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
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
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,
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
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
was 'a matter for each individual state'. The use of uranium was permitted.
A US army ballistic research laboratory report sent to the Guardian
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
Chemicals stockpiled by Iraq as well as the depleted uranium used by
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
it is not highly radioactive, but on impact uranium turns to dust and can be
'In our view it is a serious danger long term to soldiers returning
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
such weapons, said: 'Using uranium is a form of nuclear warfare that puts at
risk combatant and non-combatant alike.'