BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Colin Blane
"Lord Robertson hopes a swift response will calm growing fears"
 real 56k

Nato spokesman Mark Laity
"The risks are limited"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 13:49 GMT
Nato seeks to calm DU fears
Yugoslav soldier checks for radiation at ruined TV relay station
Nato used DU munitions in its bombing of Yugoslavia
Nato Secretary-General George Robertson has promised to give a "high priority" to investigations into claims that ammunition tipped with depleted uranium has caused cancer in former soldiers.

Several countries, including Italy and Germany, want a moratorium on the weapons after a rash of leukaemia cases among former peacekeepers who served in the Balkans.

We have nothing to hide. Nato will be completely open and transparent

Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson
But the US and UK say there is no evidence of health risks due to the armour-piercing shells, which they argue are crucial to Nato's operational effectiveness.

Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson said the alliance would not conceal information about any possible side effects of the weapons.

"We have nothing to hide but we have a lot to share," he told a press conference in Brussels.

"We are confident that there is little risk from depleted uranium emissions, but we cannot afford to be complacent."

And Lord Robertson said Nato would establish a committee to produce more information on the issue.

Click here to see where illness has been reported

His comments came after a meeting with new Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic - the first Yugoslav minister to visit Nato headquarters since the alliance's 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

At the meeting, Nato and Yugoslavia agreed to share all available information about depleted uranium residues in the Balkans.

Russian criticism

A Russian politician said on Wednesday that he was "surprised that Nato countries are only now talking about the ecological damage wreaked by their aggression".

Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said "reports and research were conducted long ago."

Russian politicians and generals say initial screening has found no illness among its soldiers who served in the Balkans.

Portuguese soldiers examine soil for contamination in Kosovo
A Portuguese minister, meanwhile, said an independent Portuguese investigation had turned up no signficant examples of increased radiation after studying 52 sites in Kosovo.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen said on Tuesday that no link had been proved between depleted uranium and cases of cancer among former peacekeeping troops.

The same day, the British Government joined Italy, Portugal and other Nato allies in offering additional medical checks to troops.

And the European Union has launched its own investigation, which will include an assessment of whether spent DU shells pose any health risks for workers taking part in reconstruction programmes.

Effective weapons

US aircraft fired tens of thousands of DU rounds during Nato's 1995 bombing of Bosnian Serb targets and 1999 air war against Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav tanks in Kosovo, March 1999
Nato targeted Yugoslav tanks with DU-tipped weapons
The rounds are denser than standard ammunition, making them more effective against armour.

Depleted uranium gives off relatively low levels of radiation, but can be dangerous if ingested, inhaled as dust or if it enters the body through cuts or wounds.

As a heavy metal, it is also chemically poisonous in addition to being radioactively poisonous.

Six Italian soldiers, five Belgians, two Dutch nationals, two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Czech national have died after serving in the Balkans. Four French soldiers and five Belgians have also contracted leukaemia.

Click here to return

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Key stories



See also:

08 Jan 01 | Europe
Uranium row tests Nato
09 Jan 01 | Europe
The military uses of DU
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories