LLRC Journal Radioactive Times. Vol.5 No 1

Radioactive Times. Vol.5 No 1

Depleted Uranium in the Balkans and its Effects

The UNEP Kosovo DU Report

Following concerns about the possible health effects of radioactive contamination from Depleted Uranium weapons used by NATO in the actions in Kosovo in 1999, a number of scientists and experts were assembled under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme to visit Kosovo between 5-19th November 2000 to investigate levels of contamination and report on possible health hazards. UNEP made three main claims relating to the findings.

  • There was no widespread dispersion of DU in areas of Kosovo where the shells were fired. DU measurements showed only local contamination, i.e. there was no evidence of DU further than 10-50 metres from a direct hit site.
  • There was no contamination of water sources.
  • There was no health hazard to humans anywhere with the possible exception of some slight danger from handling shell fragments for a long period.
Examination of the tables of results shows that all three of these conclusions are incorrect and that the results showed the presence of widespread contamination by DU both by aerosol dispersion of particles greater than 0.2 micron diameter and decay products of U-238. Significantly, the tables of results were not attached to the report when it was presented in Geneva in March 2001. Chris Busby was invited to Strasbourg to make a presentation of his analysis of the report at a meeting organised by the Green Group. He shared the platform with the head of the UNEP team, Dr Snihs of the Swedish Radiological Protection Institute. Close analysis of the tables of results which became available after the Press launch showed that 46% of all the samples taken contained DU. In addition, the tables had been arranged to bury the highest readings by using a tiny font and scientific E-format. Some of the levels found were extremely high. For example, in the Table a set of samples from different depths taken from Gjakove showed a highest reading of U-238 given as 2.26E+05. This means 226,000Bq/kg. The result was buried in the table out of sequence so that it would be missed by anyone but a scientist with a lot of time and a magnifying glass. In addition measurements made on filtered and unfiltered water in a rainwater pond at Vranovac showed large amounts of DU present in the water in particulate form, unable to pass a 0.2 micron filter. Chris asked Dr Snihs why UNEP had not looked at air concentrations. ‘Because there would be no DU in the air’, said Snihs.

However, in a more recent UNEP survey of Bosnia and Montenegro in 2002, teams did deploy air monitoring equipment and did in fact find the presence of DU particles in the air almost three years after the bombing took place.

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