Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK


Pentagon confirms depleted uranium use

Aftermath of a raid: Is depleted uranium adding to the hazards?

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The US Defense Department says its aircraft are firing depleted uranium
(DU) munitions in the conflict with Serbia.

A questioner at a DoD briefing asked: "The DU shells. Have the A-10s
actually been firing them in addition to simply carrying them?"

A Pentagon spokesman, Major-General Chuck Wald, replied: "Yes". DU is a
byproduct of the enrichment of uranium for military and civilian uses.

It is 1.7 times as dense as lead, and weapons made with it are used for
punching their way through armour.

It is both radioactive and toxic, though Nato insists that it is no more
dangerous than any other heavy metal.

The UK Defence Ministry says it thinks it unlikely that DU contributed
to Gulf War syndrome, although many veterans believe it is implicated.

Risks are real

There are extensive reports from southern Iraq of stillbirths, birth
defects, leukaemia and other cancers in children born since 1991.

Published material suggests official reassurances may be misleading. The
US army's Environmental Policy Institute reported in 1995: "If DU enters
the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical

"The risks associated with DU are both chemical and radiological."

A 1990 study prepared for the army by Science Applications International
Corp said DU was "linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and]
chemical toxicity causing kidney damage".

At least 18 tonnes of DU weapons have been test-fired in Britain at army
ranges in Kirkcudbright and Cumbria. Most of the munitions landed in the
Solway Firth, where they remain.

The Military Toxics Project and Dr Hari Sharma, of the University of
Waterloo, Ontario, have published the results of a study into the use of
DU munitions in the Gulf.

Appeal to ban DU weapons

They say the result is likely to be an increase of between 20,000 and
100,000 fatal cancers in veterans and Iraqi citizens.

Dr Sharma is writing to all Nato heads of state to ask them to eliminate
DU munitions from their arsenals.

Concern also persists over the wider ecological consequences of the war
with Serbia.

The World Wide Fund for Nature says an environmental crisis threatens
Yugoslavia and its neighbours, particularly further down the Danube and
in the Black Sea.

It says the damage to downstream areas of the unidentified pollutants
discharged into the Danube is unclear. Ten million people depend on the
river for drinking water.

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