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2001-01-10

Depleted Uranium Becomes a Radioactive Issue—at Least in Europe

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NATO ambassadors are meeting in Brussels today to try to defuse a growing crisis over ammunition tipped with depleted uranium. Several countries, including Italy and Germany, want the weapons banned after a rash of leukemia cases among former peacekeepers who served in the Balkans.

But the US and UK are expected to argue that the armor-piercing shells are crucial to NATO’s operational effectiveness. Yesterday in a surprise move, Britain joined most NATO countries and announced that it will offer health screening to the thousands of soldiers who may have been exposed to depleted uranium during their tours in the Balkans.

It was only last month that NATO disclosed that US warplanes had fired 31,000 rounds in the 1999 campaign on targets mostly in Kosovo, but also in Serbia and Montenegro. In 1994 and 1995, Washington had fired some 10,000 rounds during attacks in Bosnia.

News broke last week that exposure to depleted uranium ammunition is the suspected cause of fatal cancers in six Italian soldiers and in promoting radiation-related illnesses around Europe.

The US however continues to insist that there is no link between exposure to DU and illness and death of veterans. Gulf Veterans, however, have long insisted that Gulf War Syndrome, a debilitating group of illnesses that have plagued Gulf Vets, is, in part, related to DU exposure. Some Gulf veterans tested for depleted uranium poisoning are said to had between 25 and 75 times the normal level of the chemical in their bodies.

And in Iraq, itself, the United Nations has implicated DU in a rise in cancers, especially in children.

Guests:

  • Scott Peterson, Moscow Bureau Chief of Christian Science Monitor
  • Jerry Wheat, Served in the Gulf War from 1990-91 where he drove a Bradley armored personal carrier. In 1991 he was shot with depleted uranium rounds in what the Pentagon called friendly fire and has subsequently suffered ill health and cancer.
  • Joanne Baker, Member of the Bristol Peace and Justice Group, Voices in the Wilderness, English teacher at City of Bristol College where Tony Blair spoke yesterday. Baker was also one of the activists who protested the sanctions on Iraq yesterday by throwing a rotten tomato at the prime minister.

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