UK to send depleted uranium shells to Ukraine despite health concerns

FILE - A member of a radiation team holds a 30mm armour-piercing shell containing depleted uranium, used by NATO during air strikes on Bosnia in 1995.
FILE - A member of a radiation team holds a 30mm armour-piercing shell containing depleted uranium, used by NATO during air strikes on Bosnia in 1995. Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews
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In recent years hundreds of Italian military personnel have died while thousands more have taken sick from conditions potentially linked to depleted uranium. Some MEPs are now calling for a full ban.

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In Italy alone, 400 military officers have died and another 8000 are seriously ill after they were exposed to depleted uranium shells during the 1999 Nato bombing of Yugoslavia. 

This has proven a correlation between toxic material and an increase in cancer-related diseases, but it hasn't been easy. 

The use of depleted uranium is not prohibited by any international agreements and Italy is not the only European country where the debate around the use of such weapons is ongoing.

While numerous studies have been conducted on the issue, controversy remains about the effects of exposure to depleted uranium and Italy’s Defence Ministry denies any responsibility.

Euronews spoke with Angelo Tartaglia, an Italian lawyer who has defeated the State in over 300 legal cases in winning compensation for victims and their families.

Mr Tartaglia’s case has raised awareness of the issue and has built a legal framework around the risks in the use of such munitions.

The UK’s decision to send shells made with depleted uranium to Ukraine has raised a few eyebrows.

The use of similar munitions during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is the object of several studies on the health risks posed by the toxic material.

Tartaglia has been defending military officials who have suffered the consequences of exposure to depleted uranium weapons for the past 20 years, proving the link between the use of depleted uranium and several diseases. 

Addressing the UK's announcement that it will send weapons to Ukraine, he said: “Those who say these things must think about the risks and the consequences of their actions. 

"Clearly, some things can be done during the war and others cannot be done like this one. Following the example of Italy where a military law has now been enforced the same should happen at a European level” he said.

Gathering enough evidence to win compensation is a difficult task in the absence of firm regulations and Italy's Defence Ministry is denying any responsibility: “Such levels of exposure can be particularly dangerous and the diseases that are caused by this usually last for a long time. We are talking about an avalanche of such cases that have just started".

This type of munition has also been used in other battlefields such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Brussels has repeatedly passed resolutions calling for a ban on depleted uranium weapons but a few EU Member States are against such calls. 

According to Tartaglia if depleted uranium was to be used in Ukraine it would cause irreversible effects: “There’s the possibility that both Ukrainian and Russian military officials might fall ill but most importantly pollution caused by military activities could cause irreversible damage to the environment which means that civilians too would be at risk”.

Following Italy’s example a few politicians are determined to renew calls for a full ban - asking the EU to bring its attention back to the issue.

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