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Westminster correspondent David Porter reports
"The Dundrennan range is one of five sites in the UK where depleted uranium shells can be fired"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 09:35 GMT
Call to stop uranium shell tests
Soldier and tank
Controversy surrounds the use of DU shells
The Scottish National Party has used a special parliamentary debate at Westminster to call for the test firing of depleted uranium shells to be halted north of the Border.

The move comes in the light of recent international concern about the health of veterans exposed to depleted uranium.

That has renewed the controversy over the use of the material, although the UK Government says it has no reason to believe the shells posed any significant risk to British personnel.

But the SNP says official figures have shown more than 6,000 depleted uranium shells have been fired into the Solway Firth during Ministry of Defence exercises.

Alasdair Morgan
Alasdair Morgan will raise the issue
In the last five years alone, the party says nearly 1,500 rounds have been discharged at Dundrennan in Kirkcudbrightshire.

It is understood that more tests are scheduled for later this year.

Local MP Alasdair Morgan is now calling on ministers to suspend operations and consider removing the shells that have already been fired.

He believes that leaving depleted uranium (DU) shells in the Solway could be illegal.

DU weapons were frequently used by British and American forces in the Gulf and Kosovo conflicts.

'No evidence of risk'

However, the fears over their safety received widespread publicity after reports that inhaling dust given off by them could increase the risk of certain cancers.

Last month the MoD confirmed that the shells had been used on firing ranges in Kirkcudbright and at Eskmeals in Cumbria.

It said their use had been monitored since 1990 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which had found no evidence of risk to troops, civilians or wildlife.

Investigations are underway in Italy and Portugal following a series of deaths of servicemen who came into contact with the shells tipped with depleted uranium (DU) fired by Nato in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Investigation call

UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and his ministers are expected to be called before a House of Commons committee to explain what they are doing about fears that the shells may have caused illness among British servicemen.

Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, has said the health of those who served in Kosovo should be urgently investigated following the discovery by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) of radiation at sites bombed by Nato.

Unep said it had found traces of radiation at eight sites in Kosovo hit by the Nato shells, which were also used by the United States forces in Bosnia and the Gulf War.

The MoD says it knew of the potential dangers of using DU 10 years ago.

But it insists there is no evidence of a risk to human health from these weapons and has no plans to screen service personnel.

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Tests needed for 'Balkans Syndrome'
05 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
No uranium tests for UK troops
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