The Guardian
Uranium risk in war zone

Weapons: Troops and civilians may suffer long-term health effects, reports Paul Brown

Tuesday April 13, 1999

Depleted uranium, which is included in anti-tank weapons and other armaments available to the United States and Britain in the Kosovo conflict, could have long term health effects on soldiers and civilians.

The US has refused to say whether it has used the weapons but confirms it has them in the field and 'picks the best weapons for the available target'. The Ministry of Defence also has them in readiness for use on Harriers.

Weapons tipped or packed with depleted uranium were used extensively for the first time in the Gulf war and are blamed by some scientists for the phenomenon known as Gulf war syndrome and by the Iraqis for a surge in birth defects and cancers in the south of the country.

The uranium, which is produced and stored in large quantities by British Nuclear Fuels at its reprocessing works at Sellafield in Cumbria, has been developed by Nato forces as an armour piercing weapon because it is 2.5 times heavier than steel and 1.5 times heavier than lead and can be fired at higher velocity, which gives it far greater destructive capacity.

Depleted uranium has been used as a nose cone in Tomahawk missiles, which can also contain a rod of uranium for penetrating bomb-proof targets. It is not thought these have so far been used in this conflict but the American A10 ground attack aircraft uses uranium bullets for knocking out tanks. The Apache helicopters, yet to be deployed, have the same weapons.

The British Harrier uses uranium for high penetration small calibre cannons. The Ministry of Defence denied Britain has so far used depleted uranium in Kosovo but said it would do so if it came to an anti-tank war.

Nato headquarters in Mons, Belgium, said yesterday that the weaponry used was 'a matter for each individual state'. The use of uranium was permitted.

A US army ballistic research laboratory report sent to the Guardian compares the hazards of depleted uranium use with tungsten, an alternative heavy metal. It recommends the continued use of uranium and says that exposure to depleted uranium in war 'would be of little consequence compared with other battlefield perils,' but levels of exposure 'would be unacceptable during peacetime conditions'.

Chemicals stockpiled by Iraq as well as the depleted uranium used by allied forces could be implicated in illnesses associated with the Gulf war. Tests on Gulf veterans last year by independent Canadian scientists show that some have uranium in their bloodstream.

Henk van der Keur, a molecular biologist from the Document and Research Centre on Nuclear Energy in Amsterdam, said: 'It is becoming more and more clear in independent studies that depleted uranium is the main candidate for causing so-called Gulf war syndrome. At first no-one took this matter seriously because
it is not highly radioactive, but on impact uranium turns to dust and can be breathed in.

'In our view it is a serious danger long term to soldiers returning from the battlefield and to the civilians remaining behind in the war zone when peace finally returns. We think these weapons should be banned.'

Daniel Robincheau, from Desert Concerns, which is campaigning for a ban on such weapons, said: 'Using uranium is a form of nuclear warfare that puts at risk combatant and non-combatant alike.'

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siehe auch Meldungen der Belgrader Grünen