U.S. and British Warplanes, Submarines and Tanks All Fired Radioactive DU in the Balkans

By John LaForge

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., author of No Immediate Danger, has issued this warning regarding depleted uranium weapons:

It is imperative that we all denounce this radiation and toxic chemical warfare. The damage being done will not only cause incredible and unending suffering to today's victims, but the genetic damage [DU] may cause can be passed on to their offspring. Such weapons need to be condemned as utter barbarism. [DU] has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Tribunal (August 1996 Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities).

In the face of international pleas for a ban on their use, U.S. and British forces used so-called depleted uranium (DU) weapons in the NATO bombardment of the Balkans. In view of the dreadful health affects attributed to DU weapons by some scientists, these so-called "tankbusters" might better be called "genebusters."

On May 3, 1999 Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald acknowledged that DU munitions were used but the Pentagon will not say where they exploded. DU rounds were fired from the AV-8B and A-10 "warthog" warplanes, and the A-10s are known for firing 3,900 rounds a minute. In addition, U.S. and British tanks fired thousands of DU rounds.

A week earlier, on April 26, NATO's German spokesman Col. Konrad Freytag said during a Washington press briefing, "We use ammunition against tanks…and…there is depleted uranium we use to harden this ammunition." Col. Freytag even said, "It's not radioactive at all."

United Nations documents also confirm that DU is used in the U.S. cluster bombs and as a stabilizer (ballast) in the hundreds of Cruise missiles used in the assault. The Laka Foundation reports that U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles each have 30 kilograms of DU. Although the actual number is classified, at least 450 Cruise missiles, carrying about 13,500 kilograms of DU, were fired during the 78-day bombardment.

British research biologist Roger Coghill, interviewed by the BBC, has calculated that NATO forces fired more than 500,000 DU rounds, half of which detonated. Coghill estimates that as many as 10,000 extra cancer deaths may result from this use of DU. He cites Greek and Bulgarian evidence of increased radiation levels in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and northern Greece. The BBC declared: "Depleted uranium 'threatens Balkan cancer epidemic.'"

DU is uranium-238, a chemically toxic and radioactive heavy metal left from the refining of uranium. DU is essentially radioactive waste "depleted" of most of its U-235, which is separated for use in H-bombs and reactor fuel. Because U-238 is 1.7 times as dense as lead the military likes it for armor-piercing ammunition and tank armor.

DU shells are incendiaries - they explode, burn and aerosolize on impact - and cast uranium oxide dust to the four directions. On impact about 70% of the DU dissolves in a burning spray of uranium dust. Once dispersed, the uranium-238 poisons the air, water and soil and can be inhaled or ingested where it lodges in the lungs or kidneys. It is an alpha emitter and has a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

The use of DU during the 1991 Persian Gulf experiment is reported to be responsible for increased numbers of cancers, still births, birth defects, leukemias and rare illnesses in southern Iraq. In 1991 the U.S. and Britain fired more than 320 tons of the material over Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Over 90,000 U.S. veterans of the Gulf action report undiagnosed illnesses that are often associated with radiation exposure.

NATO and the Pentagon claim that U-238 is only mildly radioactive and poses no special danger. But the BBC reports that British military personnel in Kosovo have been warned to stay away from areas affected by DU. The BBC also reported that the U.S. Army's Environmental Policy Institute found in 1995: "If DU enters the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical consequences." The Institute said "The risks associated with DU are both chemical and radiological."

August 13, the United Nations Environment Program announced that it is investigating the potential harm to human health from the DU explosions in the Balkans. Its report is expected in October.

Now, Canadian researchers have found "unequivocal evidence" of long-term DU contamination of Persian Gulf veterans. Dr. Hari Sharma at the Univ. of Waterloo in Ontario, Patricia Horan at the Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland and Malcolm Hooper at the Univ. of Sunderland say that veterans have been shown to be passing U-238 in urine eight years after the Gulf war. "U.S. forces used DU in Kosovo," Hooper told BBC News Online, "and that is disturbing." He says the new studies show "significant exposure to DU, exposure which the [British] Ministry of Defense and the Pentagon have always maintained did not happen."

The U.S. Army has quietly admitted the danger of DU weapons by asking medical doctors with the National Academy of Sciences for advice on radiation protection for troops.

On May 6, in the midst of the DU bombing of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, the NAS reported that "military planners are preparing for [radiation] exposure that could occur during…the use of radioactive materials in conventional explosives… These exposures could increase the risk of leukemia and certain cancers later in life." (It is worth noting here that Department of the Air Force law prohibits the use of poison and forbids the use of weapons that have delayed affects.) The NAS also suggests that Commanders balance "radiation-related risks against risks from alternative actions." The scientists also directed the DOD to provide "training to all soldiers and inform them of actual or suspected radiation exposure."

WISE News Communiqué, May 21, 1999, & June 4, 1999;
BBC News, Aug. 27 & July 30, 1999;
Pacifica Network News, Aug. 23, 1999;
Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, Manchester, UK;
"Depleted Uranium: A Post-War Disaster for Environment and Health," May 1999, The Laka Foundation, Amsterdam;
"Radiation Threats in Post-Cold War Era Bring New Strategy for Protecting Troops," National Academy of Sciences press release, May 6, 1999;
"International Law: The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations," USAF Pamphlet, No. 110-31, November 19, 1976.