Letter: DU ammunition

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I greatly admire Robert Fisk's reporting but I think he is in danger of making too much of depleted uranium (DU) munitions ("US 'lost count of uranium shells fired in Kosovo' ", 22 November).

Undoubtedly, US A-10 aircraft used DU cannon shells in some of their attacks on Serb armour. But the A-10 is designed for close air support of ground forces and the range of its GAU-8 cannon is around 1, 250 metres. As Robert Fisk acknowledges, however, most of Nato's aircraft, including those that tragically bombed the Kosovo Albanian refugees, were flying at heights of 5,000 metres in order to avoid any injury to the pilots. They would not use their cannons at this height.

He also mentions unnamed "Nato sources in Kosovo" who say that DU was used in the warheads of some cruise missiles. In several months of research on the DU issue I have found no authoritative evidence that DU is used in currently deployed conventionally armed cruise missiles.

Finally, I refer to an article in the latest edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, written by Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel, which states: "The health risks associated with radiation from exposures to depleted uranium are relatively low - so low as to be statistically undetectable, with one exception: radiation doses for soldiers with embedded fragments of depleted uranium may be troublesome.... Radiation from depleted uranium is highly unlikely to have been responsible in any way for 'Gulf War syndrome' among veterans or for any of the variety of illnesses observed in the Iraqi population since the war."