NATO using depleted uranium weapons

Sunday Herald
Glasgow, Scotland

By Felicity Arbuthnot and Darran Gardner
April 4 1999

Deadly depleted uranium weapons, blamed for spiralling numbers of cancers and birth defects in Iraq, are being used by NATO forces in Yugoslavia.

Both Tomahawk Cruise missiles and munition rounds used by American Warthog bombers contain the radioactive waste material. While British forces launched their first cruise missiles from the submarine HMS Splendid this weekend, American forces have already fired more than 100 at targets across Yugoslavia.

The weapons, first used in the Gulf War in 1991, require depleted uranium (DU) for their armour piercing coating. The DU is imported under licence from America and manufactured into tank-busting shells by Royal Ordnance in the English Midlands, before being shipped to storage in South Wales and at Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire.

DU shells have been linked to Gulf War Syndrome, which is thought to be responsible for the deaths of more than 400 UK war veterans. DU munitions are currently listed by the UN as weapons of mass destruction.

Dan Fahy of the US Military Toxics Projects, an American environmental pressure group, told the Sunday Herald: "The Tomahawk cruise missiles now being used in the Balkans, and those used during Desert Storm as well as those used against Iraq in 1996 and December 1998, contain depleted uranium in their tips to provide weight and stability.

"When they impact a target or other hard surface, the area can be contaminated by uranium. "

Fahy warned that further contamination could occur if European and US forces launched a ground war against the Serbian forces of President Slobodan Milosevic. "If tanks go in, there will be further spread of DU."

According to Chris Helman, a senior analyst for the Centre of Defence Information in Washington, it would be "an aberration" for American Warthogs not to use DU munitions.

The lethal nature of exposure to DU has been well documented since the war in Iraq. A report sent by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to the British government in 1990, warned that if the 50 tonnes of residual uranium dust was left in the Gulf area there would be more than half a million extra cancers by the end of the century. Up to 900 tonnes was left throughout Iraq and Kuwait.

In Scotland, DU has already been linked to a leukaemia cluster around the MoD firing range at Dundrennan, near the Solway Firth. Communities close to the range, where 7,000 shells have been tested since 1983, show the highest rate of childhood leukaemia in the UK.

After the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) recently found radioactive contamination on the site, people living near the range have been increasingly anxious about the long-term health implications. Backed by their MP Alisdair Morgan, they have called for an independent health and environmental study to be carried out.

Despite the information provided by Fahy and Helman, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence dismissed as "nonsense" the claim that British and American Tomahawks contained DU.

Major Rick Jones, spokesman for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe, said: "We don't comment on any ordnance." Both Nato and the Pentagon refused to comment.