What is the basis for this prognosis? First of all, according to the latest official data, only five locations outside of Kosovo were exposed to the influence of depleted uranium. According to military data made public on Monday, there is a total of six locations. Last year's data by the former Yugoslav government talks about eight such locations. In all instances, the locations given are in the region of Bujanovac and Presevo, one near Vranje and on the Lustica peninsula in Boka Kotorska. All this is true, to repeat, for the regions outside of Kosovo. As far as Kosovo is concerned, the situation is as follows: an ecological catastrophe of as yet inconceivable proportions.
The official position of NATO, confirmed on Tuesday after the request from Italy and Germany for a temporary moratorium on this type of weapon, is that there are no indications that depleted uranium is detrimental to health. One day earlier, Madeleine Albright stated that there is no evidence that would lead us to conclude that the cases of leukemia might be connected with this radioactive material. Technically, this is correct. "At the present time science would be hard pressed to determine that cancer or leukemia have in fact been caused by exposure to uranium instead of another factor, say smoking," explains Radojko Pavlovic, the director of reactor dosimetry at the Institute for Nuclear Sciences in Vinca, which has been involved since the beginning of the war in analyses of potentially radioactive localities and objects. America, practically, is playing the hand of the limitations of medical science.
Analyses of depleted uranium (and not only analyses conducted by NATO) indicate that it is a material with acceptable levels of gamma radiation. This is why this heavy metal also has a civilian application: because it is almost twice as heavy as lead, it is used as ballast in airplanes. It is even used as a shield for protection from radioactivity! How can then an apparently not very dangerous material become a global menace?
The munitions used for A-10 planes consist of a more or less normal large size bullet (30 mm) which has, instead of the regular steel jacket, a core made of depleted uranium. This uranium is very heavy and rigid and, Radojko Pavlovic explains, its purpose is to penetrate the armor of tanks with kinetic force. When this occurs, most of the heavy uranium core incinerates; it oxidizes or, in layman's terms, turns into dust. The dust, which enters the lungs and body like any other dust, there assumes a chemically stable form and can no longer be flushed out by any means. And then the most terrible effect of this uranium is manifested: alpha radiation. Alpha radiation is mentioned less frequently because in most situations it is harmless: its range is only several millimeters and it can be stopped by a plain sheet of paper. However, when its source is located inside the body, it has an extremely destructive effect on the cell and causes genetic mutations, cancer and other similar changes. For purposes of comparison, alpha radiation is 20 times more destructive with respect to living organisms than gamma radiation. Another form of radiation present in depleted uranium, beta radiation, is also harmful.
According to data from the FRY Government, during the NATO aggression approximately 50,000 (NATO says 31,000) of these bullets were fired, of which 3,000 to 5,000 were fired at targets in Kosovo and Metohija. We should not forget Metohija because it and the region along the Albanian border were targeted by the greatest amounts of radioactive munitions.
For inhabitants outside Kosovo and Metohija, Radojko Pavlovic has a consoling bit of news: "Either by luck or skill of the army, not a single armored vehicle was hit outside Kosovo. This means that these bullets simply buried themselves deep into the earth; the depleted uranium they contain was not incinerated and consequently there is no uranium dust, either."
There is danger, however, of another sort. Uranium, like all heavy metals (radioactive or not), is toxic. If deposited in the soil it may enter the water supply, plant life, animals and people. Pavlovic said that this process is slow but that the bullets need to be removed as soon as possible. The problem, however, is that a clean up of this nature is extremely expensive; and in addition to collection of this waste material, its storage is also expensive. Zeljka Ilic, a physician specialized in protection from radioactivity (and president of the Democratic Party's health committee) points out that Vinca has no money for maintenance to prevent already stored radioactive material from leaking, let alone to collect and store new radioactive waste material.
Since there has been a healthy skepticism in official statements with respect to radiological dangers ever since Chernobyl, especially statements issued by Vinca, a dose of reserve in accepting these explanations is in order. One cannot, therefore, be critical of someone who is asking how radioactivity researchers can know that all NATO projectiles in a given locality missed their mark and, if that is indeed the case, what the planes were targeting to begin with. For example, it is known that one of four locations where DU munitions were used is the hill of Pljackovica where an RTS communications relay was destroyed.
"During the war we monitored over 90 percent of the localities hit regardless of the type of weapons used. Only in four locations did instrument measurements confirm an increase in the level of radiation: Pljackovica, Bratoselce, Reljan and Borovac. These are mainly hills," says Radojko Pavlovic. For obvious reasons, Pavlovic cannot state precisely what the NATO pilots were shooting at but we can assume that they may have been tank decoys, which, as we know, suffered severe losses during the war. We should not forget that in Kosmet NATO also demonstrated monumental inefficiency in destroying tanks. According to statements by the NATO commander, after the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army less than ten destroyed armored transporters and only three of four destroyed tanks were left behind.
The results of this would be catastrophic. Cruise missiles hit many targets in downtown Belgrade and other densely populated areas. Taking into consideration that one such ballast has a weight of up to 20 kilograms, it is clear what this would entail. However, official sources deny the existence of any ionizing radiation in connection with cruise missile explosions.
Commenting on analyses of buildings hit in Belgrade, Radojko Pavlovic says: "We found no trace of uranium. With the technology at our disposal, which is highly reliable, I think that had there been any, we would have found it.
Furthermore, Pavlovic says that he has inspected a large number of intact, unexploded missiles deactivated by Yugoslav Air Force air defense operations. "One fell right next to the Vinca Institute. I found no traces of radiation either on it or on the others I personally inspected; to the best of my knowledge, the same is true of the missiles which were inspected by the army."
According to his statements, Colonel Zaric personally inspected the General Staff building on five or six occasions and found no trace of contamination; despite this, he added, "we are still afraid". "If that should prove to be the case, the consequences for us would be extremely serious, I would say catastrophic."
The method of determining whether exposure has occurred, according to Zeljka Ilic, is to draw blood samples from those persons suspected of having received ionizing radiation as soon as possible. At that point, Ilic says, exposed persons are still in good health and can even be treated by bone marrow injections.
"If this is not done, then great responsibility falls on authority figures who could have and should have interceded," says Zeljka Ilic.
According to data from the Military Medical Academy (VMA) (statement of Major General Krgovic, see below), 1,080 soldiers of the Yugoslav Army are being tested; however, since their observation did not begin until 2000, this means that testing was initiated too late.
Moreover, our authorities became alarmed by the entire situation only after the "Balkans Syndrome" became a global issue and apparently some of the dangerous locations were sealed off only days ago.
The balance-sheet: according to research conducted at the request of the Gulf War veterans, in 1992 there was a 58 percent increase in the number of respiratory problems and a 43 percent increase in the number of heart problems in comparison with data from three years earlier.
According to what we know at this time, we, the Serbs, the Americans' enemy in the war, got off scot-free in comparison with their allies, the Kuwaitis and the Albanians. However, we should not forget that "Balkans Syndrome" also applies to Bosnia-Hercegovina, that is, the Republic of Srpska, where, according to some sources, the number of cancers among the civilian population has increased by a third in comparison with earlier data.
The Americans' relationship with their allies and toward Europe and Europeans in general has a peculiar dimension. Radiological contamination and the manner in which this war was waged in general represent a problem for Europe and the "European allies" are stoically bearing it. They are even bearing the fact that the Americans sent the Italians and the Germans to those regions in which a radiological apocalypse may have taken place. The Italians and the Germans are now asking for a moratorium on this weapon but NATO, that is, the Americans, rejected the proposal, claiming that DU is harmless.
Radojko Pavlovic says that the methodology that the Americans are using to "prove" the safety of this weapon is very deceitful and could in fact be used to prove anything. "They are claiming, for example, that radium is approximately 30,000 times more radioactive than depleted uranium. That is true; however, what they are not saying is that there are only 12 kilograms of isolated radium on this entire planet while there are 500,000 tons of depleted uranium only in the U.S. and they don't know what to do with."
It would be truly simple for the Americans to convince the whole world that they are telling the truth. All they have to do is come out themselves and inhale a little bit of the dust from Kosovo.
On the basis of practices in Bosnia and Iraq, we anticipated that depleted uranium munitions would also be used on our territory. Detection and identification of these materials was carried out on a daily basis. These efforts were immediately joined by ABHO and some civilian institutions; consequently, for most of the war, the Yugoslav Army carefully monitored the extent of use of these materials by the NATO. During the war we took materials from Kosovo - parts of equipment, soil and water samples - to Nis to the Institute for Health Protection, which is technically well equipped. There detailed analyses were conducted.
All locations in Serbia where these substances were used were marked and sealed off with the exception of one that, unfortunately, still is not. These munitions were also used on the Lustrica peninsula at the entrance to the gulf of Boka Kotorska.
The Yugoslav Army implemented both individual and collective measures of protection for the soldiers, especially the use of maneuvers with troops and equipment. I think that this mobility was what saved us.
We knew exactly even during the time of the war which units were in proximity to the threatened regions. We had information by the next morning on munitions used to target the General Staff building.
Immediately after the withdrawal of our army from Kosovo, we created a procedure for troops who may have been exposed to radiation. Immediately after the war, a plan was created to provide adequate medical observation for soldiers where there was reason to implement this procedure. During the course of the year 2000, in cooperation with district army commands, 1,080 army men were selected. They were systematically examined and we found nothing alarming. To date, there have been no cases of illness. They will be examined regularly during the next five years. The state would need to get involved and implement the necessary measures only if an increase in certain kinds of illnesses is registered in this group. This is not excluded and consequently we must exercise great caution; however there is no reason for panic or for visits to physicians and hospitals.