A Speech by Photo-journalist Naomi Toyoda
at the Opening of the Photo Exhibitin, The Human Cost of Uranium Weapons,
(EU Parliament, May 14-16, 2007)
I am deeply thankful for this precious opportunity for this exhibition to be held at the European Parliament. I would like to thank all the people who made this exhibition possible: the members of The Greens and European Free Alliance at the EU Parliament, especially Ms. Els de Groen, Dr. Caroline Lucas, and Ms. Angelika Beer; the members of ICBUW™s Steering Committee, especially Ms. Ria Verjauw and Mr. Doug Weir; Prof. Nobuo Kazashi who assisted me in many ways as always.
This project started in 1999 when I encountered some Hibakusha (radiation victims) in Iraq. Although I live in Japan, which is thought of as the only country in the world to have experienced a nuclear attack, I was unaware of the effects of uranium weapons. But the people I met in Iraq almost ten years after the Gulf War had ended taught me that the use of uranium weapons is a war without end.
This is because of the 4.5 billion year half-life of uranium 238; a time span equivalent to the age of the earth. While this means that the isotope has a relatively low specific activity, it also means that contamination will continue to be a problem far into the future. The radioactive threat is compounded by uranium™s chemical toxicity and the hazards posed by micro-particles.
By the time the threat posed by uranium weapons began to be reported around the world, another war was imminent “ the ongoing Iraq War. Once again US and UK forces poured uranium weapons down upon the Iraqi people.
On April 8 2003, I witnessed US A10 Warthog strikes in Baghdad showering innumerable depleted uranium shells on to the city centre. I visited the strike sites a few days later and lost count of the DU shells littering the area, all of which were emitting strong radiation.
I, and others, reported this fact to the Japanese broadcast and print media, triggering stories from interested journalists. But the Japanese Government remained silent on the issue, refusing to recognize that DU had again been used by US and UK forces “ let alone that it represented a health problem. Today they recognize its use, but still refuse to acknowledge any danger to health.
It was not only Iraq™s children, suffering from leukaemia and other cancers who had been demonstrating and condemning, with their own bodies, the horrifying effects of uranium weapons; exposed Gulf War veterans in the US, UK and other countries were all part of the same narrative.
And now, people suffering from diseases, as a cause of which DU must be implicated, are beginning to raise their voices anew from inside the US and Iraq. The voices of Iraq War veterans, who tested positive for DU, overlap with those of the Iraqi children suffering, still under fire, from a range of cancers.
I would like people to listen to their voices – voices that represent the inescapable truth. Inescapable because it is a truth that their own bodies have learnt. I would ask that you listen to them because it is our responsibility as world citizens. Just as uranium dust pays no heed to mankind™s national borders, nor should our concern for others. I firmly believe that we can unite with each other beyond such imagined barriers to cooperation and solve this problem.
It would be a great joy if my humble photos could be of some help in our joint efforts towards a solution. I remain deeply grateful to those people who let me take their photos, especially those children who exposed their suffering faces and bodies to my camera.
Naomi Toyoda, Photo-journalist