impact civilian populations and the troops that are using them.

ROKKE: Well, when you use uranium munitions what happens is each individual round, once it leaves the barrel of the gun that fired it, catches fire because uranium is pyroforic. So it's already on fire, it's a round, races downrange to hit any target. It can be a building, it can be a light-weight vehicle, a car or a truck, it can be a tank or it can be an armored personnel carrier. It's effective on everything. When I did the research in Nevada for the US Army in '94 and '95, I actually shot up wood and it worked just as great hitting the wood target as it did anything else. Now when it impacts, you have a 10-lb. rod of solid uranium, okay, that's fired by the Abrams tank. When that impacts, about 40% or about 4 lbs. turns into what we call uranium spalling and oxides. That stuff is on fire, moving at extremely high velocity across the confined space and causes secondary detonations, either due to concussion or due to ignition, burning. Then what you have is a whole bunch of oxides form[ing] on all contamination in and around the vehicle. My actual measurements go out to 400 meters in and around a single vehicle for a single incident. What we've found and what the Army has also agreed on is that within 25-50 meters the contamination is so extensive that the US soldiers must wear respiratory and skin protection to be in that region. So it's real simple. You end up with massive contamination.

... the A10 warthog
aircraft ... can fire ...
at a rate of up to 4,000
rounds a minute.
That's a ton and a half
of solid uranium fired
into a target per minute.


Now, the health effects, what we saw immediately, were documented as early as I can verify in what's called the Grove's Memorandum that was issued on October 30, 1943. There it stated the respiratory problems and rashes and everything would start within hours and permanent damage within days. That's exactly what happened to me and the others that were tasked to clean it up. I mean not even a question. So with the overall health effects of uranium and heavy metals, so you've got a heavy metal radiological toxin that once it's ingested into the body, absorbed into the body or shrapnel is deliberately left on the body, as the military directed to be done for the friendly fire casualties, you end up with cancers, neurological problems, fibromyalgia, cataracts, respiratory problems, rashes, and the whole host of things associated with heavy metal toxicity and radiological exposures.

BERNSTEIN: Now what can you tell us in terms of its use in recent wars, in the first Gulf War, in the former Yugoslavia? How can we determine what impact it had and how it did or didn't make people in the region or those who are using it ill?

ROKKE: Well, one thing that we know for sure is that during Gulf War I that we fired close to a million rounds, if not over a million rounds from the A10. So each individual round was 3/4 lb. of solid uranium. So that's about 750,000 lbs. Okay. So that's an unbelievable amount of solid uranium left all over in the desert. Then we fired probably close to 15,000 tank rounds and we left them there. And much less any of the other large missiles such that the Cruise Missile, which does have uranium in it, again verified by the Patent Office and also verified by direct onsite measurements of impact holes.

What we saw was all of us getting sick right away. We initially, originally, I mean immediately directed medical care that should be provided. I did that as a theater health physicist. The theater medical commander sent a written order for medical care in June of 1991 for medical care for all DU exposures. What happened is even though we were getting sick and everything, medical care was denied, deliberately denied. The reports that were put out there, again, were supposed to be covered up. The famous Los Alamos memorandum that I received in March of 1991 was very clear. If we don't put out a case to use this stuff and cover up the health and environmental effects of uranium munitions, we will lose it. A defense nuclear agency report that I received in March of 1991 was very clear. It said that uranium munitions and everything are not only a health threat, they are a serious health threat. And that's what every document that I've been able to find from the military completely states over and over. And then my own health effects, the team members and my own health effects, the friendly fire casualties that are sick, the individuals that have died where the autopsies have verified it, the individuals that work in the areas where they mine and produce uranium munitions, are all sick. It's not even a question. The book Discounted Casualties that was published a couple of months ago, totally explains and clarifies and reveals the extent of the health effects all over the world.

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