UN study confirms low-level radioactive contamination in Serbia and Montenegro

UN study confirms low-level radioactive contamination in Serbia and Montenegro

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Widespread – but low-level – radioactive contamination has been found at five of six sites in Serbia and Montenegro struck by depleted uranium munitions during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported today.

Widespread – but low-level – radioactive contamination has been found at five of six sites in Serbia and Montenegro struck by depleted uranium munitions during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported today.

While the new UNEP study concludes that none of the six sites studied present immediate radioactive or toxic risks to the environment or human health, the agency is recommending authorities take precautionary measures.

UNEP is most concerned about the potential for ammunition tips made out of depleted uranium to cause future groundwater contamination. Those tips – called penetrators – recovered by the UN agency’s team were some 10-15 per cent smaller in mass due to rapid corrosion since they were used in 1999. The speed of the corrosion underlines the importance of monitoring water quality at the five sites on an annual basis, UNEP says.

Modern air sampling techniques revealed airborne depleted uranium particles at two of the five contaminated sites, according to the agency. While the levels were below international safety limits, these results have implications for site decontamination and construction work – activities that could potentially stir up radioactive dust from the ground surface. The results also indicate that depleted uranium dust was widely dispersed into the environment when the ammunition exploded.

The new study – undertaken by a team of 14 international experts in October and November 2001 – was conducted in cooperation with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with support from the World Health Organization (WHO). Its findings are consistent with those of a previous study of depleted uranium ammunition sites UNEP conducted in 2001 in Kosovo.