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Update - NATO bombing, DU weapons

Peace Movement Aotearoa

PO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173,

Issued 6 April 1999

Kia ora,

We have now received a number of reports which tend to confirm that Depleted Uranium armour piercing shells have been used in the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia.

From England came this message : "31 March 1999 - Tony Benn (MP) has stated that NATO has admitted to using depleted uranium in Kosovo. It was on Sky News last night and he mentioned it in a speech today in the House of Commons."

We also had a report (unconfirmed) that reports on Australian TV had discussed the use of DU weapons on hardened military storage depots and sites in Yugoslavia.

Finally, the International Action Center (New York) issued the following press release on 1 April (bad day for press releases !!), we copy their release here as it pretty much covers all the concerns about the use of DU weapons :

International Action Center - For Immediate Release, April 1, 1999

Radioactive weapons used by U.S. and NATO in Kosovo

The International Action Center, a group that opposes the use of depleted-uranium weapons, called the Pentagon's decision to use the A-10 "Warthog" jets against targets in Kosovo "a danger to the people and environment of the entire Balkans."

The A-10s were the anti-tank weapon of choice in the 1991 war against Iraq. It carries a GAU-8/A Avenger 30 millimeter seven-barrel cannon capable of firing 4,200 rounds per minute. During that war it fired 30 mm rounds reinforced with depleted uranium, a radioactive weapon.

There is solid scientific evidence that the depleted uranium residue left in Iraq is responsible for a large increase in stillbirths, children born with defects, and childhood leukaemia and other cancers in the area of southern Iraq near Basra, where most of these shells were fired. Many U.S. veterans groups also say that DU residues contributed to the condition called "Gulf War Syndrome" that has
affected close to 100,000 service people in the U.S. and Britain with chronic sickness.

John Catalinotto, a spokesperson from the Depleted Uranium Education Project of the International Action Center and an editor of the 1997 book Metal of Dishonor: Depleted Uranium, said the use of DU weapons in Yugoslavia "adds a new dimension to the crime NATO is perpetrating against the Yugoslav people--including those in Kosovo."

Catalinotto explained that the Pentagon uses DU, a waste product of the uranium enrichment process used for making atomic bombs and nuclear fuel, because it is extremely dense--1.7 times as dense as lead. "DU is used in alloy form in shells to make them penetrate targets better. As the shell hits its target, it burns and releases uranium oxide into the air. The poisonous and radioactive uranium is most dangerous when inhaled into the body, where it will release radiation during the life of the person who inhaled it," said Catalinotto.

Sara Flounders, a contributing author of Metal of Dishonor: Depleted Uranium and the Co-Director of the International Action Center, said, "Warthogs fired roughly 940,000 rounds of DU shells during the Gulf War. More than 600,000 pounds of radioactive waste was left in the Gulf Region after the war. And DU weapons in smaller number were already used by NATO troops during the bombing of Serbian areas of Bosnia in 1995.

"The use of Warthogs with DU shells threatens to make a nuclear wasteland of Kosovo," Flounders said. " The pentagon is laying waste to the very people--along with their children--they claim to be saving; this is another reason for fighting to end NATO's attack on Yugoslavia.

"Worldwide protests against these bombings are growing. The U.S. use of radioactive weapons must be linked to all the protests and opposition that is taking place internationally to the bombing. These protests must be joined by environmental activists, veterans groups, anti-nuclear groups, and all those who know the long-term destruction to the environment and to whole civilian populations that this type of warfare will cause."

* And finally, from the US Department of Defence comes the following :


Q. What is depleted uranium?

A. Depleted uranium is the by-product of the process for converting ("enriching") natural uranium for use as nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. Depleted uranium is approximately 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium. The depleted uranium used in armor-piercing munitions is also widely used in civilian industry, primarily for stabilizers in airplanes and boats.

Q. What makes depleted uranium a potential hazard?

A. Depleted uranium is a heavy metal that is also slightly radioactive. Heavy metals (uranium, lead, tungsten, etc.) have chemical toxicity properties that, in high doses, can cause poisoning and health effects.

A common misconception is that depleted uranium's primary hazard is radiological. This is not the case under most battlefield exposure scenarios. Depleted uranium emits alpha and beta particles, and gamma rays. Alpha particles, the primary radiation type produced by depleted uranium, are blocked by skin; while beta particles are blocked by the boots and battle dress utility uniform (BDUs) typically worn by service members. While gamma rays are pure energy and are highly penetrating, the amount of gamma radiation emitted by depleted uranium is extremely low.

The 120mm sabot rounds fired from the main guns of U.S. Abrams series tanks figure prominently in most of the depleted uranium exposure scenarios and incidents investigated to date. The round uses a 10.7 lb. depleted uranium penetrator that is approximately 18 inches long and 1.5 inches thick. When fired, or after "cooking off" in fires or explosions, the depleted uranium rod, now unshielded, or exposed, poses an extremely low radiological threat as long as it remains outside the body. Internalized in sufficient quantity, however, via metal fragments or dust-like particles and oxides, depleted uranium may pose a long-term health hazard to personnel. However,the medical significance of a specific exposure scenario is dependent on a number of factors, including particle size distribution and solubility as well as the amount of depleted uranium taken into the body.

Q. Were any studies on the health effects of depleted uranium ever conducted prior to the onset of the Gulf War? What were the findings of those studies?

A. The toxicity of uranium has been studied extensively. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry just recently published a Draft Toxicological Profile for uranium, an update to the original profile published in May 1989. The health effects of uranium were well established before the Gulf War. It is primarily a heavy metal, chemical toxicity concern, and not a radiological hazard.

The environmental effects of depleted uranium have been studied comprehensively by a wide range of governmental and non-governmental bodies both before and after the Gulf War. Burn tests and other evaluations performed under simulated battlefield conditions indicated that the health risk factors associated with the battlefield use of depleted uranium were minimal and in most cases could be prevented or lessened by simple, field-expedient measures, especially, avoidance of depleted uranium-contaminated vehicles and sites. Unfortunately, troop awareness of the hazards posed by battlefield depleted uranium contamination was generally low. As a result, many personnel did not practice field-expedient measures that would have prevented or mitigated possible exposures.

COMMENT - unfortunately, civilian awareness of the hazards of depleted uranium weapons is even lower than US troop awareness.

For more information on DU weapons, check out,, and you can read the Final Report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses which mentions DU.

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