Photojournalism / Editorial Photography | Nominee

Christian Werner


Depleted uranium - silent genocide?


‘Depleted uranium’. Is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process for atomic power generation of military purposes. But this is not about the technical issues of the story.

Does anyone remember the war in Iraq? The ‘Coalition of the willing’ bombarded the country in 2003. During a three-week mission, for example, one to two thousand tonnes of uranium ordnance fell on cities like Basra and Falluja and their two million residents. Tanks – destroyed but still radioactive – litter the side roads and bear silent witness to the artillery barrages and bombardments of the Gulf War operations. Today, the wrecks and ruins are playgrounds for children, the local residents recycle the metal from these radioactive hulks and collect souvenirs of the wars. The war may be over, but many – too many – people come into contact with contaminated materials – and develop leukaemia.

The Gulf Wars were not the only conflicts in which uranium ordnance was deployed. Besides in Iraq, uranium munitions were employed in the border conflict between India and Pakistan, in Chechnya, during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. Several thousand tonnes of uranium ordnance have been deployed in recent conflicts. Uranium is particularly popular due to its extreme density and the consequent ability to penetrate the armour of light armoured vehicles and armoured bunker walls and burn everything inside them. On impact, the projectiles disintegrate into a radioactive dust that is carried away indiscriminately by the wind. When it settles – everywhere – the uranium remains radioactive for an estimated 4.5 billion years. The dust is extremely fine, it hangs in the air we breathe, is found in foodstuffs and penetrates into the lung tissues, arteries and veins of the people. It is deposited in the bones, where it continues to radiate and contaminate the body.

After the end of the Gulf War, cancer rates and cases of hereditary anomalies exploded. In addition to congenital heart defects and chromosome anomalies, children are born with the most abstruse symptoms every day. Newborn children with two heads, one eye, an open abdomen, an open spine, missing extremities, fish scale-skin, split palates or bladder tumours are no rarity.

The whole horrifying extent of the damage caused by uranium ordnance is only just beginning to be comprehended. Even today, there is an unforgivable lack of reports, documentation and broad-scale studies – and this would be so decisive in illuminating the true extent of this madness. The people affected need our help!