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BBC's Simon Montague reports
"It'll take several weeks to clear up the wreckage"
 real 28k

Councillor Norman Mead
Stansted Consultative Committee
 real 28k

Friday, 7 January, 2000, 21:47 GMT
Uranium on jet 'not a risk'

Four crew died in the crash

Emergency services have insisted there was no danger to the public from depleted uranium on a Korean Air Boeing 747 cargo plane which crashed near Stansted Airport.

It has emerged that the plane, which came down shortly after leaving the Essex airport, contained several hundred kilograms of depleted uranium.

Investigators say they're still looking for eight out of the 20 units of depleted uranium, built into the tail of the Boeing 747 cargo plane.

It would need to have been exposed to a fire of 800C for more than four hours before it emitted uranium oxide...if it was breathed in it would be only 40% of the amount deemed harmful
Boeing spokesman
The revelation comes as an Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) report into the crash highlighted defects in the flight captain's attitude director indicator - which tells a crew whether their aircraft is level, climbing or descending.

The report said instrument warning buzzers had sounded 14 times in the seconds before the plane crashed into Hatfield Forest in December. The AAIB says the problem with the equipment was known about and apparently rectified before the plane left Stansted.

'No danger'

The emergency services also played down the risk from the depleted uranium.

Debris from the Korean 747 scattered across fields Debris from the Korean 747 scattered across fields
Sergeant Deborah Duce from Essex police said: "The presence of depleted uranium was known about at the time of the crash.

"The authorities said it did not pose a danger to the emergency services. There is no danger to surrounding residents."

Depleted uranium (DU) is a heavy substance, 1.7 times as dense as lead, and used in armour-piercing munitions. Many Gulf War veterans believe it is implicated in a range of medical problems they are suffering from, known collectively as Gulf War Syndrome.

DU has been used in aircraft to make counterweights in the tailplane.

A Boeing spokesman told BBC News Online: "The company began using DU in the early 1960s. Boeing replaced it with tungsten in the early 1980s, on grounds of cost and availability.

"The Korean 747 was delivered to the airline in June 1980. We think it contained about 300 kg of DU.

"But it would need to have been exposed to a fire of 800 degrees Celsius for more than four hours before it emitted uranium oxide. And even then, if it was breathed in it would be only 40% of the amount deemed harmful."

Burning dust

DU is known to vaporise into a spray of burning dust on striking a hard object, and some studies suggest that it can form uranium oxides at lower temperatures.

Over 150 kg of DU was lost in Amsterdam Over 150 kg of DU was lost in Amsterdam
A report in 1985 from the Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory said that after only two hours' exposure to a fire of 700 degrees Celsius, 22% of a DU munition appeared to have burnt off.

The Korean plane crashed in flames. Malcolm Hooper, professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland told BBC News Online: "If no precautions were taken at the crash scene, people will have been exposed to hazards that could prove fatal.

"Those who were handling the wreckage should have been advised of the risk. I can't see any way you could have a significant fire in a crash like this without producing the conditions that would allow a potentially hazardous release of DU."

Dutch crash

On 4 October 1992 an El Al cargo 747 crashed into a block of flats in an Amsterdam suburb. It had been carrying 282 kg of DU counterweights.

Only 130 kg were recovered in the clear-up after the crash, and the Dutch commission of inquiry concluded that some of the rest had been released as particles, which would have been inhaled by rescue workers and local people.

The plane was also carrying chemicals used to manufacture the nerve gas sarin, which local people blamed for ensuing health problems.

More than 800 residents and rescue workers were reported after the crash to be complaining of a range of problems, including fatigue, skin complaints, joint and bone pains, kidney ailments and respiratory problems.

The commission of inquiry did not conclude that these problems had been caused by the DU lost in the crash.

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  UK
Crash 747 'had navigational failure'
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium study 'shows clear damage'
23 Dec 99 |  World
Boeing's workhorse
17 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium ban demanded

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