Professor Nobuo Kazashi, director of the NO DU Hiroshima Project, speaks at cancer conference in Iraq

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

In Basra, southern Iraq, the first official International Oncology Conference was held on May 6-7. In the area where Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons were used during the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, the number of patients with cancer is rising. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Nobuo Kazashi, professor at Kobe University and director of the NO DU Hiroshima Project, a citizens’ group, who had been invited to speak at the conference in Iraq. I asked him about the challenges ahead for the DU issue after he reported on the conference at a Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

What does it mean that the Iraqi government approved the conference?
The conference was organized by such institutions as Basra’s medical school and was supported by the Ministry of Health. Though the correlation between DU weapons used by the U.S. and the U.K. and the incidence of cancer has not yet been clarified, doctors in Iraq are aware of the harmful effect of DU weapons on human health while support from the Ministry of Health means the Iraqi government takes the DU issue seriously and has begun to address it.

You were invited to Iraq, which is difficult to enter, as a foreigner promoting a campaign against DU. What was your appeal to the conference participants?
At the start of the conference, which involved more than 400 participants from more than 10 countries, I spoke about the current status of the campaign against DU weapons being carried out both in Hiroshima and in the world. The U.N. General Assembly has made a resolution each of the past two years in which they requested that member nations submit their views on DU weapons. I called on Iraq to respond, in particular, since Iraq has been a victim of DU weapons.

What was the response of the participants?
Some pointed out the difficulty of conducting epidemiologic investigations to find the correlation between DU weapons and the incidence of cancer due to the lack of reliable data of local residents. However, others reported a high rate of cancer in the area where the DU weapons had been used. They presented data showing a significant rise in the number of cases of childhood cancer, which had at least doubled over the past 15 years. The Minister of Health stated, “We are very concerned about the issue of DU weapons and would like to deal with this based on the scientific data.”

What do you think needs to be done?
Of course, scientific research must be pursued. At the same time, it was clear to me from visiting hospitals in Basra that there has been a substantial increase in the incidence of cancer. The Iraqi doctors, who were invited by Hiroshima citizens’ groups to study at Hiroshima University, are now playing important roles back in Iraq. I feel there is great potential in providing opportunities in Hiroshima for Iraqi doctors to advance their learning.


Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons
DU weapons are armor-piercing munitions of special strength, created by taking advantage of the high density of depleted uranium, a radioactive waste derived from the production of enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation. Fine particles of uranium oxide are dispersed when uranium weapons burn and their hazardous effect on human health has become a concern. DU weapons were created by the U.S. and have been used since 1991 in the Persian Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and the Iraq War. In 2003, the headquarters of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) were established in the U.K. The ICBUW now has 112 member groups in 29 countries.

(Originally published on May 22, 2009)

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