The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, issued today the following statement:
The IAEA has been involved in United Nations efforts relating to the impact of the use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in Kosovo. It has supported the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the assessment which it is making, at the request of the Secretary-General, of that impact. In this connection, in November 2000, Agency experts participated in a UNEP-led fact-finding mission in Kosovo.
DU is only slightly radioactive, being about 60% as radioactive as natural uranium. Chemically and physically, DU behaves in the same way as natural uranium. The chemical toxicity is normally the dominant factor for human health. However, it is necessary to carefully assess the impact of DU in the special circumstances in which it was used, e.g. to determine whether it was inhaled or ingested or whether fragments came into close contact with individuals.
It is therefore essential, before an authoritative conclusion can be reached, that a detailed survey of the territory in which DU was used and of the people who came in contact with the depleted uranium in any form be carried out. In the meantime it would be prudent, as recommended by the leader of the November UNEP mission, to adopt precautionary measures. Depending on the results of the survey further measures may be necessary.
The Agency, within its statutory responsibilities and on the basis of internationally accepted radiation safety standards, will continue to co-operate with other organizations, in particular WHO and UNEP, with a view to carrying out a comprehensive assessment. Co-operation by and additional information from NATO will be prerequisites. The experience gained from such an assessment could be useful for similar studies that may be carried out elsewhere in the Balkans or in the Gulf.