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Spain Checks 32,000 Soldiers for Radiation

By: Elizabeth Nelson

In an article by Ciaran Giles for the Associated Press, it was reported that European NATO allies have started checking soldiers for exposure to high levels of radiation. The radiation was caused by depleted uranium ammunition used by US warplanes in Kosovo. So far, Spain has said the initial tests are negative.

All 32,000 solders who served in the Balkan region after 1992 will be checked. 5,000 soldiers have already been screened and so far, none have tested positive for radiation. Portugal will send experts to Kosova to check radiation levels, but does not believe they will test their 330 troops.

The testing started after NATO acknowledged that US warplanes fired armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium during the 78-day bombing campaign in 1999. Italy is also investigating; they are focusing on cancer cases among soldiers from Kosovo and looking for a link with the ammunition. The UN is conducting a similar study and will report findings in February.

After serving in the Balkans, twelve Italian soldiers have developed cancer. Also, three peacekeepers who served in Bosnia died of leukemia last year and four soldiers who were involved with aircraft maintenance have died of cancer.

Jim Turner, spokesman for the Pentagon, says there have been no problems among US soldiers with leukemia or other illnesses. Soldiers are receiving regular health checkups. The tests are designed to calm fears among the troops. Spain's Defense Ministry says that "there has been no radioactive pollution." The one case of leukemia of a Spanish soldier is unrelated.

The Yugoslav government reported earlier this year the region hit by uranium stretches across a southwestern belt of the province. The areas most affected are: Prizren, Urosevac, Djakovica, Decani, and the Djurakovac village. These areas posted troops from Italy, US, Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

Yugoslavia claimed that 50,000 rounds were fired in 1999, but NATO has only admitted to firing 31,000 rounds.

Since the controversy, the US Defense Department has defended using uranium. They have said the rounds contained no more health risk than conventional weapons.