January 18, 2001
As there have been a number of queries about the presence of U-236 and Plutonium in Depleted Uranium munitions used in Kosovo and Bosnia, I wish to draw to the media's attention the following information.
It has been long established that there may be trace elements of U-236 and Plutonium in Depleted Uranium, which is a by-product of the nuclear industry. According to independent experts, however, the levels found are so low as to present no cause for concern.
Concerning the presence of U-236, I draw your attention to the UN Environment Programme press release of January 16. UNEP, with full NATO support, has taken DU samples from Kosovo and is having them tested in a number of laboratories. Along with the more commonly expected isotopes, one of the laboratories has reported finding 0.0028% of U-236. The UNEP press release says, "According to the laboratory the content of U-236 in the depleted uranium is so small that the radiotoxicity is not changed compared to DU without U-236."
In other words, from a safety viewpoint, the presence of minute quantities of U-236 in Depleted Uranium is irrelevant. As NATO has indicated in previous briefings, Depleted Uranium itself may present a low-level hazard in specific, limited circumstances.
With regard to the presence of Plutonium, I would draw attention to the US Environment Exposure Report. Depleted Uranium in Gulf: 2. This report was published, and placed on the Internet on 13 December 2000. It comments on the presence of trace elements of other materials in Depleted Uranium. Specifically, it state that Depleted Uranium "may contain trace levels (a few parts per billion parts) of transuranics (neptunium, plutonium, and americium)." Tests on samples of DU showed that transuranic contamination added 0.8% to the radiation dose from DU. The report draws the conclusion that "the quantities are so small they add very little to the radiation dose from depleted uranium itself. Both DOE (US Department of Energy) and DOD (US Department of Defense) concluded that measures designed to protect personnel from the DU itself are more than adequate to protect them from the trace quantities of transuranics."
Thus, from a safety viewpoint, the presence of such small traces of Plutonium in Depleted Uranium is also irrelevant. This report and the information in it has been publicly available for some time, and has been restated by independent experts in more recent media reports.
All of the material mentioned above, plus links to other sites and fuller reports can be found on a special section of the NATO website.