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The BBC's James Robbins
"Civillian scientists are still divided over the exact risks"
 real 56k

Chief Adviser to the MoD, Prof Sir Keith O'Nions
"It would be improper to say that the risk is zero"
 real 28k

Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon
"I have not seen any credible evidence that suggests there is any risk to British soldiers"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 20:30 GMT
Minister plays down uranium risk
Gulf War soldiers
Samples from Gulf War veterans were tested in Canada
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has moved to reassure servicemen who may have been exposed to depleted uranium that there is no scientific evidence it causes cancer.

Earlier a leaked report from 1997 suggested that exposure to depleted uranium (DU) could cause cancer of the lungs and lymphs.

But in a TV interview for Channel 4 news, Mr Hoon said that according to the "best scientific evidence I have available is that that is not true".

Earlier, Armed Forces Minister John Spellar told the BBC although much of the 1997 paper was "actually correct" it had a number of errors.


These are low level risks and indeed there is no scientific evidence to actively connect them - particularly to leukaemia, to any current condition

John Spellar
The government and Ministry of Defence have previously described the document as the "flawed" work of a junior officer.

But it has emerged that just two months after the report's publication in 1997, a covering letter written by a more senior officer recommended the paper be distributed to personnel likely to come into contact with depleted uranium (DU) ammunition.

Despite the confusion, BBC News Online has learned the UK originally received warnings over DU ammunition as long ago as 1991.

Mr Spellar told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme there was a difference between what the 1997 report was saying and the subsequent letter from the Quartermaster General's office.

He said the letter described DU as "slightly radioactive" and argued "there were precautions to take".

'Low level risks'

"These are low level risks and indeed there is no scientific evidence to actively connect them - particularly to leukaemia, to any current condition," Mr Spellar said.

The main paper "has a number of errors in it ... much of it is actually correct, certain elements are scientifically ... incorrect or misleading".


Exposure to uranium dust has been shown to increase risks of developing lung, lymph and brain cancers

Army document
But separate research seen by the BBC shows that half the British Gulf War veterans tested in a small study had abnormally high levels of DU in their bodies.

At the same time debate over the screening of Balkan veterans continues, with the UK government now preparing to offer testing to those who want it.

The new evidence showing high levels of DU in the bodies of Gulf War veterans has emerged from Canada.

About 100 British Gulf War veterans sent urine and tissue samples to the Memorial Hospital in Newfoundland to check for the presence of uranium.

Scientists there said half of them showed unusually high levels of DU.

'Analysis flaws'

The 1997 army report says: "Exposure to uranium dust has been shown to increase risks of developing lung, lymph and brain cancers."


It doesn't change the MoD's position - there is only low level radiological risk

MoD

It adds: "Although the chemical toxicity is low, there may be localised radiation damage of the lung leading to cancer. Uranium compound dust is therefore hazardous."

Shaun Rusling, of the Gulf War Veterans' Association, said "This is documentation based on analysis from the Gulf War which was completed by Land Command in 1997, and also the preparatory documents for the health and safety of the troops deploying to Kosovo.

"Are they actually admitting they got the deployment wrong for Kosovo also because of depleted uranium?"

In a statement on Wednesday night, the MoD said: "Analysis in these documents is regarded as flawed ... it doesn't change the MoD's position - there is only low level radiological risk."

Scientific inaccuracies

That was backed by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, who told BBC News the documents were several years old, had not been through internal scientific assessment and were unapproved.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith urged ministers to "stop playing this silly game, pretending they know everything and don't have to tell anybody".

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell accused the government of "lacking credibility" in its "efforts to explain away the documents".

He warned: "If any subsequent document were to turn up the government could find itself having to defend an accusation of a lack of candour."

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See also:

11 Jan 01 | Europe
Uranium sites 'should be sealed'
10 Jan 01 | Europe
Nato moves to ease uranium fears
10 Jan 01 | Scotland
Holyrood move over Gulf War Syndrome
04 Sep 00 | Health
Uranium 'threat' to Gulf veterans
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