Features: Depleted Uranium

IAEA Support to International Efforts

The IAEA is responding to international concerns about possible health effects of depleted uranium (DU) munition arising in post-conflict situations. The Agency's focus is radiological safety, both with respect to assessing environmental conditions and the health impact on individuals that may have been exposed to DU. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has pledged the Agency's support of international efforts and has emphasized the importance of a comprehensive assessment of DU's possible effects. The Agency has conducted a number of radiological assessments in recent years at the request of its Member States.

In March 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released the findings of a study of six sites in Serbia and Montenegro that were struck by DU munitions during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

The IAEA provided assistance in the assessment of the radiological safety of DU stored at the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences, located some 15 kilometres south of Belgrade.

In late January 2001, the IAEA and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced they were exploring the feasibility of sending fact-finding missions to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Iraq. In 2000, the IAEA Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, participated in the analysis of soil samples from sites in Kosovo where DU was detected. IAEA scientists took part in a UNEP-led fact-finding mission in November 2000, which took 340 samples of water, soil, vegetation, milk and dust from vehicles and fragments of armaments after visiting 11 locations in Kosovo. Samples from the Kosovo mission also were analyzed by laboratories in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The UNEP report was issued in March 2001.

To broaden scientific understanding of DU and its analysis, the IAEA in cooperation with UNEP and World Health Organization, and with financial support of Germany, Switzerland and Italy, organized a scientific seminar and training course on "Depleted Uranium and the Environment" in September 2001. The objective was to provide up-to-date information on detection, measurement and risk and potential health effects of DU residues in past conflict situations. The seminar was attended by 60 participants from 26 countries and three international organizations.

The training course, held at the Agency's Seibersdorf Laboratories and in the Karlsruhe Training Centre in Germany, was attended by 27 delegates from institutions and laboratories involved in environmental monitoring of DU and its effects. The training course provided practical exercises on environmental and biological sampling techniques; on detection and measurement techniques; and on monitoring techniques for potentially exposed persons.