Bosnia: NATO's use of radioactive weapons

HAVANA (2 January 2003) -- EXPERTS from the UN Environment Program (UNEP) recently found three radioactive foci in Bosnia-Herzegovina from recovered missiles containing U-238 depleted uranium used by NATO in the 1995 air attacks. Two of these foci were found in the Sarajevo suburb of Hadzici, and the third in a military warehouse in Han Pijesak, in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, according to preliminary results of an investigation made at the request of the Bosnian Government, which will be published in March 2003.

In the course of the attacks on Serbian-Bosnian positions (Sarajevo at the end of the civil war in Bosnia 1992-1995), NATO aviation used munitions with U-238, a heavy metal used on penetrating missiles. According to the Bosnian Government, some 10,800 30mm missiles were fired then. Once they were on the ground, the munitions contaminate the environment and increase the level of uranium 100 times in the ground water. The investigation was made after warnings that remainders of this material is still dispersing in the environment -- it burns on impact and spreads as an aerosol -- which could affect the local people's health as well as the NATO Multinational Stabilization Force (SFOR).

Some governments with troops in the former Yugoslavia Republic have begun their own investigations and an expert team from the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Army visited hospitals and collected medical and statistical information. In a report made at the beginning of 2002 after almost 18 months of investigations, the UNEP dismissed the existence of radioactive or toxic risks for the health of those in places attacked by NATO in Bosnia, and later during the aggression against Yugoslavia (March-June 1999). However, it did alert of possible contamination of ground water in lands excavated to be used for construction or agriculture, after observing an increase of radioactivity in six Serbian locations and one in Montenegro, whose underground waters are permanently monitored.

The British Royal Society determined in March that to ingest or breathe U-238 (depleted uranium) aerosols in strong doses could damage kidneys, and suggests this is the origin of a strange pain suffered by British veterans days after they presented a collective suit against the Defence Ministry. The institute, one of the most prestigious centres of scientific investigation in the United Kingdom, found that an important quantity of U-238 on the ground could be a long-term threat for people if it infiltrated the water mantle. Prior analysis had admitted that a high quantity of depleted uranium could produce lung cancer.

Since the Atlantic Alliance launched 31,000 missiles with U-238 -- used in the attack on Iraq in 1991 and later in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1994-1995) in the south of Serbia and province of Kosovo -- experts do not agree on the dangers of this missile. Twice heavier than lead, the U-238 has ideal properties to penetrate hard materials, but when burning it is transformed into uranium oxide, gives off radioactive particles easily inhaled and is a source of internal contamination. Warheads used with this material -- mainly for anti-armour perforating missiles -- are considered conventional weapons. In the case of U-238, remains found in six different places of Kosovo investigated at the end of 2000 and beginning of 2001 -- of the 112 attacked by NATO aviation -- UNEP detected the presence of plutonium and uranium 236 isotopes that indicate the materials used were from nuclear reactor wastes.

Scientific and military methods reveal that the use of depleted uranium can be the cause of the so-called "Balances Syndrome," in which the appearance of diverse kinds of cancer is the common distinguishing feature of this pain, particularly suffered by veterans of those war adventures. Discussions on U-238 as the cause of leukemia provoking the death of several soldiers from country-participants in the intervention in Bosnia and later in the attack on Yugoslavia beginning in December 1999 when Italy informed of its fatality victims. Shortly before the death of a Spanish soldier as a consequence of an acute Type-5 leukemia (in the FAB classification), the symptoms of chronic fatigue, loss of hair, skin eruptions, violent headaches, muscle pains, temporary paralysis of arms and legs, loss of memory and gastric problems, were characterized as "Balances Syndrome."

The US, United Kingdom, Spain and the NATO officially say that U-238 is innocuous, and refuse to stop war use of armoured missiles with this heavy metal. There are much U-238 in the waste from the uranium enrichment process, and we estimate that the US has stored some 500 tons.

During the 70s, the US Defence Department analyzed possibilities to use these reserves and lowered the price of its conservation. It also states that this metal is less radioactive than natural uranium. Nevertheless, shortly after the aggression of the international coalition led by the US, the Iraqi government denounced a spectacular increase of cancer in the country's south. Veterans of those invasions in the Arab country had a mysterious disease denominated "Gulf Syndrome." Bosnia came later, cancer increased there and in Serbia, where cattle were born with malformations and health authorities have been on alert. U-238 particles are still detectable in the air.

Despite these testimonies, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) refused to suspend the use of depleted uranium munitions. The US and United Kingdom are firm in their affirmation that there is no conclusive scientific proof that relates U-238 with the unexplained "syndromes," although a new aggression against Iraq could provide it.

* Hugo Alonso is a journalist for the Prensa Latina Europe Section. (Prensa Latina, January 2, 2003)

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