Nato uranium 'polluting
Radioactive air pollution has been
detected in some areas of Yugoslavia as a result of Nato's use of
uranium-tipped shells during the Kosovo conflict, according to a report on
the environmental impact of the 11-week military campaign.
Nato has confirmed that anti-tank shells fired by US Air Force Thunderbolt
aircraft during the conflict each contained 275 grams of depleted uranium.
This is a radioactive and chemically toxic material that, upon impact, may
turn into a "mobile aerosol", says the study. US military regulations
require that personnel wear protective clothing and masks when handling such
The report describes depleted uranium as "perhaps the most dangerous" of the
"carcinogenic and toxic substances" that were released during the bombing of
industrial targets in Yugoslavia. "Many of the compounds released can cause
miscarriages and birth defects, others are associated with fatal nerve and
liver diseases," says the report, which was prepared for the European
Commission, the EU's executive arm, by the Regional Environmental Centre for
Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest.
However, the head of a UN team of experts that has just begun to conduct
field work in Yugoslavia, while confirming the dangers inherent in depleted
uranium weapons, said alarming evidence of contamination had yet to be
found. Pekka Haavisto, a former Finnish environment minister who chairs the
Balkans Task Force of the United Nations environment programme, said the
mission would provide the international community with "a neutral and
scientifically credible report" on the situation as well as a costing of a
short- and long-term environmental plan for the region.
The report is due in September, after a second mission in August that will
focus on pollution of the Danube and the longer-term impact of the conflict
on biological diversity and human health. Mr Haavisto said last week the
team would also look at sites where depleted uranium weapons are alleged to
have been used, to check for radioactivity and the presence of toxic heavy
metals in the soil. The UN's confidential preliminary report described
depleted uranium ammunition, used to attack tanks and underground bunkers,
as "very dangerous and harmful".
The deployment of depleted uranium weapons during the Gulf war against Iraq
has been linked by military veterans organisations in the US and UK to a
host of ailments afflicting former servicemen, as well as to an increase in
congenital birth defects among Iraqi children.
The 14-strong UN team of scientists and other experts began its field work
in Yugoslavia on Tuesday, collecting samples at the destroyed Pancevo
petrochemical plant and oil refinery 15km north-east of Belgrade.
The UN's preliminary report, compiled at the end of May, before the end of
the conflict, said the bombing of oil refineries, petrochemical plants and
other industrial facilities had caused "serious" environmental damage.
Many of the released compounds could cause "cancer, miscarriages and birth
defects" while "others are associated with fatal nerve and liver diseases",
the UN report warned.
The UN team has two mobile laboratories and plans to spend 10 days
conducting an environmental assessment of the most badly damaged sites. In
addition to the Pancevo complex, these include the Novi Sad oil refinery,
the Baric chemical plant and Rakovica industrial complex near Belgrade, the
Zastava car factory at Kragujevac, and oil depots in Kraljevo, Nis and
Pristina, Kosovo. The report prepared for the European Commission, which has
not yet been published, said air and soil in the region had been polluted by
industrial chemicals and heavy metals.