HL Deb 15 March 2002 vol 632 cc112-3WA
Baroness David

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans the Ministry of Defence has for further research into depleted uranium. [HL3298]

Lord Bach

The Ministry of Defence has funded extensive research into DU munitions over many years. This work has been complemented by studies on the health and environmental consequences of the testing, development and battlefield use of DU munitions carried out by a range of governmental and non-governmental bodies in the UK and overseas. These studies, and the Royal Society's report, all indicate that the health risks associated with the battlefield use of DU are minimal, other than in a small number of very specific circumstances.

Nevertheless, there are a number of areas where we believe that further research is desirable to enhance the database on which to make judgments weighing the potential loss of life arising from not using DU munitions in battle against any potential longer term impact on human health and the environment resulting from its use. Some research will aid MoD in any future test-range decommissioning.

We therefore propose to carry out a programme of further research, which has been reviewed by the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. We have given veterans' representatives early sight of the programme. The full details of our proposals have been placed in the Library of the House. They have also been published on the MoD's website.

Much of the work is in line with the recommendations of the Royal Society's report. In particular, we propose to conduct an epidemiological study to identify any links between exposure to DU and ill health and a critical review of literature relating to the effects of DU inhalation on the pulmonary lymph nodes. We also intend to study the ways in which DU is transported from the point of introduction into the environment to the point at which it has the potential to affect the health of plant, animal or human life. Furthermore, we have already begun research into the corrosion and dissolution rates of DU in typical corrosion environments and in controlled laboratory studies. We intend to consider a range of soil types and profiles and marine environments in this work.

In addition, we propose to carry out research into the operational role of DU munitions and consider alternative penetrator materials. We aim to conduct a radiochemical analysis of DU rounds and examine contamination in the barrels used to fire DU rounds. Further to this, we aim to review and address work being conducted by others in biokinetic modelling related to uranic materials.

These research activities are in addition to work that MoD is already undertaking. We have set up the independent Depleted Uranium Oversight Board, which includes independent members of the scientific community and veterans' representatives, as well as MoD staff, and is now overseeing the programme of work to devise a valid test for uranium isotopes in urine and a methodology for a voluntary DU screening programme for Balkans and Gulf veterans. We are developing our policy of biological monitoring for DU for troops on operations. We are also collecting data on the levels of DU in environmental samples in Kosovo. Annual surveys are already in progress at UK ranges where DU has been fired.

It will be necessary to set priorities for funding each of the proposals and reassess their relevance and content as the research progresses.