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U.N. checks fallout of NATO bombs on Yugoslavia

24 August 1999

YUGOSLAVIA: August 24, 1999

BELGRADE - U.N. environmental experts assessing the impact of NATO bombing on life in Yugoslavia said that detecting possible radioactive fallout was one of its hardest tasks.

The United Nations Environmental Programme team has been in Yugoslavia for several weeks looking at places which could have been polluted by the 11 weeks of air strikes carried out because of Belgrade's policy in Kosovo. On Monday it launched a new mission focusing on the Danube River.

Pekka Haavisto, chairman of UNEP's Balkans Task Force (BTF), said it would be looking for a whole range of chemicals and other toxic waste.

But at a news conference held to outline the mission, local reporters homed in on the issue of depleted uranium, which has continued to worry many people in Yugoslavia since the bombing campaign ended in June.

Local environmental and health experts have warned that the depleted uranium would have unpredictable and immeasurable consequences on the nation's health, citing reports of a range of illnesses in Iraq after the Gulf War.

UNEP and NATO sources have confirmed depleted uranium was used during the Kosovo conflict but said it was only used in shells against tanks, which were mainly based in the province, not in the missiles fired at targets elsewhere in Yugoslavia.

UNEP said earlier this month that the possible consquences of the depleted uranium had yet to be fully established. Haavisto insisted that radioactivity in Yugoslavia was not higher than normal as a result of the uranium.

He said measuring the depleted uranium itself was complicated and that the UNEP had had to take advice from other organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organisation and the Swedish Radiation Institute.

"Of course, there are a lot of rumours, a lot of concerns but we'd like them (experts) to go very scientifically on this study," Haavisto said.

Haavisto said experts were having to separate the depleted uranium 238 and compare it to uranium 235.

"We face the question. What then? What is actually the consquence? What kind of results after that? And for that we need scientific advice," he said.

The first results will be completed in early September and then UNEP will decide what to do next, he said.

"Then we can decide whether we actually are capable to go on and have something to really measure," he added.

As far as the Danube goes, the main worries concern possible chemical spills. Over the next four days, scientists will visit potential "hot-spots" around the Novi Sad oil refinery, Pancevo industrial complex and a tributary near the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac to assess the damage, UNEP said.

Experts from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Germany, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden will visit the Iron Gates dam on the Yugoslav-Romanian border where the Djerdap reservoir holds extensive layers of sediment that can absorb organic matter and toxic waste possibly carried down in the Danube. The new mission is organised in cooperation with the Vienna-based International Commission on the Protection of the Danube River.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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