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UNEP Depleted Uranium Final Report: FAQs

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Depleted Uranium (DU) Final Report:
FAQs (frequently asked questions)

What was the purpose of the UNEP assessment mission to Kosovo?

The UNEP two-week (5-17 November 2000) field assessment mission to Kosovo was to determine whether the use of DU during the Balkans conflict might pose any risks to human health or the environment.

How many scientists made up the team?

The UNEP team consisted of 14 scientists from: Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Dr Vala Ragnarsdottir,
University of Bristol, Department of Earth Sciences; AC Laboratorium-Spiez (Switzerland); Italian National Environmental Protection Agency (ANPA);
US Army Centre for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine; Finnish Institute
of International Affairs and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

How many sites have been identified as having being targeted by Ordnance containing depleted uranium during the 1999 Kosovo conflict?

112 A-10 attacks, but some sites were attacked twice; there are 96 sites affected.

How many sites did the UNEP team visit during the mission?

The team visited 11 of the DU-targeted sites - five in the Italian sector and six in the German sector.

For a map of the sites visited, go to http://balkans.unep.ch/du/visitmap.html

Where are the sites that were visited?

KFOR * Italian sector
1. Djakovica garrison: a former Yugoslav Army (VJ) garrison close to Djakovica.
2. Rznic barracks: former barracks of the VJ.
3. Vranovac Hill: a hill near the village.
4. Radonicko Lake: an artificial lake north of the town Djakovica.
5. Bandera/Podzhar: a village with a nearby stream/river.

KFOR German sector
6. Rikavac: location is an asphalt road with fields on both sides and a building alongside.
7. Ceja Mountain: the target of the 5 June attack was VJ lines with anti-aircraft positions on the slope of the hill.
8. Village Planeja: the location is near to the village of Planeja on the slopes of the
Pastric mountain, which is on the border between Kosovo and Albania.
9. Belebrod: the target of the NATO attack in Belebrod on 15 May 1999. Artillery pieces were located on both sides of the road.
10. Buzec: the location was a road towards the village of Buzec with fields on both sides of the road.
11. Kokouce: the site is on the slopes of a mountain at an altitude of approximately
1,500 metres.

Did the UNEP team find signs of higher radioactivity and remnants of
DU ammunition at the sites?

The team found three sites with no signs of higher radioactivity, nor any remnants of
DU ammunition. At eight of the sites visited, the team found either slightly higher amounts of Beta-radiation specifically at or around the holes left by DU ammunition, or remnants of ammunition, such as sabots (shells) and penetrators. Altogether, the team was able to collect seven DU sabots and seven penetrators which were either lying on the ground or embedded at a depth of 2-10 cms, close to the surface. These pieces of ammunition were easy to locate through Beta- and Gamma-radiation measurements. The ground directly beneath the penetrators was slightly contaminated, but with variations according to the soil-type.

What samples and how many were collected?

At the sites, soil and water samples were collected. Soil sampling was carried out at various depths and locations; water was taken from streams, rivers and wells on farms; different vegetation sampling was also carried out, from grass, trees, fruit and mushrooms. At three sites, milk was sampled directly from cows. Also, smear tests were taken on buildings, destroyed army vehicles and directly on the found penetrators.

340 samples were collected: 247 soil samples, 45 water samples, 30 vegetation samples, 10 smear tests, five jackets, seven penetrators, and one penetrator fragment. (Penetrators and jackets are specialised parts of ordnance.)

What is a penetrator?

It is a piece of depleted uranium metal that is shaped like a sharpened pencil. It is
9 cm long and has a diameter of 0.9 cm. Each penetrator weighs 300 g. The metal is very dense (19 g/cm cubed, or 19 times denser than water, the most dense metal) and is able to pierce heavy armour, which is the reason why the depleted uranium metal is used in ammunition.

What have the samples been analysed for?

The soil samples were analysed for uranium isotopes, total uranium and thorium.
The samples were also analysed for transuranic elements and technecium. The water samples were analysed for total uranium, uranium isotopes, pH, Eh and major and trace elements, including alkalinity and iron. The penetrators were analysed for uranium isotopes.

What have been the findings from the University of Bristol's laboratory research?

We have found that the majority of soil samples have uranium concentrations that are within concentrations found in the natural environment (1-300 mg/kg). Only a handful of samples had slightly higher concentrations of uranium and they were all in direct contact with penetrators. Uranium isotope analysis show that the depleted uranium contains
0.2% 235U, which is lower than natural uranium which contains 0.7% 235U.
The depleted uranium also has trace concentrations of 236U, and plutonium
(239Pu and 240Pu) which indicates that the metal was from reprocessed nuclear fuel. The concentrations are, however, so low that the 236U and plutonium add much less than 1% to the overall radioactivity of the metal.

What are the implications for the environment?

Surface contamination in the areas we visited is trivial and does not pose any threat to the environment. However, some locations contain up to 600 kg of depleted uranium
(2,000 rounds of DU) and there the groundwater may become polluted in the future. There are, however, a number of natural reactions which occur and retard the movement of uranium in soils, rocks and water. These processes will aid in protecting the groundwater.

What are the implications for people's health?

The implications for people's health are that they are not at risk from DU, unless the drinking water in the future will become contaminated. We have therefore recommended that the groundwater be monitored in the future and analysed for total uranium.

How long will the threat to the environment and to people's health last?

Uranium has a very long half life (4.5 billion years) and therefore the threat will not go away. It will, however, become evident in the next ten years or so whether any sites are at risk of DU contamination.

What should be done to reduce or remove the risk to the environment and people's health?

Monitor the water for uranium.

Where can I learn more?

The full report is available at http://balkans.unep.ch/index.html

UNEP Contacts:

UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team Chairman: Mr Pekka Haavisto,
tel +358 40 588 4720, email pekka.haavisto@upi-fiia.fi
UNEP Spokesperson: Mr Tore Brevik, tel +254 2 623292, email tore.brevik@unep.org
UNEP Press Officer: Mr Michael Williams, tel +41 22 9178242, +41 79 4091528, email michael.williams@unep.ch

The images below are available for publication. Please credit UNEP

Biography for Dr Vala Ragnarsdottir:

Dr Vala Ragnarsdottir, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol

BSc in Geochemistry: Reykjavik, Iceland
Masters in Aqueous Geochemistry: Northwestern (Chicago), USA
PhD: Northwestern (Chicago), USA
Post-doc Fellow: Paris, France
Joined Bristol in 1989 as Research Fellow in Geochemistry. Subsequently became a Lecturer, now Senior Lecturer in Geology.

Research Interests:
Research interests include aqueous and environmental geochemistry, primarily experimentally to elucidate speciation of metals in aqueous solutions and on mineral surfaces. Other interests include cement chemistry, oil reservoir scale formation, and geothermal systems.

Personal website at http://www.gly.bris.ac.uk/www/admin/personnel/KVR.html

* KFOR is the NATO-led international force responsible for establishing a security presence in Kosovo.

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Friday, 16-Mar-2001 15:21:06 GMT