Deadliest Weapon in NATO’s Arsenal
Perhaps the deadliest weapon in NATO’s arsenal was depleted uranium (DU) reinforced missiles and bombs. Depleted uranium’s high density enables projectiles to easily penetrate armor and concrete targets. When DU weapons impact on their target, thousands of particles of uranium dust are released in a mist, and may be borne for miles by the wind. When people ingest these particles, serious bodily damage can result. Earlier use of DU weapons in the 1991 Gulf War resulted in a dramatic rise in birth defects and leukemia throughout Basra province in southern Iraq. The half-life of depleted uranium, 4.5 billion years, essentially ensures the permanent contamination of the region.
Barry Lituchy and I talked with Dr. Radoje Lausevich, an environmental specialist and assistant professor at the University of Belgrade. Dr. Lausevich’s appearance and manner of speech reminded me of my best friend Jorge, so he made an immediately favorable impression. While driving us in his car, he commented on the ecological impact of the war, and it wasn’t until we arrived at our destination that I realized that his talk was so interesting that I had forgotten to record him or take notes. We arrived at the office of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, where we briefly concluded our discussion of the environmental damage. Barry asked about depleted uranium (DU) weapons. My impression was that use of depleted uranium weapons was limited to Kosovo, but Dr. Lausevich told us that Russian sources had determined that 30 metric tons of DU was used outside of Kosovo. The entire territory of Yugoslavia had been exposed to these weapons. One particle of DU in the lungs, he told us, was equivalent to an hourly chest x-ray for life.The delegation also met with Dushan Vasiljevich, president of Green Table, a Belgrade-based environmental non-governmental organization. A man with an elegant manner of speech, he also acted as our guide and translator when we visited Panchevo. Vasiljevich told us that 135,000 tons of toxic chemicals spilled into the environment as a result of NATO bombing. Speaking of Panchevo, he pointed out that VCM "is one of the most dangerous toxic chemicals that ever existed. It’s gastro-organic in the first place, and disrupts the cells," the consequences of which are "liver disease, kidney disease and of course cancer itself." Vasiljevich also confirmed Dr. Lausevich’s report of widespread use of DU weapons. Vasiljevich explained that as a DU mist spreads over an area, it "enters the food chain, as well as to water, soil, even in the air. Once you get these depleted uranium particles in your body, they stay there. You can’t get rid of them. And they move in your body…mostly they go to the kidneys, and also to the liver." Vasiljevich’s comments on Kosovo were sobering. "Kosovo itself is a nuclear desert now. I wouldn’t go there myself…because the level of radiation in Kosovo is over any tolerable level." Depleted uranium emits primarily alpha radiation, which is 20 times more deadly internally than gamma radiation, he said. The United Nations Balkan Task Force, as well as other Western investigators "did not find any increased radiation. How could they say so? Because they did not have the proper equipment for that….They had just a Geiger counter." A Geiger counter is worthless for measuring DU because it measures primarily gamma radiation, not alpha.