By John Catalinotto

A United Nations official who chairs the task force investigating the impact on the environment of the 78-day U.S.-NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia said on Oct. 14 that NATO officials had refused to cooperate regarding their use of depleted-uranium weapons.

Pekka Haavisto, task-force chairperson, said his team was unable to determine the extent of pollution caused by uranium-tipped weapons. He said NATO refused either to admit using the weapons or to cooperate with the task force.

Sara Flounders of the International Action Center denounced NATO’s refusal to cooperate. The IAC has opened a Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S.-NATO War Crimes Against Yugoslavia. Flounders said that "given the refusal of NATO to cooperate, the commission will have to look to Yugoslav reports of DU contamination to establish the facts."

Depleted uranium—or DU—is the waste product of the process to collect the enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons or nuclear-power plants. It is radioactive and poisonous. And it is so dense that when turned into a metal alloy it can greatly increase the power of a shell to penetrate armor. DU was heavily used in the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, especially against Iraqi tanks.

When the DU shell hits metal armor, it starts to burn and releases tiny particles of the radioactive metal into the air. When humans inhale or ingest these particles, the particles lodge in lungs or other organs, becoming a long-term site of radioactive contamination—a hot spot in the body.

Iraqi doctors have found high levels of leukemia and other cancers and birth defects in the areas where DU was most used during the war. In addition, about 100,000 U.S. troops have experienced symptoms categorized as the Gulf War Syndrome, which may be at least partially caused by DU.

"We did not find any evidence that depleted uranium was used against the tanks and vehicles we inspected," Haavisto said. He admitted, however, that only a small number of tanks had been examined.

In its report, the task force says immediate action is needed to obtain information from NATO confirming "if, how and where" depleted uranium weapons were used.

NATO and Pentagon officers have publicly admitted using depleted uranium weapons during the campaign against Yugoslavia, but they claim it was only in small quantities. Yet they used the A-10 fighter-bomber extensively. This plane, known as the Warthog, can deliver thousands of DU rounds each minute against a target.

Only U.S. planes fired DU weapons in the war against Yugoslavia.

The UN report also recommends immediate action to clean up four pollution "hot-spots"—at Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor. Toxic waste spills and other damage at these sites are serious and pose a threat to human health, it stated.

Haavisto, a former Finnish environment minister, said an urgent clean-up program would cost some $20 million. Yugoslav reports stress that the environmental damage is much greater and would require much more money to clear it up adequately.


Back to: NO to NATO

Back to: Depleted Uranium


press releases