Doctors dismiss risks to Swiss exposed to radiation in Balkans

Swiss chief of staff, Hans Ulrich Scherrer, said peacekeepers had been warned to stay clear of shell debris Keystone

Military doctors have dismissed as negligible risks of radioactive contamination facing Swiss personnel in the Balkans. The statement comes amid fears that radioactive shells used by Nato could have led to the deaths of several overseas peacekeepers.

This content was published on January 5, 2001 minutes

Speaking in Bern on Friday, Swiss army physicians said they were confident that Swiss personnel serving in the Balkans were not at risk from radioactive debris caused by depleted uranium shells, which were used by United States warplanes during the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts.

Field physician, Peter Eichenberger, told swissinfo that the risk to Swiss peacekeepers was extremely small because they had not been active in areas where the shells had been used.

He added that no Swiss personnel who had served in the region had been diagnosed with any condition that could be connected to radioactive contamination.

Eichenberger's statement follows the death of six Italian soldiers from leukaemia, all of whom had served in either Kosovo or Bosnia. Five Belgians and a Portuguese who served in the region have also since died of causes thought to be linked to radioactive contamination.

A spokesman for the military laboratory in the Swiss town of Spiez, Ernst Schmid, said people at risk included those who had been in contact with ammunition and debris from bombs and tanks over a lengthy period of time.

The laboratory discovered traces of radioactive debris in the Nato bombardment zone of Kosovo during two investigative missions to the province in June and December last year.

Switzerland's chief of staff, Hans Ulrich Scherrer, said Swiss personnel in Kosovo had been warned to stay away from ammunition and debris.

The US used depleted uranium shells - which are radioactive - during the Kosovo and Bosnian conflicts, as well as its bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War. It favours the ammunition because the shells are able penetrate armour.

swissinfo with agencies

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