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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK


Pentagon's man in uranium warning

A-10 tankbuster: They are now firing DU weapons over Kosovo

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

As debate intensifies over the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons in the Balkan conflict, a former Pentagon adviser has come out against them.

He is Dr Doug Rokke, a US health physicist who led the DU clean-up in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq immediately after the Gulf War.

In 1994, Dr Rokke, an Army Reserve captain, was appointed director of the Pentagon's DU project, a job he left in 1997.

Kosovo: Special Report
He helped develop an education and training programme, and conducted tests on DU explosives in the Nevada desert.

The Pentagon has confirmed that A-10 aircraft are using DU rounds in the war with Serbia. They are extremely heavy, and are used for their armour-piercing capability. Veterans from the 1991 conflict believe DU, which is both radioactive and toxic, may help to explain the existence of Gulf War Syndrome.

Levels of radioactivity

They point to reports from southern Iraq of much higher levels of stillbirths, birth defects, leukaemia and other child cancers.

[ image: DU munitions are highly effective armour penetrators]
DU munitions are highly effective armour penetrators
But Nato says DU is no more dangerous than any other heavy metal. Its spokesman, Major Dan Baggio, says a DU round contained about as much uranium as would go into "a glow-in-the-dark type of watch".

And the Rand Corporation says its study of DU "found little documented evidence of adverse effects", from either radiation or toxicity.

It points out that DU is much less radioactive than natural uranium.

'Burning dust'

But Dr Rokke told BBC News Online it had been mislead by Major Baggio.

[ image: What sort of Kosovo will the refugees return to?]
What sort of Kosovo will the refugees return to?
He believes that Pentagon officials have made "a political decision and are totally unwilling to recognise that there are health consequences of the use of DU".

Dr Rokke says the force of the impact of a DU round converts much of it into a spray of burning uranium dust. "Consequently, we have DU dust which is a radioactive, heavy, metal poison on or within the equipment", and it is scattered up to 25 or 50 metres away.

He says anyone who has inhaled or ingested this dust, or who has let it enter a wound, will need immediate medical treatment.

A senior officer of the US Defense Nuclear Agency said in 1991 that radiation from fragments and intact DU rounds was "a serious health threat". He said there was "a possible exposure rate of 200 millirems per hour on contact".

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's maximum limit ... is 100 millirems per year."

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11 May 99 | Sci/Tech
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Internet Links

The Rural Alliance for Military Accountability's DU Page

The Rand Corporation Study on DU and the Gulf War

The Ministry of Defence - Gulf Veterans' Illnesses

The Department of Defense - Operation Allied Force

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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