Robert Fisk: Mystery of Israel’s secret uranium bomb
Alarm over radioactive legacy left by attack on Lebanon
Published: 28 October 2006
Did Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives, most of them civilians?
We know that the Israelis used American “bunker-buster” bombs on Hizbollah’s Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know – after it first categorically denied using such munitions – that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.
But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel’s weapons inventory – and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed “elevated radiation signatures”. Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry – used by the Ministry of Defence – which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.
Dr Busby’s initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. “The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash … The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium.” A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.
Enriched uranium is produced from natural uranium ore and is used as fuel for nuclear reactors. A waste product of the enrichment process is depleted uranium, it is an extremely hard metal used in anti-tank missiles for penetrating armour. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural uranium, which is less radioactive than enriched uranium.
Read all of Fisk’s article here.