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Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 21:29 GMT
UN presses for more uranium research
Portuguese experts check radiation level in S-For dormitory, Bosnia
Radiation checks are under way in Bosnia and Kosovo
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has called for a more extensive survey of sites in the Balkans that were hit by Nato shells containing depleted uranium.

An IAEA spokesman said checks on at least 30 sites were required for a satisfactory survey to determine whether debris from the shells could cause cancer.

Nato has informed the United Nations of more than 100 sites where the shells were used, and so far UN inspectors have seen 11 of them.

The agency spokesman said initial analysis suggested that they did not contain high levels of radioactivity.

Cancer

Depleted uranium (DU) has been blamed for a number of leukaemia cases among former peacekeepers who served in the Balkans. Veterans also say it contributed to health problems suffered after the 1991 Gulf War.

Nato measures
Study effects of DU further
Identify locations struck by DU weapons
Co-ordinate research

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said areas hit by DU-tipped shells during the 1999 Kosovo conflict should be cordoned off.

Unep and IAEA experts took samples of soil, water, cows' milk and vegetation in the 11 areas of Kosovo they visited last November.

Click here to see where illness has been reported

Unep said it was disturbed to find shells lying on the ground and children playing nearby. The agency says more needs to be done to inform the local population of potential risks.

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

Toxic dust

DU rounds are denser than standard ammunition, making them more effective against armour, but the dust given off on impact can be dangerous.

Lord Robertson
Lord Robertson refuses to be "swayed by perceptions"

"The level of research carried out so far is not yet sufficient to warrant a scientific conclusion," said IAEA Director-General Mohamed el-Baradei.

Investigators would need to do more work at the DU-affected sites, backed by more co-operation and information from Nato, he said.

The IAEA says more information is also needed on the spread of DU contamination under battlefield conditions.

Nato moves to calm fears

On Wednesday, Nato announced a range of measures to try to allay concerns over DU munitions. Its Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, insists that fears are misplaced and says there will be no suspension of the use of the weapons.

But Unep says it wants to conduct tests at 112 sites in Kosovo, and if the money is forthcoming, it will extend its investigations to Bosnia.

The row continues to grow, with allegations that the UK Government has known about a possible risk for years and Australia becoming the latest country to announce a screening programme.

For their part, Yugoslav experts have said they have found radioactivity levels more than 1,000 times greater than usual in Serbia and Montenegro.

UK denial

In the UK, the Ministry of Defence has continued to deny that the weapons pose a health hazard, despite revelations that an internal document warning of health risks was drawn up four years ago.

Yugoslav tanks in Kosovo, March 1999
Nato targeted Yugoslav tanks with DU-tipped weapons

Ministers have said the paper was a flawed draft by a trainee and insist there is no scientific proof of such a danger.

On Tuesday, the UK Government agreed to the medical screening of those who served in the Balkans - a measure which is now also being offered to Australian troops and humanitarian workers.

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.

However, Russia says initial screening has found no illness among its soldiers who served in the Balkans.




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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Shukman
"Everyday it seems we are getting more questions than answers"
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Ministers realise that it was badly handled from the start"
Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO
"We have been extra careful in the advice we have given"

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Europe
Uranium row tests Nato
10 Jan 01 | Europe
Kosovans 'unaware' of DU dangers
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