No Uranium Ammunition For Training, U.S. Says

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No Uranium Ammunition For Training, U.S. Says

As European politicians confront public suspicion that residue from depleted uranium munitions used in the Balkans War has led to cancer deaths among NATO soldiers, U.S. military officials in South Korea said Friday that large stockpiles of the ammunition based here have never been used during years of training exercises.

Because of its extreme density and penetrating power, depleted uranium is used in weapons systems designed to combat tanks and other armored vehicles. Shells for the M-1 tank and 30-millimeter bullets fired by A-10 ground support jet fighters are made of the metal.

The U.S. Air Force, in response to questions from the IHT-JAI , said Friday that "Neither the A-10s nor any other United States Air Forces Korea aircraft have used, nor will ever use depleted uranium rounds for training. These rounds will only be employed by U.S. Air Forces aircraft during combat for the defense of the ROK."

NATO officials said this week that depleted-uranium munitions had mistakenly been fired in training exercises in Europe, despite earlier denials that they had ever been employed outside of combat.

Maj. Regina Kelker, a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman, said A-10s had been stationed in South Korea since January 1983. The U.S. Air Force in Korea has a squadron of 24 A-10s in its 25th squadron based in Osan, Ms. Kelker said.

Lee Ferguson, U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman in Seoul, confirmed the U.S. Army has depleted uranium rounds for its tanks in Korea, but said the munitions, kept as "war reserve stocks," had never been used in training on the peninsula.

NATO officials in Europe this week refused to ban use of depleted uranium armaments, despite a public outcry about alleged health risks. Press reports in recent days have said 30 European military personnel have fallen ill from cancer with depleted uranium residue as the suspected cause. Six Italian soldiers who served in the Balkans have died of leukemia.

Known as a pyrophoric metal, depleted uranium catches fire on impact and is only slightly radioactive. The metal used in munitions is left over when the radioactive isotope of uranium is extracted for use in nuclear fuel or weapons. Aside from any radiation risk, another possible health hazard is the uranium oxide that is given off as a powdery substance when it is fired and strikes a target.

Separately, according to a 1997 report from the Human Rights Watch Arms Project, South Korea has bought almost 1,400 U.S.-made anti-personnel mines containing depleted uranium at a cost of $4 million.

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