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Friday January 5 2001

Guests: Milan Zaric, Snezana Milacic, Mark Layton, Zoran Stankovic, Milan Orlic, Gordana Brun, Dug Rocky and William Arkin

Hosts: Brankica Stankovic and Miodrag Vidic

 

B92: If we cite the significance of the democratic principles of justice, truth and morality as well as everything the civilised world has cited in recent years, then Clinton’s departing administration must surely accept responsibility for the appearance of the so-called Balkan syndrome which has, over the past few days, become one of the main subjects for discussion throughout the world, particularly in those countries which have deployed their soldiers on the territory of the former Yugoslavia over the past ten years.

There has until now been no detailed research into the pollution caused by depleted uranium in Yugoslavia. Hence, competent bodies say that it is impossible to confirm to what extent we are really at risk. They do, however all maintain one thing, hat real and potential dangers do exist. While American and NATO representatives claim that the effects of depleted uranium are of no major concern, KFOR soldiers are dying of leukemia. That is the reason why those countries which led a modern war against Yugoslavia should, if nothing else, at least ask themselves how many human lives they put at risk through the use of radioactive ammunition.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has issued a statement to the effect that in March 2000 the American Army Center for Health and Preventative Medicine took samples from those places hit by missiles in the American sector in Kosovo confirming that there are no traces of depleted uranium in this area. It has also been stated that NATO planes fired 31,000 missiles containing depleted uranium during the bombing of Kosovo and 10,000 during the war in Bosnia. According to this statement, depleted uranium was not used because of its radioactivity, which is lower that that of natural uranium, but because of its ability to penetrate all known types of casings thanks to the exceptional density of this metal.

NATO data and that gathered by the Yugoslav Army regarding the number of missiles containing depleted uranium used on Yugoslavia differs by 20,000. Head of the Atomic-Biochemical Defence Department Colonel Milan Zaric gave B92 the following data.

Zaric: According to our figures, during the aggression NATO forces fired 50,000 projectiles containing depleted uranium from guns on H10 planes. In addition to the 112 locations claimed to have been hit by this ammunition, we have proof that a further 5 regions have been contaminated outside the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, four in Serbia and one in Montenegro. In Serbia those regions are in the area around Presevo, Bujanovac and Vranje, and in Montenegro on the Lustica peninsular. All these regions have been marked, the majority of them fenced off and along with the cleansing of the contaminated soil, all those considered to be at risk from depleted uranium contamination have undergone medical examinations.

B92: Snezena Milacic from Dr. Dragomir Karajovic, Belgrade’s institute for radiological protection asserts that there has been no increase in radioactivity in Belgrade and the surrounding area.

Milacic: According to our measurements, we can reliably claim that in Belgrade and the surrounding area in the majority of points which were hit there has been no increased radioactivity. As regards Belgrade, all results show the same levels of radioactivity as prior to the war, so there is no fear of any direct effects on the health of Belgrade’s citizens.

B92: We asked NATO spokesman Mark Layton why NATO used weapons containing depleted uranium when its use is banned by certain international laws.

Layton: Let’s firstly clear up one thing here. The use of depleted uranium has not been banned by international law. There is no ban on the use of depleted uranium and it is a totally legal arm. Some armies in certain countries do not use depleted uranium because of national reasons, but it is not banned. That is a perfectly simple matter. Depleted uranium is used for specific purposes and numerous military forces use it mainly because of its specific weight and hardness. Its penetrative power is consequently great. Ordinary metals cannot penetrate the casings of modern tanks and that is why some armies including the American Army use it for that purpose. Hence, it is a legal anti-tank weapon. Any health risks have been proved by medical research to be small. There are two possible problems here. The first is radioactive poisoning and the levels of radioactive radiation from depleted uranium are exceptionally low, lower than natural uranium which is found in soil. It is, therefore, very difficult to contract radioactive poisoning. The second health risk which is more serious but also small is the risk from the toxic dust given off by this substance which is very similar to that of lead poisoning. That can cause kidney disorders, but I must repeat that large quantities of this dust would be required in order for people to become ill because of it. So, although there are potential risks, these risks are very small since the possibility of the human organism being exposed to such quantities of dust is indeed very small. Independent medical experts are in agreement on this matter.

B92: However, everyone, apart from NATO agrees that depleted uranium is radioactive and its use is therefore banned. Zoran Stankovic, head of pathology at Belgrade’s Military Medical Academy had the following comment to make.

Stankovic: This weapon was banned by the United Nations Human Rights sub commission for the prevention, discrimination and protection of minorities in 1996 and 1997. In February 1980 the New York state ruled to ban a factory from producing penetrators which were used to produce this ammunition since the level of radioactivity of those particles released into the atmosphere every month was equivalent to 387 grammes of depleted uranium. One single shell used to bomb us contains approximately 300 grammes of uranium. If we have accepted as a fact that 31,000 such missiles were thrown on our country, then we can see how great the effects of that depleted uranium actually are.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct in the preparation of fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. The term depleted originates in the fact that the residue of uranium after the refining of fission fuel contains fewer isotopes marked as U235, i.e. fission fuel, than in natural uranium. Developed countries have large problems with that since they have large quantities of it. For example, the US has 500,000 tons of depleted uranium which means that this quantity has to be hidden somewhere, the citizens have to be protected from it by whatever means possible and since they do not have any other way to do that, they use it in making these weapons thus spreading it around the world, but not on their own territory.

B92: The possibility that missiles such as the Tomahawk, which also contain certain quantities of depleted uranium, were used to hit targets in Belgrade and other towns presents a very real danger. We asked Colonel Zaric if this was in fact the case.

Zaric: It is true that there is data to support the fact that cruise missiles contain certain quantities of depleted uranium and according to this data, that varies between 11 and 20 kilos. We do have access to such data and have estimated that it is possible that during the aggression, our country was also shelled by such weapons. Because of this all locations where NATO forces shelled by cruise or other missiles have been examined, radiological research has been carried out and we have no proof of the presence of depleted uranium in any of these locations. In other words, there has been no increase in radioactivity in these locations. At the same time, we remain concerned and the process of research in these areas continues in the hope that we will become absolutely certain that there is no contamination.

B92: Milan Orlic from the Vinca Institute for Nuclear Science warns of the extreme difficulties in confirming and measuring where and in what quantities depleted uranium is found.

Orlic: The question has been asked as to where do we go from here. Firstly, can it be measured, how can it be measured and how and whether the effects on people can be estimated. The questions are very delicate ones. The problem lies in the very nature of depleted uranium itself. As a radioactive substance it emits alpha, beta and gamma radiation. But gamma radiation which is the easiest to detect is a low energy form so if anybody wishes to find an area where depleted uranium is present, there must be considerable residues of it present or even a whole piece intact. This is what it looks like. There is the firing pin, or the large piece, then the instrument has to be brought closer up to a distance of less that half a meter, or even better to ten centimeters in order for the instrument to react at all. Thus prospecting the territory is very difficult indeed, we have to be very direct here. Secondly, measuring in laboratories, there are a large number of methods of measurement, nuclear and non-nuclear, but in order to obtain valid results, the sample should be taken from the point of entry or very nearby. If we go ten meters or a hundred meters away, it is practically impossible to measure and ascertain whether depleted uranium was present. Taking measurements is in fact very complicated and unless it is done systematically, it cannot achieve results, except in the case when direct samples are taken and used. And there have been such cases. What happens during the firing of the missile? When it enters the ground, the firing pin goes down several meters, maybe ten but at least several meters underground and it is very difficult to find and determine its whereabouts. If it has hit a hard target such as a tank or a rock, then there may be various effects. Firstly it might be broken and have dispersed into small particles. Part of the pin might have burned and small particles, aerosols, smaller and bigger, with dimensions of under and above 2,5 microns will have appeared. Such particles, firstly the larger ones fall close by, the aerosols burn, blown away by the wind and they travel enormous distances, but in the places which were targeted, practically a hundred meters away in the direction of the wind, it is impossible to find out whether something which was burned or which landed on the ground can be measured in the way I mentioned here. So it is very, very difficult to measure something like that.

These particles can enter the respiratory organs and deposit themselves in the lungs, the kidneys, the brain, the bones and other organs. These particles can cause contamination, they can cover or damage the surrounding area and are able to spread depending on the meteorological conditions to up to 40 kms from the place the ammunition first landed. Uranium does not dissolve well in water and bodily fluids, but uranium oxide dissolves better, so this oxide which dissolves during explosion will in time contaminate subterraneous water and through the vegetation used to feed animals will contaminate animals and people in a specific way. This ammunition presents a danger to people since in the case of injury it destroys tissue and causes contamination. The effects of depleted uranium on the organism are threefold. Firstly through radiation, to harm people’s health by means of radiation; they can be toxic because through the inhalation of this substance, these particles, toxic damage occurs to the organs they reach either through inhalation or filtration through the blood, i.e. through the urogenital system, and thirdly there are chemical effects on the organism. Various illnesses can be caused by the effects of depleted uranium, illnesses such as skin disorders, kidney damage, damage to the arteries, the central nervous system and other organs. Inhalation most often causes damage to the respiratory tract and organs such as the lungs because they are retained here after the first assault and afterwards when the blood is filtered through the kidneys, these particles of depleted uranium, i.e. uranium oxide are retained in the kidney tissue leading to cancer of the kidneys, urinary tract and bladder.

People can be exposed to radiation and the effects can be estimated, but they can be such that they increase the risk of certain forms of cancer with effects which may only appear ten years later. People may be exposed to radiation where the object was targeted and in the immediate vicinity of the target. I mean within ten meters of the target. The concentration in the atmosphere is very high for a short time depending on the wind and meteorological conditions, if somebody was there at that time and inhaled such air then they could suffer from very serious hemotoxic effects. If we are talking about a distance of up to a hundred meters then the effects of hemotoxisity are significantly less as are the effects of radiotoxisity. This could be shown through measurement tests in certain hospitals so as to see whether it is present in the bodily contents and in what quantities. It would be difficult to measure in some central zone, somewhere outside this hundred-meter limit. If there are such effects, then they are very slight and it would be difficult to compare them with the other effects of radiation. If someone then moved about on such contaminated soil some hundred meters around the place where the missile landed, the majority of the particles land on the ground, then it might come to some so-called resuspension, i.e. some of the particles could rise into the air again and be inhaled. Even in such circumstances it would be very rare for someone to suffer from any serious effects with regard to radiotoxisity or hemotoxisity. If the target is missed, for example the missile enters the earth, then there are no direct effects, however, perhaps through time, through water, the ammunition may interact, say a piece of depleted uranium interacts with the water, then migration could take place. All that must be followed closely, research must be carried out so as to see whether there are any water currents on such territory.

B92: Colonel Zaric maintains that the Yugoslav Army has taken all appropriate measures and that all those who may directly or indirectly have been exposed to the effects of depleted uranium have undergone medical examinations.

Zaric: So far more than 1,000 members of the Yugoslav Army who at the time missiles containing depleted uranium were used were on endangered territory have been examined. We have not found contamination from depleted uranium in anyone. At the same time, dealing with the effects of depleted uranium is an on going process and in accordance with that and considering the NATO figures we recently received outlining which locations both in and outside Kosovo such weapons containing depleted uranium were used, the process of radiological research of some locations, firstly in the south of Serbia, is now being carried out. I have to say more precisely that those figures were not given to the Yugoslav Army nor to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the aggression NATO denied the use of ammunition containing depleted uranium. At the end of 1999, the United Nations general secretary demanded that NATO release figures regarding the use of this ammunition. At the beginning of 2000, the UN general secretary released general figures regarding the use of this ammunition and finally, at the end of September last year, NATO released figures that this ammunition was used on 112 locations on Yugoslavian territory. It can be concluded that NATO released those figures mostly under pressure from the international public and not in response to Yugoslav demands and of course, not with the aim of helping Yugoslavia to deal with the effects caused by depleted uranium.

B92: We asked the NATO spokesman to comment on the latest initiative that the international community, primarily the member countries of the Alliance, meet the costs of the clearance of the effects caused by the use of depleted uranium on Yugoslav territory.

Layton: The United Nations environmental programme has carried out some research in Kosovo. Considering the fact that new people are in power in Serbia, there is the possibility that further research will now be carried out on Serbian territory, that is in the area of southern Serbia. However, this question will be left for some future time and is yet to be resolved. At the moment, though, we do not believe that there is any need for NATO’s participation in this clearance. As I have already said, the health risks are marginal and as long as there is no evidence to the contrary, NATO remains convinced of having done the right thing, no matter what kind of weapons were used in the region.

B92: Gordana Brun, from the Serbian Ministry for the Protection of the Environment explains that it has so far been impossible to give a legal, expert and detailed analysis of the effects of depleted uranium for various reasons.

Brun: At the time of the NATO aggression, when it all happened, it was certainly not possible to do all the usual things which should have been done in such circumstances. As a result, when the report about the ecological consequences of the NATO aggression was completed, a team was organised within the United Nations whose task it was to establish the truth about what really happened in this region. The UN official presiding over this group maintains that what suffered the most in this war is the truth. He also said that as a United Nations official, he was not able to obtain data from NATO headquarters about how much, when and where had this ammunition actually arrived. They obviously knew it but were concealing the facts. And that is the reason why the fuss which is currently been made in the international public about what really happened in Kosovo, is an extremely positive development for our country since the above mentioned United Nations report does exist as does the official report made by the Yugoslavian State. The two vary very little as far as the facts are concerned, however, there are certainly differences in the interpretation of these two reports. Those who compiled this report on behalf of the United Nations would like to hush up certain facts and refuse to admit that an ecological catastrophe did actually occur. In other words, what they are saying is that some facts have not yet been discovered, although they know that the consequences are very serious. However, for those of us interested in the protection of the environment, for those of us who will have to deal with these effects, it is of the utmost importance that some admission of responsibility is made in order to undertake the appropriate measures outlined in the above mentioned report. The report clearly states that the cleansing of the terrain on which the ammunition landed should be a priority. This terrain must be cleared in an appropriate and professional manner because what we are especially worried about is depleted uranium entering the food chain, reaching people through vegetation and animals. The consequences are long-term and they are well known from the Gulf War. I would also like to remind you of the book published in New York containing facts about the victims of the Gulf War with obvious consequences. The same can be said about the Republic of Srpska since we know that depleted uranium was also used in this region. We are primarily concerned about genetic mutations, most probably related to cancer because depleted uranium can remain in the ground for up to a thousand years.

B92: The story about the serious health risks caused by ammunition containing depleted uranium gained wide publicity only after the Gulf War in 1991. One of the American veterans suffering from health problems as a result of the war, American Dug Rocky, presented his view of this problem to B92.

Rocky: During the Gulf War, I worked as a physicist in a team in charge of equipment identification collection and clearance, as well as the removal of victims contaminated by uranium. The team was engaged immediately after the ground intervention when it was realised that the necessary cautionary measures had not been taken and that nobody knew how to operate the ammunition fired during the Gulf War. The first thing we need to be aware of is that so-called depleted uranium is not depleted at all. It is pure 238 uranium and it emits alpha rays. When they penetrate an organism, they cause serious tissue and cell damage by means of ionisation. It should be emphasised that the ammunition bullets are not filled with depleted uranium, nor are they covered by it; they consist totally of that material. The members of the team experienced serious respiratory problems at the very beginning of the equipment clearance which manifested themselves as strong asthmatic fits occurring after only a few hours or days. Some members of the team have died of cancer since then, mostly from cancer of the chest and respiratory organs. There are also records of digestive tract diseases, kidney disorder, as well as rashes appearing immediately following contacts with the contaminated material. Some of my colleagues and I have been suffering from these rashes for 10 years.

Throughout 1994 and 1995, I was departmental head for the depleted uranium project at the American Ministry of Defence. As part of the project, I was in charge of establishing procedures for clearing up areas contaminated by depleted uranium and formulating instructions for the cautionary measures related to these procedures. After this had been done, the material was left for inspection by the American Government and the British Ministry of Defence a few years ago. Since that time they have repeatedly refused to take appropriate measures for the clearance of contaminated areas in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico and on US territory in the states of Nevada, Maryland and Indiana. If even after ten years, they haven’t shown any interest in the American soldiers affected by these diseases, or in the Iraqi soldiers and the people of Viekas in Puerto Rico, then I honestly doubt that they will be willing to offer any kind of medical support to anyone in the Balkans. They do not want to have anything to do with this. They simply refuse to accept any link between depleted uranium and health problems.

Depleted uranium was used during the intervention in the Balkans as early as 1994 and 1995 in Bosnia. At the beginning of 1999, during their preparations for the intervention in Kosovo, the American Army carried out an experimental firing of ammunition containing depleted uranium on the Puerto Rican island of Viekas. Today, over a year later, the people inhabiting these areas are suffering from serious health problems, while the Puerto Rican government continues to make demands that Washington assist in clearing up the polluted terrain and offer medical support to the people affected by these illnesses. Along with three of my physicist colleagues, I was invited to a meeting with the members of President Clinton’s supervisory board on April 16, 1999. These are the people who report directly to the US president. On that occasion, we again warned them of the disastrous effects of depleted uranium and we particularly demanded that it should not be used in the Balkans. The representatives of the American Ministry of Defence present at the meeting promised it would not be used. Only a year after this meeting, it is clear that while they were making these promises to us they were actually doing the opposite. One American Army representative even said that it did not really matter if ammunition containing uranium was scattered everywhere since the ground itself was full of uranium anyway. As far as the use of depleted uranium in missiles such as the "tomahawk" is concerned, controversy still exists. It is true that this material can also be used as a ballast in missiles, but it is not possible to establish this precisely. The only way would be to investigate the affected positions using special detectors. These detectors must be able to recognise both alpha and beta rays. As far as I know, the American Ministry of Defence only possesses 50 of these special devices. I personally tested some of them in 1994 and 1995. A standard detector cannot recognise those rays. I am aware that some American and English scientists have investigated the places hit by these missiles and that they have discovered contamination, as is cited in their reports. This data is still being analysed.

B92: Pathologist Zoran Stankovic who was engaged in investigating the effects of depleted uranium in Bosnia and Herzegovina cites the example from Hadzici.

Stankovic: We had an identical situation with the soldiers present in Hadzici at the time of the shelling. Cases of leukaemia have been registered. These soldiers in the Remount Bureau in Hadzici, aware that this ammunition, these missiles made of depleted uranium were very hard, cut them into thin sheets and then made armour with this ammunition, since it is really difficult to penetrate. Some of these soldiers have also suffered from leukaemia and unfortunately died. The example of Suzana Serenac is a case in point. This little girl played in the crater made by the missile fired on Hadzici, where she came from. Soon after that she was left without any finger or toe nails. That was a signal that the girl needed help and after a while her parents approached me and requested that I take a look at her at the Military Medical Academy. We examined her, her nails fell off, i.e. they were permanently damaged so that even now she has some kind of indication on her fingers and toes where her nails once were. Soon, her condition deteriorated, followed by damage to the respiratory tract and organs so that she suffers from some unclear, in fact very clear infections of the respiratory tract. A condition of asthmatic bronchitis has been recorded and this acute condition continues to worsen to this day. She has problems breathing and all these changes in her condition are very serious. On her return home after one particular examination at the Military Medical Academy, she fell into a coma and was consequently urgently transferred to Tirsova children’s hospital. After four days of intensive medical treatment in Tirsova, doctors managed to bring her back to consciousness. However, as a result of everything she has experienced, Suzana now has epileptic fits and is under appropriate therapy.

Attention was drawn to the case of Hadzici because a few years ago, a large number of deaths were reported among those who were removed from Hadzici to Bratunac, around 3.500 people. According to the data I have received from reliable sources, 5-6 years after the shelling in question, around 350 people have died, meaning that 10% of the population has died from symptoms such as chest cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer etc.

B92: International non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch published a report last year about the use of cassette bombs during the NATO intervention on Yugoslavia. Although the media interpreted the report as a strong condemnation of the Alliance, it turned out that the essence of the report concerned the recommendation that this kind of armament should not be used since it was considered to be inhumane. Human Rights Watch has the same attitude towards the so-called anti-personal or contact mines. We talked to the top man in the Human Rights Watch armament department, Mr William Arkin, regarding the military use of depleted uranium.

Arkin: The most sensible position should be that NATO and other countries which use depleted uranium search for an alternative, while the use of depleted uranium should be eliminated. However, I believe that a large majority of the media reports on the so-called Balkan syndrome are exaggerated. Nobody is saying that depleted uranium is not dangerous. I wouldn’t like to walk around with it in my pocket for a few months or put it between my legs if I were planning to have children. However, I think that this story about its effect on Italian soldiers is completely exaggerated and that what people are actually trying to do here, is to find an answer to the question as to why soldiers contracted Gulf War Syndrome. What we have established in the case of Gulf War Syndrome is that the soldiers were exposed to various extreme factors in addition to the stress and trauma related to battle. The fact that the soldiers are dying of leukaemia does not automatically mean that the cause is exposure to depleted uranium.

As far as the use of depleted uranium in Yugoslavia is concerned, there are two types of report. The first relates to the use of depleted uranium in shelling from type A10 warplanes which fired uranium bullets mostly on Kosovo and the south of Serbia. The second relates to the use of depleted uranium as part of the ballast of cruise missiles used for shelling targets in Belgrade and other places in Serbia. The latter is completely false. Depleted uranium has nothing to do with cruise missiles. The Vinca Institute carried out research into the shelling by these missiles on Smederevo and concluded that there was no depleted uranium present. The detailed research we carried out proves that there is no presence of this material in the heads of cruise missiles. I therefore consider these reports to be false.

During the Gulf War there was a tendency to use the same arms used during the Vietnam period in order to clean out the cupboards as it were and get rid of old weapons. That is not the case in Yugoslavia. All the arms used in Yugoslavia were subject to careful procedures. During the attack on Nis airport on May 7, a faulty cassette bomb ended in the town centre killing civilians. As a result, the White House introduced a ban on the further use of cassette bombs until the problems related to them were resolved. Similarly, if we take into account the number of attacks on Serbian armoured vehicles in Kosovo, the quantity of depleted uranium was relatively small.

B92: Gordana Brun from the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment emphasises that ecological damage never comes to an end and that those responsible will have to pay for their actions.

Brun: All international norms with regard to this issue are fairly precise and involve sanctions. However, it is obvious that NATO, or let us say America, the world and the international community in general, show double standards as far as this area of the protection of the environment is concerned. They are, however, very concerned as to whether these standards are followed in their our countries. Our people put it very well and say: you will pay in the end. The consequences are not at all insignificant, on the contrary, they are serious and of significance for the whole world. Unless the truth wins now and all of the countries remain persistent, that is Italy and Portugal, and more recently Germany has joined the ranks, I was at the conference in Bologna in Italy where experts talked very bravely and openly about this problem. The experts have a clear idea about what it is all about, but politics always interferes.

B92: Milan Orlic from the "Vinca" Institute also believes that as far as the research into and analysis of depleted uranium is concerned, many things should have been done immediately after the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Orlic: We became interested in these problems for the first time during the bombing in Bosnia, and especially after the bombing in our country. Unfortunately, not everything has been done as it could and should have been. After the war, we were practically left in a post-accidental situation. In such a situation, one should act according to the law. Our Law for the protection from ionised rays is under the authority of the Ministry of Work, Health and Social Issues and this ministry should have taken charge of these problems, organising everything that was necessary, providing the financial resources, material resources, people and equipment. Obviously, Vinca should have done this. However, a common language was not found and nothing productive was done immediately after the war although there were some concrete proposals and projects. These projects showed what should be done in order to reach certain conclusions with some further research continuing until the end of the year so as to reach final conclusions about all of the possible effects caused by the bombing. Unfortunately, this was never implemented and was never organised systematically. Instead, there was some sporadic research but only when the news hit the headlines, as it has done so now. For a period of ten days something would be said and done, but for the next ten days everything would be forgotten again. Honestly speaking, there are perhaps some serious people in charge of those issues now who might take care of them a bit better, and that is what I would like to see.

B92: Why have those in charge not taken care of this before now?

Orlic: I do not know why, but it is obvious that they failed to do their jobs. And even if they did, they did not do them properly.

B92: We asked Colonel Zaric to tell us why all the information regarding depleted uranium has until now been kept a state secret?

Zaric: This information was never a state secret, but, as happened previously, army head-quarters will do their best to discuss this problem but only on the basis of concrete evidence and, understandably, to show the real dimensions of this problem. That means we will do everything to prevent any under or over-estimation of this problem.

B92: In response to the direct question as to whether and to what extent we are at risk from the effects of radioactive weapons in this region, Colonel Zaric had the following to say.

Zaric: I am unable to estimate the dangers in the region of Kosovo and Metohija since we do not have any access to this area. However, what I can say is that for the rest of Yugoslavia, excluding Kosovo and Metohija, the risk is minimal. What I am trying to say is that the risk of direct contamination of people is minimal, since we are really talking about a relatively small area contaminated by depleted uranium – out of a total of 5 locations in Yugoslavia the area amounts to 2,4 hectares. However, there is still the danger of the contamination of water currents and of food contamination. There is a certain degree of danger, but I would like to repeat that it is quite low, primarily owing to the fact that the contaminated areas are known and have been fenced off, access to them is prohibited. Therefore, there is a very small possibility of contamination. Apart from these locations, apart from the four locations in the Republic of Srpska and one in the Republic of Montenegro, there is no depleted uranium contamination in any other cities.

Interviewee 1: We are all becoming ill. All my neighbours have died, everyone except me. That’s why I’m having problems with my thyroid gland.

Interviewee 2: We are resistant to it. We are used to it.

Interviewee 3: Whose fault is it? Whether it is our president or their president, somebody’s leadership is to blame. It’s certainly not us looking up at the sky here in Belgrade.

Interviewee 4: Clinton bombed us for no reason. He should be severely punished for it. We are going to see the effects of all this after God knows how many years, it has all gone into the earth. Everything we eat has been polluted.

Interviewee 5: They have to pay for poisoning us.

Interviewee 6: It is certainly going to affect this area. Nothing happens just like that, they wouldn’t have thrown it for nothing. I am afraid for my children, not so much for myself.

Interviewee 7: We cannot change anything by being afraid.

Interviewee 8: I am certainly concerned about it. I happened to be in Kosovo at the time. I suppose that our leaders could have done something to prevent this. But somebody else known more about that than we do. We are just ordinary people and we know only what we are told. And we are not told everything that happens, as was the case with other countries where some things were not talked about. Instead, some evidence or data comes out later on. That is definitely what happened here.

B92: Pathologist Zoran Stankovic is also concerned about the effects caused by the use of depleted uranium.

Stankovic: Primitive people had considerable influence on everything that has happened in this region. These primitive people were supported by "great scientists", and that is why nobody spoke about it. Each phenomenon and every event should be clearly stated and explained correctly. Therefore, in every case, everything must always be investigated in order to prevent panic – on the basis of this and that investigation we have established that there is no contamination, no pollution, it has been removed, we did not remove so many missiles. Take a closer look at this food, these plants and animals, and after all that, concrete analysis should be conducted, as well as detailed research, and the public should be informed. We never do this. The only thing we do is draw conclusions on the basis of two days analysis. You will remember that some time ago there was a commission for nuclear energy from Vienna here. The commission investigated our whole country within 5 days, and announced that no contamination had been discovered. Mind you, this is not serious, for a mature person, for a good expert, a scientist, such behaviour is not serious. This demands a long-term analysis, a long-term investigation, like those carried out in Japan. On Zlatibor, for example, a lamb was born with eight legs. Why?

B92: In any case, the head of the department for atomic-biochemical defence, Colonel Milan Zaric and the advisor to the Ministry for the Protection of Environment Gordana Brun, say that there is no reason for panic, at the same time explaining that the potential danger does exist.

Brun: What worries me is the fact that our country, unfortunately, did not have an appropriate monitoring system, since as we fell into deeper economic and political difficulties, we gradually reduced the number of measuring locations and the number of parameters which were followed. At the beginning of the NATO aggression, believe me, we had no idea what was happening in the city. Gradually, the city public health institute introduced new parameters, we even discovered some hard metals etc. For these reasons I am very concerned and I can say that we actually do not know everything that happened and what the effects will be. Therefore, as a serious state, we have to take urgent steps and carry out detailed research, especially as far as the soil in the area around Pancevo is concerned. It is scary to think that all these chemicals could end up in the food we eat. Therefore, we have to be much more organised as a state. The Danube is at great risk. We need to hurry and the international community must find a way to assist us and that is not only for our sake. This is also in the interests of all our neighbouring countries. As far as environmental pollution is concerned, there are no limits since these problems are extremely serious. What we should be especially concerned about, and our neighbouring countries are already concerned about this, is the fact that the subterranean waters are polluted. Everything that happened near the Danube had to end up somewhere. Also the wind which blew that huge cloud above Pancevo, and we already discussed this on April 18, has brought us to the conclusion of how lucky we were. We were not, it had to go somewhere. When something is dropped into the human environment it has to go somewhere. It will return to us like a boomerang either through subterranean waters, or through crops, since these are the areas where this spreads, these are the areas where the food comes from. The new millennium is always described as a new era of ecology, science and here is an example of how the international community should not allow such things to occur again. When these strong and powerful countries use depleted uranium, their hypocrisy is so horrifying that it should be rigorously penalised. The planet’s rule of profit must be replaced by a new philosophy of life and a new moral and ecological ethic. We can conclude that if the Balkans are endangered, that does not mean that some other parts of this planet will not suffer as well. We have to fight this together.

Zaric: Depleted uranium is extremely dangerous and it is certain that contamination from depleted uranium leads to leukaemia and other similar illnesses. It is difficult to estimate whether the contamination in Kosovo has caused the occurrence of these diseases among the members of the peace-keeping forces, since we know nothing about the character and the scope of the contamination in Kosovo and Metohija. There are debates regarding the question of how dangerous contamination from depleted uranium actually is. Those who consider contamination from depleted uranium to be harmless should perhaps be offered the opportunity to build their homes in the contaminated areas and bring their children up in such conditions.

B92: The world’s media is currently full of stories about depleted uranium. The use of this amoral metal, as some refer to it, along with the stories about it, will certainly be of benefit to some. The programme you have just been listening to has been prepared in order to present this issue so that all the competent people gather their courage and begin to talk openly about this problem. Many questions have been left unanswered. One of them is why the story about the Balkan syndrome in European capitals has come to the surface at the exact moment when the old government is now leaving the White House. What sort of water do we drink, what do we eat, what air do we breathe? Whether the streets we walk are covered by a thin layer of invisible dust which kills – only time will tell.

 


© B92, 2002