Armed Forces: Depleted Uranium

House of Lords written question – answered on 26th April 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty's Government what research they have commissioned on the potential after-effects from contact with depleted uranium (DU) weapons, or from proximity to areas where they have been used; and what stocks and types of DU weapons are held in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Ever since the first proposals for the use of depleted uranium (DU) in anti-armour munitions, the Ministry of Defence has maintained a watching brief on related worldwide research activities. This includes research by the European Commission and independent agencies such as the Royal Society, National Academy of Sciences, United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organisation and International Atomic Energy Agency. There has also been research into topics of direct relevance to the UK; the most significant involve personnel and battlefield monitoring.

No DU was detected in the vast majority (more than 99.5 per cent) of the almost 1,000 UK veterans tested by the analysis of urine samples. Some DU was present in a very small number of veterans injured when their vehicles were struck by DU munitions, but the exposures were at levels at which no adverse health effects are expected. No widespread contamination sufficient to impact on the health of the general population or deployed personnel was found in Ministry of Defence environmental surveys in southern Iraq and the Balkans.

The UK position remains that DU is weakly radioactive and has similar levels of chemical toxicity to lead. Measures to prevent or reduce intakes may sometimes be justified after DU munitions are fired, but the scientific consensus is that this will occur only in a very small number of very extreme cases. This is consistent with the findings of the agencies mentioned above and with the recent World Health Organisation statement that, "For the general population, neither civilian nor military use of DU is likely to produce radiation doses significantly above normal background levels".

DU has not been shown to present the health and environmental risks suggested in some quarters.

The 120 mm anti-tank round (Charm 3), fired by the Army's Challenger main battle tank, is the only in-service DU munition. I am withholding information relating to munition stock levels; its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces.

The Government's policy remains that DU can be used within weapons; it is not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. UK Armed Forces use DU munitions in accordance with international humanitarian law. It would be quite wrong to deny our serving personnel a legitimate and effective capability.

Does this answer the above question?

Yes0 people think so

No0 people think not

Would you like to ask a question like this yourself? Use our Freedom of Information site.