Last update 15 Jan. 2001

Nato pressed to open uranium arms probe
UK Offers Soldiers Uranium Screening

Nato pressed to open uranium arms probe
Germany calls for inquiry and for use of weapons to be halted

LONDON Pressure mounted on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) this week for the use of depleted uranium munitions to be investigated.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it doubted the weapons could have caused leukaemia among peacekeepers in the Balkans.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder called for a halt in the use of uranium weapons and a full inquiry into possible effects on soldiers in the Balkans.

"I have a healthy scepticism about the use of munitions that could lead to dangers for our own soldiers," he said.

Officials from European Union states discussed the issue in Brussels yesterday and Nato ambassadors will do so today.

Most European governments have so far taken the view there is no evidence as yet linking depleted uranium, used in tankbusting ammunition, to soldiers' deaths from leukaemia.

Yet France, Germany, Italy and Greece have asked Nato about the risks. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for checks to establish "the real level of risk".

Experts at the WHO, a United Nations (UN) agency, said it was unlikely depleted uranium arms caused leukaemia. It said the metal had only 40% of radioactivity of naturally found uranium.

Also, no radiation-related increases in leukaemia had been proved among uranium miners or processors, or among people exposed to far higher radiation levels, after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, they said.

The WHO said, however, it would welcome an inquiry in case there were unknown factors at work.

Sapa-AFP reports that, as the controversy heated up, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright the US has admitted firing 31000 depleted uranium projectiles in Bosnia and Kosovo said: "There is absolutely no proof of a connection.

"We have forces there also, so we would have been concerned," she said in New York.

Clark (right) and Robertson

Yet Wesley Clark, a retired general who was Nato's supreme allied commander in the Kosovo conflict, said soldiers ought to take precautions when handling the material.

"It is clear that it is up to the military chiefs to warn (soldiers) of all possible dangers and to recommend that nothing be touched," Clark said.

UN observers have discovered radioactivity at eight sites in Kosovo where depleted uranium warheads exploded. Experts say the danger from the weapons is not from low-level radiation they emit but from poisonous dust created on impact.

Jan 10 2001 12:00:00:000AM Alexander Nicoll, Ralph Atkins and Frances Williams Business Day 1st Edition


Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, January 9, 2001

UK Offers Soldiers Uranium Screening

By EMMA ROSS, AP Medical Writer

     LONDON -- Britain will offer screening to veterans of the Kosovo and Bosnian wars for signs of illness, the government said Tuesday, joining its European allies in a scramble to allay concerns about depleted uranium in tank-busting weapons.
     However, Armed Forces Minister John Spellar said there was no medical evidence of a risk from depleted uranium ammunition, which he said would remain part of Britain's arsenal.
     Screening will not begin until experts have identified what they should be looking for and how, and the tests will be voluntary, Spellar said.
     "It will also be important to coordinate an approach with allies ... and to ensure that all data available across NATO is pooled as a basis for subsequent decisions," he said.
     The United States on Tuesday joined Britain in saying there was no known danger to their own troops and no reason to take the ammunition -which has the unique ability to penetrate tank armor -out of service.
     "We have advised the members of NATO what steps they should take in dealing with this," Defense Secretary William Cohen said in Washington. "I suppose if there were any deficiency to be found, it would be in the failure to pick up fragments of destroyed vehicles or tanks in which the depleted uranium projectiles were used."
     The potential health hazards come from inhaling or swallowing the dust created when the ammunition hits its target, and could lead to cancer from radiation decades after exposure, or kidney damage from metal poisoning.
     Experts say it is unlikely that any cancer currently detected in Balkan veterans would be connected to depleted uranium because the disease would not have emerged so soon. Kidney damage would be expected earlier.
     Depleted uranium has not been widely studied and experts say they don't know exactly how much must be consumed to be harmful. The few studies that have been conducted, on veterans of the Gulf War -where depleted uranium ammunition was used in much higher amounts -have found no evidence of a connection to cancer or any other illness reported by troops.
     "These issues are not new and we must not unduly alarm service personnel and their families about the position," Spellar said. "That said, we do recognize that there are some concerns among our people and we recognize a need to reassure them."
     He dismissed calls for a ban on the weapons.
     "This ammunition provides a battle-winning military capability. Alternative materials are not as effective," Spellar told the House of Commons. Depleted uranium "will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future."
     The announcement followed a wave of concern across Europe, sparked by Italy's decision last month to investigate illnesses among 30 of its soldiers who had served in the Balkans, including five who have died of leukemia.
     Since then, investigations or screening programs have been announced in a number of other European countries, with many civilian aid agencies also checking workers. Ireland and Denmark also announced screening plans on Tuesday.

Wesley K. Clark

     Retired U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, who led the 1999 NATO campaign in Yugoslavia, told Greece's Mega Channel Files program Tuesday he was not convinced there is a link.
     "It's very important that when soldiers are taken ill, that all of the possible causes were examined, and those causes range from everything, from allergic reactions to particular dusts or soil contamination in the area, through food that people have eaten, into the cigarettes they're smoking," he said.
     "It could be a number of factors, and so I don't quite understand what's caused this public linkage with depleted uranium," Clark said.
     Some 300 tons or depleted uranium was fired by NATO forces in the Gulf War, compared to nine tons in Kosovo and three tons in Bosnia, Spellar said.
     NATO, meeting in Brussels, Belgium, took up the issue of depleted uranium Tuesday for the first time since the issue flared in recent weeks, but the allies quickly shot down an Italian plea for a moratorium on the weapons.
     While the alliance is not a scientific organization, one suggestion at the Political Committee meeting was that NATO could act as a clearinghouse for information on depleted uranium. Those studies, however, are the domain of member nations or outside organizations, officials said.
     Spain, which has had at least one soldier die of leukemia and two treated for cancer, has firmly stated it also does not believe depleted uranium is behind the illnesses.
     Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said Tuesday in an interview with the private TV station Antena 3 that medical checks on soldiers and a World Health Organization report revealed "no cause-effect relation" between the ammunition and disease.
     Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, visiting his country's peacekeepers in Kosovo, called Tuesday for a ban on depleted uranium weapons.
     Meanwhile, Norwegian peacekeepers refused to sign contracts for service in Yugoslavia, demanding information on the risk from depleted uranium, Norway's TV/2 network reported.
     A group of Belgian soldiers announced plans to sue their government because of health problems allegedly caused by service in the Balkans.
     In Stockholm, Sweden's military said soldiers who served in the Balkans will be informed about possible health risks from depleted uranium and will be invited to fill out a questionnaire about their health.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times