- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

The unity of NATO is being threatened by a dense, silver bullet. Depleted uranium, which was used in the tips of bullets in NATO's Kosovo air campaign, is being blamed for causing leukemia deaths following the bombings. So far, there is no scientific proof of any link between the material and the illnesses suffered by servicemen, but Italy and Germany are among the members still calling for a suspension of the substance used in American and British munitions. While the military should remain open to new evidence, a substance that is this vital in warfare should not be dropped based on unfounded fears.

The uranium causes bullets to penetrate armor more deeply than other substances, and is also used in missiles and shells. On impact, it becomes radioactive dust. Leukemia can be a risk resulting from nuclear explosions, but there has been no proven link to the low-level radiation caused by depleted uranium.

A similar scare came after the Gulf War, when the substance was also used and later blamed for Gulf War syndrome. A presidential oversight panel said in 1999 there was no evidence that the substance caused the illness. Yet, once again, it is being painted as the culprit, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, leukemia has been proven to result from smoking, chemotherapy drugs and benzene.

Consider the cost to the U.S. military if the member states decide to outlaw the substance: Not only would the military be deprived of one of its most potent weapons, but it would be faced with compensation claims from servicemen around the world and possibly dating back to the Gulf War. The cost of cleaning up the radioactive substance would be phenomenal. For example, when 152,000 pounds of the material was removed from Jefferson Proving Ground, a 500-acre area in Indiana, it cost $4 to $5 billion.

No cost is too high to protect our servicemen or the lives of innocent civilians. Military personnel serving in both wars have also been given reason to be upset. Their illnesses are real, and were visible only after they had put themselves in harm's way for their countries. The European Commission has put together a working group of medical and scientific experts to research any further threats posed by depleted uranium. However, until tests show that the substance is linked to the illnesses, NATO would be foolish to throw away some of its most powerful munitions. Focusing on such squabbles only weakens the NATO alliance.


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