UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME CONFIRMS PLUTONIUM FOUND IN DU AMMUNITION

16 February 2001
UNEP/85

UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME CONFIRMS PLUTONIUM FOUND IN DU AMMUNITION

16/02/2001
Press ReleaseUNEP/85

UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME CONFIRMS PLUTONIUM FOUND IN DU AMMUNITION

GENEVA, 16 February (UNEP) –- Traces of plutonium have been detected in the DU penetrators found at sites in Kosovo that were investigated in November 2000 by the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Depleted Uranium Assessment Team, which included the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), UNEP reported here today.

The existence of plutonium was confirmed by the two laboratories tasked with analysing the penetrators  –- the Swiss AC-Laboratory Spiez and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI).  Together with three other European laboratories, these labs have been analysing a total of 340 soil, water and other samples taken during the November field mission.

The traces of isotopes Pu-239/240 were found in four different penetrators (ammunition tips).  The amount of plutonium in the penetrators varied from 0.8 to 12.87 Bq/kg.  In January, UNEP confirmed that some labs had also found the uranium isotope U-236 in the penetrators.  (Note:  Bq = becquerel, a measure of radioactivity.)

The presence of these transuranic elements in the DU indicates that at least some of the material has been in nuclear reactors.  However, the amount of plutonium found in the DU penetrators is very low and does not have any significant impact on their overall radioactivity.

"According to an assessment by the Swiss AC-Laboratory Spiez, these newest findings about the composition of the depleted uranium only lead to a minor change in the overall radiological situation and should, therefore, not cause any immediate alarm", said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.  "As we stated earlier*, UNEP's recommendations on what steps should be taken next will be based on the full set of laboratory analyses, which are still ongoing, and will be presented in early March in the report on the environmental effects of DU in Kosovo."

Note to journalists:  For more information, please contact UNEP Spokesperson, Tore Brevik, Nairobi, tel: 254-2-62-3292, e-mail: tore.brevik@unep.org; UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team Chairman, Pekka Haavisto, in Finland, tel: 358-40-588-4720, e-mail: pekka.haavisto@upi-fiia.fi; or UNEP Press Officer in Geneva, Michael Williams, tel: 41-22-917-8242, 41-79-409-1528 (cell), e-mail: michael.williams@unep.ch. See also http://balkans.unep.ch

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*     See Press Release IAEA/1345-UNEP/82 of 25 January 2001

For information media. Not an official record.