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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 00:29 GMT
DU shell test-firing resumes
Gun firing shell
A shell is fired at Dundrennan as tests start
The government has defended the decision to go ahead with new tests of depleted uranium weapons at a military range in Scotland.

The exercises resumed on Tuesday at Dundrennan, near Kirkcudbright, the only range in the UK where DU shells are test-fired.

Many local people are opposed to the firing amid growing fears about health risks which have been highlighted by ex-service personnel who served in the Gulf War.

There is no known threat to health from the shells that have been fired into the Solway

Dr Lewis Moonie
Last month the Ministry of Defence bowed to pressure and announced a voluntary screening programme for soldiers who fought in the Gulf.

Other European countries are also testing those who participated in the Balkans conflict.

Defence Minister Dr Lewis Moonie told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that people in the south-west of Scotland had been subjected to scare stories about the dangers posed by the shells.

He said every batch of shells had to be tested by firing them through a cloth target to ensure that they met the necessary standards.

"There is no known threat to health from the shells that have been fired into the Solway," said Dr Moonie.

"We monitor continuously to ensure there is no effect on background radiation.

Map showing location of Dundrennan
"You have to remember that there is uranium present in the sea naturally and these shells have never been shown to alter that level."

He stressed there was no justification for the suggestion that the shells could damage health.

And he said those living near the Dundrennan range had been subjected to "alarmist reports which have no scientific justification whatsoever".

However, the local Scottish National Party MP and MSP has renewed his call for a moratorium on tests.

Environmental principle

Alasdair Morgan, who has campaigned against the tests for several years, said he wanted the shells to become as "unacceptable" as land mines.

The member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale said: "There is a basic environmental principle here, that we should stop polluting our environment.

"The MoD do seem to use a lot of Galloway as a dump.

"We have got 7,000 shells landing in the Solway already. I realise there is a fairly minimal health risk, but I still think minimal is too much."

Kevin Rudland, who has campaigned against DU shells
Some service personnel blame DU for their illnesses
And he added: "In this day and age we shouldn't be lobbing 7,000 cans of baked beans in the Solway, far less 7,000 depleted uranium shells."

Dundrennan Community Council also wants the test programme stopped for more investigation of the health and environmental risks.

Chairwoman Kathleen Glass said: "We have concerns and I haven't heard anything that allays some of those fears."

She said it was "negligent" for testing to continue until more was known about the effects.

"We are looking for health screening to be offered to civilians employed on the range so they can have that extra reassurance," she said.

Another local campaigner, Dan Kelly, said all Dumfries and Galloway residents should be tested and an independent public inquiry launched.

DU shell
War veterans are worried about the effects of the shells
Conservative MSP Ben Wallace has also called for the tests to be suspended to allow a screening programme to be put in place to monitor the effects of DU shells.

The former Scots Guards soldier, who fought in the Gulf War, said the MoD's record on screening was years behind that of other European countries.

Dr Andrew Carnon, a public health consultant in Dumfries and Galloway, said that while he understood people's concerns there was no evidence to suggest any health problems related to the siting of the range.

He explained that in recent weeks - and in response to public worries - two investigations had been carried out to assess whether or not there was an unusual incidence of cancer or leaukaemia in the Dundrennan area.

Dr Carnon added: "It is difficult to reassure people when they are understandably concerned."

The MoD defended the Dundrennan exercise.

A spokeswoman said: "This is a routine testing programme which was planned before any of the recent scares.

"We are testing the accuracy of the shells by firing them against soft targets and the alleged health risks occur when the shells are fired at hard targets, like tanks."

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See also:

20 Feb 01 | Scotland
Dundrennan: Under friendly fire
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