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Where the Trail Should Lead

The depleted uranium (DU) bullet used extensively by American forces in the Gulf War - and likely to be used in Kosovo - is a triumph of military technology. It smashes through a tank's armor better than anything else. The gunners who use it swear by it. And it's even inexpensive. The raw material is amply supplied by the wastes stacked up at US nuclear-weapons plants.

There's just one catch. Battlefields littered with the residue of spent DU bullets remain radioactive almost indefinitely. Monitor reporter Scott Peterson, in his investigative report concluding today, "The Trail of a Bullet," found evidence of high radioactivity at battle sites in Kuwait. Even more worrisome, the dust of vaporized DU rounds has likely been spread widely by the desert winds.

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The health risks of this are hotly debated. Doctors in Iraq point to sharp increases in malignant diseases in southern areas closest to the Gulf War battlefields. In the US, many who've followed the "Gulf War syndrome" problems of American GIs suspect depleted uranium is a major contributing factor.

One thing is sure: The military's own safety regulations, following those of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, require heavily insulated clothing for those working around DU sites. And one thing is clear: The United States should reconsider its use of this weapon. Warfare, for all its chaos, does not shelve ethics and morality. Chemical weapons are banned by international agreement. Antipersonnel land mines are on their way out. DU rounds should go the same route. They may be military wonders. But they're ethical horrors.

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