Translation of an interview by
German weekly "DIE WOCHE"
from January 19, 2001
The radio-biologist WOLFGANG KOEHNLEIN criticizes
the thoughtless handling of
radar waves and uranium ammunition by military
DIE WOCHE: In the midst of the uproar about
the uranium ammunition it now has
also turned out that German sol-diers working at radar screens have been
exposed to enormous health hazards. Due to this fact nearly 100 soldiers were
claimed to have fallen ill between 1970 and 1990. Is there really no
sensitivity at all among military officials concerning radiation exposure?
KOEHNLEIN: In this range much is being covered
up because it supposedly
threatens national security. That it has certainly taken so long till this
problem became public is again another scandal on its own.
DIE WOCHE: Why is working at radar screens so dangerous?
KOEHNLEIN: This has not yet been sufficiently
examined. Principally radar
waves behave like ray in a microwave oven, where water molecules are brought
into oscillation and thus warmed up. In humans these rays can lead to the
de-generation of cells and to their uncontrolled fission - that means cancer.
DIE WOCHE: Military have appeased again - as
they did with uranium containing
ammunition. It is said that there is not any danger coming from it. Is this a
KOEHNLEIN: I see that differently. I present
the opinion that even the least
dose of radiation is not harmless. It in-creases the risk of degenerating or
destroying the respective cells.
DIE WOCHE: Thus it is wrong to talk about limit values?
KOEHNLEIN: The purist would say: The limit
is the dose zero. But as we are
living in a natural radiation field our limit is this natural radioactivity -
even this one is not without consequences. Part of cancer diseases can be
traced back to natural radiation impact - probably 3 to 8 per cent of all
spontaneous cancer cases.
DIE WOCHE: But uranium containing ammunition additionally sets radiation free.
KOEHNLEIN: It is true that the uranium isotope
U 238 that is contained in
these projectiles radiates much less than let's say plutonium. But it sets
free the biologically highly effective alpha radiation. This gets dangerous
if it gets into the body.
DIE WOCHE: Can these particles only get into
the body immediately after the
impact of the ammunition?
KOEHNLEIN: At the impact of uranium projectiles
a temperature of several
thousand degrees Centigrade arises. Thereby the uranium atoms transform into
uranium oxides. One has to imagine them like microscopically tiny glass
pellets. They float for a long time in the air and can be carried away by the
wind - many kilometers according to find-ings of a Canadian research group.
DIE WOCHE: What happens if a man breathes these particles in?
KOEHNLEIN: At first the uranium oxides which
have got into the lungs will
emit alpha particles. The mast cells will try to eliminate these foreign
bodies and transport them into the lymph nodes from where they can get into
DIE WOCHE: Which diseases can be triggered hereby?
KOEHNLEIN: From loss of weight over eye irritation
troubles, blood and lung diseases, kidney diseases, weakness of the immune
DIE WOCHE: And cancer?
KOEHNLEIN: Also cancer. It is true that it
is often claimed that no increase
of leukemia can be detected with uranium workers. But this is not true. It is
always the question how and where you research.
DIE WOCHE: Does there still come a danger from
the uranium ammunition which
was used in the Balkans for the Bundeswehr soldiers
KOEHNLEIN: In any case it is wrong to say:
Absolutely no danger. The risk is
certainly higher. How big it is has still to be researched.
DIE WOCHE: Why are there so different views of scientist in this question?
KOEHNLEIN: There are many scientists who research
by order and for account of
governments and military. They cannot always publish what they have found out.
DIE WOCHE: And what if a minister comes up an says: No danger?
DIE WOCHE: Certainly Rudolf Scharping is no
radio-biologist, he is advised by
scientists. But he should consult dif-ferent institutions, even those who are
not under certain compulsions.
KOEHNLEIN: Under which compulsion does the
Research Center for Environment
and Health (GSF) stand which was charged by the Ministry of Defense?
DIE WOCHE: The GSF is an institution of the
Federal Government. In its
principles it gives the gist of: The GFS as an institution of the Federal
Government has the task to support the policy of the Federal Government by
its research. I don not want to say more to this.
KOEHNLEIN: Nato rejected a ban on DU ammunition last week.
DIE WOCHE: That is irresponsible. Politicians
should ban such weapons
Interview: Johannes Dietrich, Translation Winfried Engl
Wolfgang Koehnlein (67) em. Professor for radio-biology, is vice-chairman of
the Radiation Protection Commission of the Federal Ministry for Environmental