Afghan ministry denies evidence of depleted uranium

KABUL, April 20 (Reuters) - The Afghan Public Health Ministry denied on Sunday a media report that there was evidence of nuclear contamination in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

The radio report said the ministry was investigating claims the Tora Bora mountains had been contaminated with radioactive material, the ministry said in a statement.

“The Public Health Ministry, so far, has no information from any official source about the presence of nuclear contamination in Tora Bora and has launched no investigation about it. The ministry even has no plan for such an investigation.”

The Tora Bora mountains in the east of Afghanistan were heavily bombed by U.S. planes in late 2001 targeting al Qaeda leaders believed to be sheltering in caves there.

The radio report followed a report by Reuters quoting Afghan deputy public health minister for technical affairs Faizullah Kakar saying the ministry would study whether levels of depleted uranium were higher than normal in the environment after the 2001 war. But Kakar made no reference to Tora Bora.

“We have decided to do a study to see what is going on. We will take samples of soil, rocks, water in different areas where the war had taken place in the past and look in the same area to see if there is an excess of malformed babies,” Kakar said.

“It’s then that we can tell you what is going on. But until then it is still speculation,” he said.

He also cautioned that Afghanistan suffered from major health problems that could have been the cause of any possible rise in the number of cases of malformation.

“In Afghanistan, we have so many problems with nutritional deficiency, like folic acid. So it’s difficult to tell if it’s due to depleted uranium or due to some nutritional problems or some other genetic issues,” he said. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)