Atelier 13, article 3
© The Independent / UK :
(January 29, 2001)
"Pentagon Knew Nato Shells Contained Hazardous Nuclear Waste"
by John Lichfield
Some shells fired in the Gulf and Balkan wars contained a type
of recycled nuclear waste that is much more hazardous than
depleted uranium, according to a book to be published in France
The book, Depleted Uranium: The Invisible War, could change
the debate on whether weapons used by the United States and
Nato caused widespread sickness among war veterans and
The authors, a Frenchman, a Belgian and an American,
produce evidence that the US government knew six years ago that
its stocks of "safe" depleted uranium had been contaminated by
spent nuclear fuels. Whether this recycled material was mixed up
with the "classic" depleted uranium (DU) accidentally or deliberately
The book uncovers evidence that the Pentagon knew in 1995
that its armour-piercing shells and bombs contained substances
more environmentally menacing than the "natural" depleted
uranium that Washington, London and Nato headquarters have
repeatedly defended. In other words, the entire DU debate has
been based on false premises.
The findings of Martin Meissonnier, Frederic Loore and Roger
Trilling have been independently confirmed in the past few days by
researchers at a Swiss government laboratory, which analysed
spent US munitions from Kosovo. The lab found that the shells
contained traces of an isotope of uranium - uranium 236 - which
occurs only in nuclear waste.
The Pentagon spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, admitted last week
- in reply to a question from one of the authors of the book - that
depleted uranium intended for armour-piercing weapons had been
contaminated by small amounts of plutonium at the defence
department nuclear plant at Paducah in Kentucky.
The vigorous defence of DU weapons by the US and other Nato
governments has been based on the argument that DU is a
"natural" material of relatively low radioactivity. DU, in its classic
form, is the heavy metal left behind - mostly uranium 238 - when
the most fissile part of raw uranium, mined from the earth, is
removed for use as a nuclear fuel, so classic DU is obtained before
the nuclear reaction process.
The book produces evidence that at least some of the weapons
used in the Gulf and Balkans contained another kind of uranium,
obtained by recycling spent nuclear fuels after the reaction process.
The danger is that this form of uranium - sometimes called "dirty
depleted uranium" - can contain traces of highly radioactive
materials, such as plutonium.
Mr Trilling said yesterday: "The whole debate should go back to
square one. We are not saying that we know for sure that DU
caused Gulf syndrome sicknesses, or the similar illnesses reported
in the Balkans. Personally, I doubt that depleted uranium weapons
are the cause, or sole cause, of the Gulf or Balkan syndromes,
whatever these weapons may have actually contained.
"What we are saying is that the US government's defence of
depleted uranium has been, to be charitable, extremely misleading.
The book is a plea for more research - not research on abstract
theories about classic depleted uranium, but on the actual contents
of US and Nato weapons. Until then, everyone on all sides of the
argument is talking in the dark and should shut the hell up."
The book is based on two years of interviews and investigations
originally done for a French television documentary, which was
shown last year. Extra material has been discovered in the past few
months. The writers allow both sides of the argument about classic
DU to make their cases in great detail. But there are three
important new pieces of information:
* Independent research by Dr Asaf Durakovic, an American of
Croatian origin, has found traces of uranium 236 in the urine or
bodies of 42 American Gulf veterans. Uranium 236 is not present in
the natural world and should not be present in "clean" depleted
* An official report by the US Army Environmental Policy Institute in
1995 acknowledged the possibility that "depleted uranium used by
the Department of Defense contains traces of uranium 236". This
implies that some of the DU used in US weapons was created from
spent nuclear fuel, not from raw, mined uranium.
* The nuclear plant at Paducah in Kentucky was accused of "waste,
fraud, abuse and bad management" by the General Accounting
Office, the official US government watchdog, in 1992. The
accounting office report protested that the plant was recycling
uranium from nuclear waste, without proper safeguards,
endangering its own workers. Paducah is one of the three sites in
America that produce the DU used by US and Nato weapons. It
was the site named by the Pentagon spokesman last week as a
source of contamination of some DU weapons with plutonium.
Mr Trilling said yesterday that the "charitable" interpretation
of the evidence was that clean and "dirty" forms of DU had been
mixed up at Paducah, or in US Department of Defense stocks,
some time in the 1980s. A decision had been taken to use up the
stocks in the belief, or hope, that only small quantities of highly
radioactive material were involved.