Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Depleted uranium: no cause for alarm

This is the opening of an article on BBC News today:

'Depleted uranium (DU) ammunition used by Nato in the mid-1990s in Bosnia-Herzegovina is still polluting air and water there, the UN reports. It says there is no cause for alarm, but urges precautions and regular monitoring.'

Confused? Well, the US and UK governments admit that breathing dust produced by DU weapons can be dangerous in the immediate aftermath of their use but that poisoning is more likely than irradiation, according to a Q&A elsewhere on the BBC site. However, it does fit the profile of many recent panics, as this quote demonstrates: 'There is no scientifically proven evidence that it is harmful. But the veterans point out that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence, and they believe their own experience means there is serious cause for concern.'

In other words, there are two factors at work here: a distrust of government, which means that reassurances are not believed; and a medical problem that is almost impossible to provide a definitive answer about by its very nature, which always leaves room for doubt.

While the jury is still out on DU weapons, one thing is crystal clear: the most dangerous thing is to be on the wrong end of one.

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