A small sample of Afghan civilians have shown "astonishing" levels of uranium in their urine, an independent scientist says....
But he found no trace of the depleted uranium (DU) some scientists believe is implicated in Gulf War syndrome.
Other researchers suggest new types of radioactive weapons may have been used in Afghanistan....
The UMRC says: "Independent monitoring of the weapon types and delivery systems indicate that radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and hard-target uranium warheads were being used by the coalition forces."
It says Nangarhar province was a strategic target zone during the Afghan conflict for the deployment of a new generation of deep-penetrating "cave-busting" and seismic shock warheads.
Other explanations seem possible. Al-Qaeda could have been experimenting with radiological weaponry in the caves. Hitting a buried stockpile of low-grade fissile materials could surely throw up radioactive dust.
Afghanistan also has natural uranium resources, which could conceivably be released into the air under conditions of heavy bombardment by ground-penetrating weapons. These resources have so far been largely unexploited, except by the Soviets during the occupation.
The Soviet nuclear program was notoriously dirty, and it's possible that radioactive waste and byproducts from these programs could have been haphazardly disposed of in Afghanistan's natural caverns, then later hit by American weapons. It's not even necessary to postulate that bombardment had anything to do with the civilian contamination in the Soviet waste scenario.
Nuclear waste has discernible isotopic signatures, and mass spectrometry could test for long-lived nuclear reactor products such as Cesium-135 and -137. Mining wastes would have their own isotopic signatures. While it is possible to distinguish refined uranium from nuclear waste and ores, the UMRC seems narrowly focused on uranium. They have not yet published their results so it is hard to say what possibilities they might have excluded.
On the other side of the question, the Bush administration has said that it wants to develop new kinds of nuclear weapons. I'd like to think that despite the current madness, this is still not a country where radioactive weapons would be developed and used in secret as alleged. But in this climate it would be hard for me to rule anything out.