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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Underwater search for missing uranium
Colin Rudd
Environmental consultant Colin Rudd at the crash site
Air accident investigators are preparing to search the bottom of a lake near Stansted airport for panels of depleted uranium from a crashed Korean Air jumbo jet.

Investigators have recovered 17 out of 20 depleted uranium panels used as counterweights in the tail of the plane which came down in December after catching fire on take-off.

The remaining three are believed to have been hurled into the lake and buried under its muddy floor.

Essex County Council, which is overseeing the restoration of the one-acre crash site back to farmland, says there is no threat to the local population from the missing panels.

Extensive tests

The council has spent the last few weeks draining the fishing lake in Great Hallingbury.

Health experts have warned that the panels, triangular-shaped bars which are about two feet long, can be dangerous if inhaled in the form of a dust after being hardened in high temperatures.


ADAS worker
Searchers are hoping to find the missing three depleted uranium panels

But tests have revealed no traces of uranium leakage in the area.

"To pose any danger they would have had to burn for a long time at very high temperature," said the council's site co-ordinator Peter Pearson.

"Extensive tests have revealed no trace of any contamination in the land, the atmosphere or any wildlife.

"The other 17 panels were found undamaged and the likelihood is that these three are in the same condition. We are certain that no harm has been caused."

But Norman Mead, chairman of Great Hallingbury parish council, said all local people would not be satisfied until the last panel had been found.

"I think most people are satisfied with the way the operation has been conducted and that no traces of uranium have been found," he said.

"But the proof of the pudding is when they find the remaining panels safe and intact."

Insurance claims

Depleted uranium was used as a counterbalance in hundreds of 747s built before 1981, but its use became controversial after an El Al jumbo crashed in flames in Amsterdam in 1992.

The Korean plane crashed on National Trust farmland between Great Hallingbury and the edge of Hatfield Forest, which is owned by the National Trust, shortly after leaving Stansted.

The four Korean crew members died instantly but no-one else was hurt.

Wreckage from the impact fanned out four miles and other pieces of the aircraft, such as wheels, have been revealed since the lake was drained.

A report on the cause of the accident has yet to be published by the Department of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Branch.

Villagers living near the site are angry that some insurance companies have not yet paid out for claims to cover cracks and structural damage done to their homes.

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See also:

25 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Search for 747 uranium
07 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Uranium on jet 'not a risk'
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