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UNEP Report Finds no Evidence of Uranium Munitions in Lebanon

UNEP has just released its post-conflict assessment for last summer's Israeli invasion of Lebanon - the question of whether or not the Israelis used DU munitions has been a contentious one since hostilities ended.
24 January 2007 - ICBUW

UNEP's Findings

No use of weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) UNEP investigated a number of sites with underground facilities with the highest probability of having been attacked with deep-penetrating ammunition. The typical signs pointing to the use of ‘bunker buster’ munitions include collapsed buildings with minimal lateral damage and, usually, little or no evidence of burning.

Smear sampling of undisturbed surfaces is one of the most precise methods for detecting depleted uranium. In UNEP’s experience, this method can detect the impact of as little as two 30mm DU penetrators of 300 g each and clearly confirm the presence of DU within 300 m from the target. Given the high sensitivity of the method, the impact on a hard surface of a ‘bunker buster’ containing a DU penetrator weighing approximately 200 kg, which would generate 5 - 25 per cent of its mass in DU dust, would be detected at a distance even greater than 300 m with the highest probability. The analysis results show no evidence of the use of DU-containing penetrators or metal products.

In addition, no DU shrapnel or other radioactive residue was found at the sites investigated. The analysis of all smear samples taken did not detect DU, enriched uranium, or higher than natural uranium content. After an extensive investigation, including of sites rumoured to have been hit by DU weapons, it can be stated that the ‘bunker buster’ ammunition used by the IDF in the conflict did not contain DU, natural uranium or any other uranium isotope.

Investigation at Khiam

Many reports and rumours circulated in the international press during and directly after the 2006 conflict regarding the use of depleted uranium and/or uranium weapons at a site in Khiam2. UNEP therefore specifically investigated this site for uranium and/or depleted uranium contamination.

UNEP found that two buildings in the Khiam residential area had been destroyed in an air-to-ground attack. Each building was hit by one bomb, resulting in a crater with a defined diameter. The craters were already filled with rubble when the team visited the site. Lateral damage to the surrounding houses was limited. The on-site dose rate measurements were higher than other assessed sites (where readings were usually 20 nSv/h), but were not alarming or outside the natural Lebanese range-laying readings of up to 80 nSv/h. No residue showing a higher radioactive reading was found during an in-depth investigation of the site. Three smear samples and one soil sample were taken at the site for detailed analysis.

The laboratory analysis confirmed the higher natural uranium levels present at the site. The analysis of the soil sample showed 26.2 ± 0.7 [mg238U/kg] with an isotope ratio 235U/238U of 0.00722 ± 0.00001, signifying that uranium with a natural isotope composition was found and that the natural uranium content in the area (a localized zone of about 100 x 100 m), was higher than average by a factor of about 10. This value could not a priori be linked to the missile/bomb used to destroy the building and further detailed examination of the impact site was considered necessary to identify the source. The smear samples taken from the area showed neither DU, nor enriched uranium, nor a higher than natural uranium content. In addition to the nuclear mass-spectrometric investigation, samples were screened for other metals, including heavy metals. No exceptional results were obtained.

Based on a meeting held between the Minister of Environment of Lebanon and UNEP on 7 November 2006, an additional investigation of the site was undertaken to determine the source of the elevated readings. The follow-up visit took place on 20 and 21 November. Further detailed investigations were conducted at the site and additional samples were collected for laboratory analysis, including from remnants of the bomb used in the attack. The results confirmed the original findings that no DU, enriched uranium or higher than natural uranium levels are present at the site, and that the readings are due to natural causes. The concentration of uranium found in the ambient soil does not pose a health risk.

To read the report in full: