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World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, Thursday 6 May 1999,  10.30 p.m. (8 minutes)

DU and other environmental impacts of the Balkans War

Presenter:  Janet Cohen

(modern war).. experts believe have been devastating effects on the health
of people living in southern Iraq.  In Serbia Nato actions ... and the water

Janet Cohen has been trying to assess the environmental time-bomb which
could have been planted in the Balkans.

US MILITARY TRAINING VIDEO SOUNDTRACK:  "Its a complex mixture of air power and land power. New
technology has resulted in faster, deadlier weapons."

JANET COHEN:  .(some of these weapons include Depleted Uranium or) DU.  It's
a waste product of the nuclear industry.  Extremely hard and used instead of
lead in bullets and shells.  (It is more effective at blasting its way
through the armour of tanks).  This is what's in the rounds fired by the A10
aircraft used for the first time in Kosova this week.  But its what happens
after the impact that bothers the environmentalists.

SOUNDTRACK:  Combat engagements, accidents or equipment malfunctions may
result in contaminated equipment.

JANET COHEN:  Campaigners at the Military Toxins Project in America say that
this training material was never used.  So they've posted it on the
Spokesperson Tara Thornton claims that today's troops are ill-prepared for
dealing with the contamination from Depleted Uranium in spite of all the
lessons of the Gulf War.

TARA THORNTON: Back in the Persian Gulf let me just say that the United
States and the British used depleted uranium weaponry both as ammunition and
also as shielding around tanks.  What happens when this ammunition hits its
target, it burns upon impact which causes Uranium Oxides which are tiny dust
like particles that can float and travel in the air and can be breathed in,
inhaled, ingested.  If folks have any wounds the depleted uranium can
contaminate their wounds as well."

JANET COHEN:  Once it was thought Uranium Dioxide stayed in the body for
under 2 years.  But recent tests on some Gulf War veterans have found that a
third still have uranium dioxide dust in their lungs, today 8 years after
the conflict.  The tests were carried out by radio-chemist Hari Sharma who
is Emeritus Professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

DR HARI SHARMA:  I was a most surprised that it would exist 8-9 years in
their body.  I was really taken aback that they did have some.  It was 1991
when they were exposed to Depleted Uranium in the Gulf War.   If you see it
in 1998 or 99 that meant that they have ingested or inhaled substantial
amounts of depleted uranium.

JANET COHEN:   Ray Bristow was an operating theatre technician in the Gulf
War.  As part of the medical team he was always at least 20 kilometres
behind the front line.  Yet to his surprise he has discovered that he has
got depleted uranium in his lungs.  He believes he inhaled it as a dust
blown on the wind, or from the clothes of injured patients.  And he blames
it for his present symptoms: lethargy, depression, memory loss and internal
bleeding from the bowel.  Last December he went back to Iraq and saw the
lasting effects of DU on the environment there.

RAY BRISTOW:  I wanted to establish what sort of signs and symptoms the
Iraqi veterans were suffering from which was exactly the same as the allied
veterans. And not only was it their veterans but also the civilian
population from the southern areas of Iraq.  They are suffering from DU
poisoning also.  And its now entered the water table in Iraq.  And what's
causing me concern is that its being used now in the heart of Europe.  And
once it gets into the water table its going to be polluting the River Danube
which flows straight through the heart of Europe.

JANET COHEN:  But the war in Kosovo has left more visible signs of pollution
on the Danube.  For example oil slicks from bombed fuel depots in Serbia
have flowed downstream to the Kozloduy nuclear power station in Bulgaria.
It draws water from the river to cool its core.  Rolitza Paniottava belongs
to the Bulgarian environmental group Za Zemiata.

ROLITZA PANIOTTAVA*:  The local people and fisheries they have seen oil
spills.  And the main concern with that is the cooling system.  And we are
very much worried that in case of a thick oil spill gets to the cooling
system this can cause a serious accident.

JOHN LARGE:  This is a video of the Kozloduy fuel handling system on the
Danube.  This, the irradiated fuel....

JANET COHEN:  John Large who is consultant to the nuclear industry showed me
a video shot at the Kozloduy nuclear plant which he visited at the
invitation of the Bulgarian Government not long ago.  Crumbling concrete and
an atmosphere of dereliction don't inspire confidence.  He says Russian
technicians have abandoned the plant to local operators.  And their skill at
handling an oil spill could be in doubt.

JOHN LARGE:  I would guess that the design of the pumping system - it lifts
water from the Danube into a canal - and the canal then goes into the
nuclear power station in Kosloduy.. The critical problem is that if you get
oil in the pumps I very much doubt if the Russian design of these pumps was
to take account of taking oil into the pumps.  And also of sparking to cause
ignition at the pumps.  But that means you've got to have six reactors
closed down simultaneously and that's pretty difficult to do actually.
Closing down one reactor quickly is a difficult enough task.  But closing
down 6 simultaneously could present problems.

JANET COHEN:  But nuclear accidents aren't the only cause for concern.
Bombing petrochemical plants may have even more sinister results because in
some cases these places could be the development sites for lethal chemical
weapons, if they are indeed in the Serb armoury.  Paul Beaver of Jane's
Defence Weekly:

PAUL BEAVER:  There's been a lot of debate about what happens if you attack
a chemical store for example.  Can you, if its a chemical weapons store
which has something really nasty in say Sarin Nerve gas, can you create
enough heat with the weapon to actually burn it off?  And the answer is Yes
you can guarantee to burn off about 95%.  And this is always the problem.
It isn't possible to do everything.  And I think we are going to have, as a
result of this campaign, some environmental fallout just as we had in the

JANET COHEN:  And the worst environmental effects will probably come from
destroying more humdrum sites according to John Large.  Even a car factory
could release poisons into the air which are potentially lethal.

JOHN LARGE:  For example if you have a major fire in a factory following a
bomb you could release asbestos from the factory.  Big actions like weapons
not only destroy the equipment on the ground.  They send up plumes.  And the
plume is a very effective way of transporting a risk, a hazard, to a
population that has no preparation whatsoever. And you hear stories of
people saying well "We can't breath in this particular town after a Nato
bombing"  Well we don't know what they are breathing in.  And I am sure the
military strategists probably don't know what they are breathing  in either.

JANET COHEN:  John Large believes that the military doesn't take enough
account of how bombing campaigns really affect the environment.  But Paul
Beaver says they do as much as they can under the chaotic conditions of
conflict.  He says for example that the armed forces are preparing even now
for the cleanup that will have to follow the current offensive.

PAUL BEAVER:  One of the things which has happened as a result of the
strategic defence review is that within the Territorial Army there is a
group called Civil Affairs.  And their job is to go in after a conflict and
restore the systems, and to supervise the cleanup.  And these are people who
in their everyday life are professionals at doing just that.  And they are
ready to move.  In fact some of their vehicles have already been shipped.

JANET COHEN:  Who knows what these people will find?  The chemical fallout
of the Kosovo campaign will lend a new dimension to the overworked concept
of collateral damage.  But its practically guaranteed that the cleanup
operation will take far longer than the conflict that went before it.


Transcript by Dai Williams

* Apologies if spelling is wrong on Balkan names.

Further information on DU:
Military Toxics Project (USA) (207) 783 5091