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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 13:54 GMT
Nato reveals Kosovo depleted uranium use
A-10 in flight
USAF A-10 planes fired DU munitions
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Nato has finally given the United Nations some details of the areas in Kosovo where its aircraft fired depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in last year's Balkan conflict.

Last October, the UN published the results of its investigation into the environmental aftermath of the war.

In its work on DU, it said it had been "forced to rely on available published information", and it urged Nato to provide more detailed information on its use of DU weapons.

But even now, according to the UN Balkan Task Force (BTF), the information is not detailed enough to allow "an accurate field assessment of the environmental and human health consequences".

DU is 1.7 times as dense as lead, and is used in armour-piercing rounds. It is only mildly radioactive, but on impact with a solid object it burns off in a spray of very fine dust.

Four-month delay

Some scientists believe the dust particles can cause cancer if they are inhaled or ingested, though US and British military authorities say the risk is minimal.
tank and crew
Serb armour was the target . . .
The information on its use in Kosovo was in a letter sent last month by the Nato Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, to his UN counterpart, Kofi Annan, who had asked for the details last October, four months earlier.

Lord Robertson wrote: "DU rounds were used whenever the A-10 aircraft engaged armour during Operation Allied Force. Therefore, it was used throughout Kosovo during approximately 100 missions.

"A total of approximately 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition was used.

"The major focus of these operations was in an area west of the Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, in the area surrounding Klina, in the area around Prizren, and in an area to the north of a line joining Suva Reka and Urosevac.

"However, many missions using DU also took place outside these areas."

Nothing of substance

BTF experts, while they welcomed Nato's "positive co-operation", said they still did not know enough about the exact location of DU weapons to carry out a scientifically-based impact assessment.

A UN source told BBC News Online: "The information is useful in the sense that it allows us to raise the issue again.

"But it does not tell us anything of substance. It means we are able to do a little bit more than nothing about DU."
child in kosovo
. . . but there are worries for civilians too
The experts, members of the BTF drawn from agencies including the World Health Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute, said the new information should not be a cause of widespread alarm.

But they said the recommendations they made last October should be followed.

These include preventing access to areas where DU contamination has been confirmed, and telling local authorities and populations of the possible risks and suitable precautions.

Threat taken seriously

The World Health Organisation is producing a report on the health effects of DU (not just in Kosovo) which should be available by mid-May.

In the United Kingdom, the Royal Society is expected to report on the health and environmental impact of DU some time later this year

The BTF is a joint initiative of the UN Centre on Human Settlements and the UN Environment Programme, which believes the potential risk from battlefield use of DU is serious, for civilians as much as for combatants.

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16 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
UN probes Balkan depleted uranium
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