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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 20:18 GMT
Kosovo DU contains recycled uranium
Factory bombed by Nato AP
Bosnian official inspects factory bombed by Nato
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The United Nations says early laboratory results confirm that depleted uranium (DU) fragments found in Kosovo contain tiny amounts of recycled uranium.

Anti-du weapon protest AP
American protest against DU weapons
The radioactivity of recycled uranium is higher than that found in DU.

The discovery raises questions about the purity of the DU weapons used by the US in Kosovo and Bosnia, and by American and British forces in the Gulf War.

Many veterans of both conflicts believe that DU has damaged their health, a claim rejected by the US and UK Governments and by Nato.

A team from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) reported earlier this month finding the remains of DU ammunition at eight of 11 sites it visited in Kosovo.

Toxicity tests

It collected 340 samples, both of the weapons and of soil, water and vegetation.

The samples are now being analysed for both toxicity and radioactivity in five European laboratories.

''It cast a rather different light on the process - it's something we'll be watching

Unep official Pekka Haavisto
Unep says early results confirm that pieces of seven DU penetrators - the tips of the weapons, designed to enable the projectiles to punch through armoured vehicles - found at sites targeted by Nato in 1999 contain uranium 236.

Unep officials said that the presence of U-236 indicated that part of the DU came from reprocessed uranium.

This information was provided by one of the five laboratories being used by Unep for its DU assessment work.

Waiting for results

According to the laboratory, the content of U-236 in the DU is so small that the radiotoxicity is not changed compared with DU without U-236.

However, the final assessment by Unep will be made only once results from all laboratories are available.

Test on soil AP
Tests on soil from Kosovo
Unep director, Dr Klaus Toepfer, said he was asking the World Health Organisation and all the Environment Programme's other partners for their assessment of the finding of the recycled uranium.

Isotopic analysis showed that 0.0028 per cent of the uranium in the penetrators was U-236.

The head of Unep's DU assessment team is the former Finnish Environment Minister, Pekka Haavisto.

He told BBC News Online: "The amount is very small. My understanding is that this is uranium that's been in a nuclear reactor, and after that it either becomes nuclear waste or else it's reprocessed.''

He said the penetrators contained very small amounts of recycled nuclear waste.

Dust samples

''Our concern has been slightly increased,'' Mr Haavisto said. ''It casts a rather different light on the process. It is something we'll be watching, and we've asked the other four laboratories to analyse the remnants' isotopic make-up very carefully."

Dust samples were also being collected from around weapon sites and would be analysed for U-236 as well, he said.

Last year, the US Department of Energy said initial DU test rounds had almost certainly contained recycled uranium.

It also acknowledged that "minute quantities of plutonium" might be contained in some DU stocks held at civil nuclear plants in the US.

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See also:

14 Jan 01 | Europe
War crimes tribunal may probe DU
15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraqi alarm over DU ammunition
15 Jan 01 | Health
Serb doctor's uranium warning
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