This article, by Simon Mitchell, appeared (in part) in the Big Issue South
West in the UK.
KOSOVO - THE POISONED PRIZE?
As the devastating health consequences of depleted uranium weapons used in
the Gulf become undeniable, Nato begins to wage another nuclear war in the
Balkans. Simon Mitchell reports
As press and politicians wrangle over how Kosovo's refugees can be
returned to their homelands, the danger is, when the smoke clears Europe's
most coveted prize may be little more than a toxic wasteland.
After unauthorised confirmations, denials, and retractions, Nato finally
admitted on May 4 to using depleted uranium (DU) bullets in the Balkans.
At an American Department of Defence briefing, a Major General Ward said
that US planes had fired DU in Kosovo saying: 'I don't think there's a
problem at all with that.' Depleted uranium is a highly toxic and
radioactive by-product of the nuclear power industry, shaped into and
fired as armour piercing bullets. DU is believed to be a major contributor
to the 'Gulf War
Syndrome,' being experienced by many veterans of the war against Iraq.
Given up trying to deny its use Nato are hoping to convince people,
against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that DU is safe. 'It's not
radioactive at all,' said a Nato German Military representative Colonel
Freytag on April 26). This is just not true.
Less than one per cent of natural uranium, the isotope U-235, is suitable
for the production of nuclear power, the remainder is U-238. During the
enrichment process vast amounts of nuclear waste are produced consisting
almost solely of U-238. This is depleted uranium and it has a half life of
4.5 billion years. The cost of waste storage is high, so nuclear power
producers are more than willing to pass the DU on to the armaments
industry, mostly free of charge.
They in turn are keen to take it. One of the heaviest substances on the
planet, formed into projectiles DU has unprecedented armoured piercing
capabilities, due to its highly inflammable nature it ignites on impact
releasing a toxic and radioactive dust.
'This dust will contaminate its target, the area around it, ground water
supplies and it can be blown by the wind. This poses a great risk to
civilian populations,' says Dan Fahey of the peace campaign, Swords to
Ploughshares. Fahey has reported that over 300 tons of DU is scattered
about Iraq and Kuwait following the 1991 Gulf war.
In Kosovo, the potential for fast dispersal into ground water and the food
chain is that much greater due to higher rainfall and density of
It is unlikely any contamination would be confined to a region whose size
is regularly compared to Devon. In admitting to using DU, the Western
powers,' only consistency appears to
be inconsistency. The MOD told the Big Issue that it has not been used.
Others claim to have been told it has. Japanese newspapers have reported
its use, as have American radio stations and Greek news agencies.
Alarmingly, Robin Cook has said he does not know if DU is being used. When
with Freytag's statement, even the pentagon's spokespeople on DU could not
say what the truth was. Nato leave it up to each nation's military what
armaments they use, and both UK and US forces, if they haven't used it
already, are more than willing to do so.
Bristol based researcher Daniel Robicheau has been following the DU trail
since 1992, and co edited the book 'Hidden Casualties. The Environmental,
Health and Political Consequences of the Persian Gulf War'. He is
DU has already been used in the Balkans. Nato have good reason to be cagey
about this. 'American and British governments are co-ordinating a cover up
in fear of potential multi million dollar litigation costs,' says
'This is a form of nuclear warfare. They don't want to be implicated in
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has said
that all forces in the conflict could be investigated for war crimes.
Though the prospect of Clinton and Milosovic ever having to share a cell
The recently deployed Apache helicopters have DU capabilities. The US
A-10, Warthog 'tank busters' (responsible for 80 per cent of the DU fired
in Iraq) are built around a seven barrel GAU8/A gatling gun, designed
specifically to fire 4,200 cigar sized, eight pound, DU rounds a minute.
Nikola Bozinovic is a student leader from Nis, 240km from Belgrade, who
has consistently opposed the Milosovic regime. He claims to have reliable
evidence that DU was fired in Vranje, 30km from the Macedonian border,
around April 16. Two fragmented and two complete rounds have been tested
at the Nis Institute for Radiology and found to contain U-238. Bozinovic
told The Big Issue he is convinced that these are not DU rounds kept over
from the 1995 Bosnian war, as the Yugoslav authorities are trying to keep
find quiet and are not using it as propaganda. (The Serbs also have DU
capabilities and if a land war does ensue, they will more than likely wish
to use it themselves.) 'In ten, fifty or 2000 years, there will be no
Albanian, Kosovar or Serbian problem,' says Bozinovic. 'It will be the
earth's problem. The quality of food, water and air will be damaged for
billions of years. Neighbouring countries' governments are supporting the
strikes, not aware what risk it poses to their people also. Nato said they
are not at war with the people of Serbia. Why are they killing us then,
and our unborn children?'
German Epidemiologist Professor Siegwort-Horst Gunther carried out a five
year study into the effects of DU on the Iraqi population. He found 'a
considerable increase in infectious diseases caused by severe
immunodeficiencies; AIDS like syndromes; massive herpes and zoster
infections; a hitherto unknown syndrome caused by renal and hepatic
dysfunctions; leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and malignant neoplasms and
congenital deformities caused by genetic defects in both people and
animals'. Gunther backs up his findings with numerous photographs of
severely disfigured children and livestock. Children were particularly
badly affected. The DU 'silver bullets' became collectable toys. 'I saw
play with projectiles,' says Gunther. 'One of them died from leukaemia.'
An American study carried out in 1993 claimed around 50,000 Iraqi children
died in the first eight months after the war as a consequence of DU
contamination. A separate study of DU effects on Iraqi military personel
reported a five fold increase in lymphomas, leukaemias and brain cancers,
seven years on. Both British and American militaries have conducted tests
DU contamination, but neither will release their findings.
Dr Hari Sharma from the University of Waterloo in Toronto, recently
finished testing forty Gulf War Veterans from four different countries,
most of whom are still excreting DU in their urine eight years after the
war. 'If eight people's lungs are exposed to a gram of DU, one of them
will suffer some
type of fatal cancer. It's a lottery,' says Sharma.
During the Gulf war thousands of allied troops were exposed to DU in both
combat and rescue missions. While reclaiming allied armaments shot with
'friendly fire' soldiers often worked in shorts and t-shirts. None were
informed of the risks of DU, or offered protective clothing. Scientists
who come into contact with the metal wear full body 'space suits' and
Dr Doug Rokke was responsible for recommending medical care for allied DU
casualties in the Gulf and later became DU project director for the US
Department of Defence (DOD) 1994-5. Rokke is one of only fifty Gulf
veterans who are receiving any treatment from the US government.
He is incensed that 'adequate medical care has never been provided (By DOD
or MOD) and that mandated educational, training and operational guidelines
have never been fully implemented'.
With others he is calling for a global ban on DU munitions. If used in
Kosovo, Rokke insists the necessary medical care and environmental clean
up must be provided including radiation screening of possible casualties
and the immediate sealing off of a 25 meter area around the destroyed item
until all contaminated DU penetrators, fragments and dust is removed.
Bearing in mind the allies fired over 900,000 DU rounds in the Gulf, that
is quite some task.
Reluctantly paying for the bombing of Yugoslavia, the US congress has said
it does not intend to pay for the clean up of the country afterwards.
Similarly there are no plans to decontaminate Iraq.
Rokke says British and American governments have failed to be honest with
Gulf War veterans about DU. A view shared by MP Tony Benn who is convinced
the Americans have already used DU in Kosovo. Benn was a member of the
Labour cabinet that agreed to accept DU bullets into British arsenals. 'We
were told that the Americans wanted us to have them and the Germans had
agreed to have them, so the meeting agreed to have them. I argued that it
crossed the line from conventional to nuclear weapons, and I was voted
I was the only one.'
It is not as though allied governments were unaware of the dangers. In
July 1990, before any DU was fired in the Gulf, the Science and
Applications International Corporation (SCIAC) reported: 'Short term
effects of high doses [of DU] can result in death, while long term effects
of low doses have
been implicated in cancer.' It goes on to warn that long term health risks
may make DU unacceptable as a weapon. Not something that appeared to
concern allied commanders sending troops into a toxic and radioactive war
zone. In a document from 1993 entitled 'Operation Desert Storm: Army Not
Adequately Prepared to Deal With Depleted Uranium Contamination,' the US
General Accounting Office wrote: 'Army officials believe that DU
protective methods can be ignored during battle because DU-related health
risks are greatly outweighed by the risks of combat.'
However, this time (in Kosovo) the effects of DU are known and the
pressure is on Nato from a host of organisations opposed to these weapons.
Questions have been asked in Parliament and a resolution banning the use
of DU in
warfare has been presented to a United Nations human rights forum in Geneva.
This week DU is under discussion at the international Hague Appeal for
Peace Conference. But this may be too little too late for Nikola Bozinovic
whose hands shake as he e-mails pleas for help across the planet. 'All the
work towards a ban
on DU will be useless, at least from our point of view, if they poison our
country for billions of years to come. Until then, we are waiting for more
bombs to come, more people to die. Please help us. Stop the war. Stop the
Contact: Campaign Against Depleted Uranium 0161 834 8301
email@example.com; Military Toxins Project, firstname.lastname@example.org; Swords to
Ploughshares, email@example.com. See DULink at
www.globaldialog.com/~kornkven/ and www.haguepeace.org
¥The UK Atomic Energy Authority calculated that there is enough depleted
uranium in Iraq to cause 500,000 potential deaths.
¥DU penetrators have a radioactivity of 200mrem/hour, delivering the
equivalent radiation dose of nearly 30 chest x-rays in an hour.
¥On February 8 a fire occured at a Royal Ordnance Speciality Metals
factory at Featherstone in Staffordshire where they make DU rounds.
Residents were advised to stay indoors and close their windows.
¥14 countries worldwide have DU weapons capabilities.
¥ DU is test fired in Scotland and the Solway Firth, where only a dozen of
the 1,000 plus DU projectiles fired have been recovered.
¥ The US has around half a million tons of DU in storage.
¥ Over past six months The US has exported at least 2,240 tons of DU to
France and Great Britain, primarily for the
manufacture of munitions (figs from Nuclear Regulatory Commission). The
shipments consist of 2000 tons of uranium metal from American co. Nuclear
Metals Inc. and two shipments of 158.76 tons of uranium tetrafluoride to
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) BNFL is importing the depleted uranium
for the manufacture of 120mm
anti-tank projectiles for British tanks.
¥During the 1982 Falklands War, British war ships had a weapons system
with uranium munitions, the M15 Phalanx.
¥ When Professor S.H. Gunther produced his evidence about the effects of
DU in Germany he was fined 3,000 deutchmarks for violating an Atomic
Energy Law. (By bringing a DU round to Berlin for testing). His pension
was stopped, his passport conviscated and his post opened and his phone
He was later arrested and imprisoned in Kiel. His treatment is such that
he was led to compare it to the time he spent detained by the Gestapo
during World War II.
¥ When the Chief of Nuclear Medicine of America's Veteran's Administration
Authority, Professor Asaf Durakovic, wrote to President Clinton asking for
an inquiry into DU contamination in 1997, he was fired. Out of 24 Gulf
veterans referred to Durakovic two are dead and 12 are seriously ill.
¥ The Faculty of Natural Sciences at Skopje, Macedonia have recorded
radioactivity levels three times normal in recent days.
¥ British Challenger and US M1A1 tanks are DU armour plated and fire DU.
If a ground invasion occurs both are likely to be deployed. British
Harriers have DU capability and it has been reported that Tomahawk cruise
missiles have a DU penetrating rod.
¥ The Geneva convention banned the targetting of civilians in warfare. By
their nature DU weapons, if immediate decontamination does not occur, kill
¥ Tungsten can be used as an alternative armoured piercing bullet, though
at much higher cost. The US Navy have adopted this.
¥ A training video and manual, on how to avoid DU contamination, produced
for US army soldiers in 1995 sat on shelves until 1997. Even today only a
fraction of service men and women have seen them.
¥More than 400 people living around nuclear weapons plants and research
facilities around the US are suffering from unexplained respiratory,
neurological and immune system problems.
Back to texts' page
Back to index page
This page has been visited times.