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Health alert over uranium shells fired on UK ranges (1-8-2001)
by MACER HALL and CHRISTINA LAMB
DEPLETED uranium ammunition linked to serious illness among Gulf war and Balkans veterans has been routinely used at training ranges in Britain, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.
Last night, the Ministry of Defence was urged to investigate the levels of radioactive contamination at a number of live firing areas following concern that the health of military personnel and local civilians could be at risk.
The revelation comes amid growing pressure on the Government to screen troops who served in the Balkans after a number of European soldiers stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia died of leukaemia, as disclosed by The Sunday Telegraph last week.
Shells fired by United States A10 "tankbusting" aircraft are tipped with depleted uranium (DU). Similar weapons are in the armoury of Britain's Challenger tanks.
DU is only mildly radioactive but, on impact, it burns off in a spray of fine dust which some scientists believe can cause cancer. Nato and the US have denied any risk.
Last night, the MoD [Ministry of Defence] admitted that it had tested DU weapons at two ranges, at Eskmeals, Cumbria, and the Solway Firth in Scotland, over the past 10 years. They have also been fired at a tank testing range at Lulworth, Dorset, a senior Army officer told The Sunday Telegraph.
Britain is increasingly isolated as its Nato allies have begun screening soldiers who served in the Balkans and demanding an international investigation into the "Balkan syndrome".
Italy's National Observatory for the Protection of Military Personnel said yesterday that it had found a direct link between the deaths of six soldiers who served in the Balkans and Nato's use of DU ammunition - the first official study to do so.
US A10 aircraft fired 31,000 DU rounds during Nato's campaign to eject
Yugoslavia's army from Kosovo in 1999. Another 10,000 were fired in Bosnia in 1994-5.
A team of United Nations scientists visited 11 out of 112 Nato bombing sites in Kosovo and found radiation at eight of them as well as parts of DU shells lying around in villages where children could pick them up.
The number of deaths of soldiers has caused outrage across Europe, with ministers saying they were not fully informed of the risks by Nato before agreeing to take part in the Kosovo campaign. This could threaten future participation.
Besides the six Italians who died of leukaemia, 30 are ill. Belgium has had five deaths, Portugal two, Spain two, and France and Holland have several seriously ill.
Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, has suggested that DU arms should be banned.
The MoD said that it knew of no cases of leukaemia linked to contact with DU rounds and it had no plans to screen soldiers. It said that, out of the 50,000 who had served in the Balkans, there was a statistical chance of six or seven contracting leukaemia.
A spokesman said test-firing "is a lawful activity, and international obligations are fulfilled by doing so".
(c) 'Sunday Telegraph'. Reprinted for Fair Use Only.
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