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UN environment agency to assess depleted uranium sites in Serbia, Montenegro

UN environment agency to assess depleted uranium sites in Serbia, Montenegro

A team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is visiting the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia this week to investigate sites in Serbia and Montenegro that were targeted by ordnance containing depleted uranium (DU) during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

The team's mission, which was requested by Yugoslav and Montenegrin authorities, will build on a study published earlier this year on the environmental impact of DU in Kosovo.

"Although our Kosovo report showed no cause for alarm, it did highlight specific situations where risks could be significant," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "There are also scientific uncertainties about the longer-term behaviour of DU in the environment."

Mr. Toepfer noted that UNEP has called for certain precautionary actions, including removing slightly radioactive ammunition parts remaining on the surface, decontaminating areas where feasible, and providing information to local populations on what to do if they discover depleted uranium. "The Kosovo report also recommended conducting scientific studies in other areas where DU has been used," he added.

The UNEP team will take samples and measurements at sites in Serbia's Presevo Valley and Montenegro's Cape Arza. The sites have been identified from the coordinate information and maps provided to UNEP by NATO in 2000. Sites targeted during the conflict as well as areas where decontamination work has since taken place will be visited.

Led by Pekka Haavisto, the team includes specialists from the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, AC Laboratorium Spiez of Switzerland, Italy's National Environmental Protection Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Greek Atomic Energy Commissions Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, and the Russian State Institute for the Safe Development of Nuclear Energy.

The team's report on Serbia and Montenegro should be available in February 2002, according to UNEP, which has also conducted environmental assessments in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania.