Memorandum submitted by Foreign and Commonwealth
Office on Depleted Uranium
You asked for a note about what steps are being
taken to assess the effects of depleted uranium on civilians in
Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, and what has been done
to remove debris possibly containing depleted uranium.
Much work has and is being done by the United
Nations, NATO and other organisations, as well as by the governments
of individual nations, to assess the possible health effects of
depleted uranium. The Committee may wish to have a summary of
NATO has released full details of depleted uranium
use during the Kosovo conflict and in Bosnia to all past and present
troop contributing nations, all nations in the region and interested
international organisations. Most locations where depleted uranium
munitions were used have been identified. Most of the sites from
the Kosovo conflict are in Kosovo, but 10 are in Serbia and one
in Montenegro. These details have been passed on to the FRY authorities.
In Bosnia, depleted uranium munitions were mainly used in the
20 km exclusion zone around Sarajevo.
NATO has co-operated fully with the follow up
environmental study on depleted uranium being carried out by the
Balkans Task Force of the United Nations Environmental Programme
(UNEP) in Kosovo. NATO passed on the details of the sites where
depleted uranium missions were used in July 2000 and assisted
the Task Force during its field study of sites in November 2000.
The Task Force, which includes representatives of the World Health
Organisation, is testing water, soil, vegetation and other samples
taken during this visit. It plans to visit sites in Serbia and
Montenegro soon. NATO has offered to assist if the Task Force
visits sites in Bosnia: UNEP should decide on this in the next
few weeks. Further UN studies on depleted uranium in the Balkans
will probably depend on the results of the tests on the Kosovo
samples. The Task Force hopes to report on them in March.
The Ministry of Defence lead on this subject.
A Ministry of Defence reconnaissance team visited seven out of
the eight sites identified as having been hit by depleted uranium
in the British sector from 18-22 January 2001. This visit was
made to help inform the development of a more detailed environmental
monitoring programme as announced by the Minister of State for
the Armed Forces in the House of Commons on 9 January. Soil samples
were taken during this initial visit, and depleted uranium penetrators
were recovered at one of the sites visited. Other nations are
carrying out radiological studies in other sectors in Kosovo.
NATO has ensured that information on depleted
uranium is available to all with an interest. A meeting of NATO's
Heads of Military Medical Services (COMEDS) on 15 January looked
at the possible effect of depleted uranium. NATO has set up an
Ad Hoc Committee on Depleted Uranium to exchange information on
this subject. It is open to all Allied and Partner nations, past
and present troop contributing nations, international organisations,
and all countries in the Balkans. A representative from Bosnia
has attended meetings but not, so far, anyone from the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia.
The UK has presented details of the independent
peer reviewed epidemiological studies carried out on UK Gulf Veterans
to the NATO Committees. These studies provide useful background
on the possible effects of depleted uranium. Allied and troop
contributing nations have also presented details on the health
of personnel who have served in the Balkans, and the US has presented
details of the illnesses amongst its Gulf Veterans. Croatia has
provided a detailed study on the increase of cancers in the general
population which concluded that increases were probably caused
by stress related to the 1991-92 war.
None of the evidence gathered by the UN or NATO
committees has shown any link between the use of depleted uranium
from munitions and illnesses. Work is continuing, however. Allies
are preparing detailed epidemiological studies on personnel who
have served in the Balkans, and in the UK the Royal Society is
preparing a wider report on depleted uranium. The evidence on
depleted uranium is also being reviewed for the European Commission
by an Experts Group of Euratom, the European Union's Civil Atomic
Energy Authority. So far we are not aware that there are any epidemiological
studies looking at the possible impact of depleted uranium on
the health of the civilian population in the Balkans. However,
all the information being shared on depleted uranium would help
with preparing any such studies.
Following a request from the Interim Administration
Council in Kosovo, a committee of experts from all ethnic communities
is being set up under the auspices of UNMIK, the United Nations
administration in Kosovo, to follow the issue. The Kosovo office
of the World Health Organisation has also seconded a staff member
to UNMIK to co-ordinate the establishment of a voluntary testing
programme at Pristina University Hospital.
UNMIK is organising the identification of all
sites in Kosovo where depleted uranium munitions were used, in
co-operation with the Mines Action Centre and KFOR contingents.
Once all the sites have been located, UNMIK will prioritise them
according to proximity to water sources and habitations. The sites
will then be clearly marked. UNMIK has already advised the local
population of the possible dangers of depleted uranium munitions
and that, as with unexploded ordnance, debris from depleted uranium
munitions should be avoided.