HC Deb 13 April 1999 vol 329 cc43-4W
Valerie Davey

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if depleted uranium weapons are being used by NATO in its current operations in Yugoslavia. [79859]

Mr. George Robertson

No depleted uranium based ammunition has been used by UK forces during Operation Allied Force. I cannot comment on behalf of other NATO nations.

Valerie Davey

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what scientific research was commissioned by his Department following the use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq in 1991 to assess(a) the short and (b) the long-term effects on people and the environment; and to whom the result of the research has been made available. [79858]

Mr. Doug Henderson

The Ministry of Defence has not commissioned any scientific research to investigate the health and environmental effects of using DU-based ammunition during the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. However, the potential hazards of DU are well understood and are well documented in the scientific literature. In 1993, the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency's Radiation Protection Service (then the Defence Radiological Protection Service (DRPS)) published a summary report of its assessment of the potential hazards posed by DU. The report, copies of which have already been placed in the Library of the House, explained that there are two types of hazard posed by the use of DU: a radiation hazard, although DU is a low specific activity material (as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency); and a chemical toxicity hazard, which is similar to that posed by other heavy metals, such as lead.

DU-based ammunition is currently fired by the MOD at two ranges in the UK—Kirkcudbright in southern Scotland and Eskmeals in Cumbria—for test and evaluation purposes. In December 1993, the MOD commissioned independent environmental consultants, W. S. Atkins, to conduct a detailed review of the environmental impact of this test-firing. The consultants' resulting report, a copy of which has already been placed in the Library of the House, was published in 1995. It concluded that the radiation doses to members of the public, and the associated risks from exposure to DU released into the environment were extremely low. These conclusions were, and continue to be, substantiated by comprehensive monitoring programmes at both sites.

The Ministry of Defence is, of course, well aware of suggestions, particularly in the Press, that the use of DU-based ammunition during the Gulf conflict has caused an increase in ill-health, including deformities, cancers and birth defects, in Iraq (particularly around Basra, Az Zubayr and Um Qasr). However, we have not seen any peer-reviewed epidemiological research data which support these claims. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the illnesses of the types highlighted in Press articles are uniquely associated with exposure to DU. The Government would, of course, consider carefully any reliable medical or scientific data which may emerge concerning the incidence of ill-health in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence is also aware of the suggested link between exposure to DU and the illnesses being experienced by some Gulf veterans. However, this is only one of a number of factors which have been suggested as causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses and, pending further medical and scientific evidence, my Department is keeping an open mind on this issue. On 19 March, I published the detailed paper "Testing for the presence of depleted uranium in UK veterans of the Gulf conflict: The Current Position". The paper, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House, describes the scenarios in which UK troops may have been exposed to DU in the Gulf and the possible health effects of such exposures.

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