A nuclear dustbin in the Balkans
Depleted Uranium weapons are being used by Nato forces in Kosovo, leading to the possibility of serious health problems for future generations.
 
 
Shells containing depleted uranium, blamed by scientists and doctors for increasing rates of cancer and birth defects in Iraq, are being used by Nato forces in Kosovo.

The radioactive material is used in the 30 mm armour piercing munitions rounds used by American A10 'Warthog' jets. These jets have carried out a large number of sorties over Kosovo from bases in Italy.

Depleted uranium is also used to stabilise Tomahawk cruise missiles. To date more than 100 of these have been fired by Britain and America at targets in Kosovo and Serbia.

The British Ministry of Defence denied using depleted uranium (DU) rounds in Kosovo, A spokeswoman for the US Forces European Command confirmed that DU weapons are part of its military munitions inventory but was unable to say whether DU weapons were specifically being used in Kosovo. She said US forces working under Nato were using 'the best weapons for the situation'.

However an independent defence consultant based in Washington DC, with significant Pentagon connections has confirmed that weapons containing DU are being used in Kosovo.

Rounds

DU is a by-product of the process of converting natural uranium into nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. It is extremely dense - 1.7 times as dense as lead - and this gives it its tank-busting properties.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the A10 'Warthog' was the anti-tank weapon of choice. It carries a GAU-8/A Avenger 30 mm seven-barrel cannon capable of firing more than 4,000 rounds per minute.

The Ministry of Defence says that UK forces only fired around 100 rounds of DU ammunition in the Gulf War, equal to about 1 metric tonne of DU. These rounds were fired from Challenger tanks. US forces fired ammunition rounds containing around 290 metric tonnes of DU.

Conference

DU residue left in Iraq has been blamed for a large increase in stillbirths, children born with defects, and childhood leukaemia and other cancers in southern Iraq, particularly around Basra, Az Zubayr and Um Qasr, where most of these shells were fired.

A theoretical paper prepared by the UK Atomic Energy Authority for Royal Ordnance plc in April 1991, entitled "Kuwait - Depleted Uranium Contamination", predicted 500,000 deaths if 50 tonnes of DU dust was left in the area.

Last December a conference on health and environmental consequences of DU used by British and US forces was held in Baghdad. Statistics presented by Iraqi cancer specialists indicated increased cancer rates among Iraqi service personnel and their families. The scientists concluded that there was a correlation between these increased rates and exposure to DU weapons.

The British Ministry of Defence has refused to endorse these findings but accepts that DU weapons release toxic and radioactive dust and shrapnel. In a letter published in response to a Commons question tabled by Tam Dalyell MP last month, the British M.o.D. says that it is 'highly unlikely' that the local population would have been exposed to any significant amount of dust. It pointed out that only around 20% of a DU round is converted into respirable dust. Only a relatively small number of rounds would have hit a target hard enough to release the toxic and radioactive dust, and, in any event, the rounds were fired in the desert, many kilometres from the nearest village.

Many U.S. veterans groups claim that DU residues have contributed to the condition called "Gulf War Syndrome" that has affected close to 100,000 service people in the U.S. and Britain with chronic illness.

Stockpile

The US Department of Energy and the British nuclear industry are keen to promote alternative uses for their huge stockpile of DU left over from processing. Passing it off as a 'useful' substance avoids the need to classify it as nuclear waste.

DU shells are manufactured by Royal Ordnance in the UK and by StarMet in North Carolina. The metal is also promoted as a counterweight in civil aircraft ailerons.

This story first appeared on Pete Sawyer's 'Assignments Unlimited' homepage.

 
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