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Depleted Uranium

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what response his Department will be making to the recent recommendations by the United Nations Environment Programme that guidelines be distributed immediately to military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of accidental exposure to depleted uranium. [111451]

The Ministry of Defence welcomes the Desk Study on Iraq from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In support of the UNEP work, MOD agrees that information should be released on how much depleted uranium (DU) has been used in the Iraq conflict and where. NATO provided information following use of DU in the Balkans conflict and the United Kingdom will do so for DU it has fired in its area of operations in Iraq.

The MOD has already issued appropriate safety instructions to those UK troops who have been deployed to the Gulf. These safety instructions make clear that the risks from DU are far lower than those from other hazards arising from military operations and that combat and life-saving activities should never be delayed on account of concern over DU. The emphasis is on avoiding situations where DU dust may be encountered and on wearing appropriate respiratory protective equipment and protective clothing when it is necessary to enter potentially contaminated areas.

DU particulate remains highly localised to the points of impact where DU munitions have struck hard targets: only in these small areas would DU levels be significant enough to necessitate precautions to prevent or reduce possible intakes. Increasing amounts of independent research by eminent scientists within groups such as the Royal Society DU Working Group and the United Nations Environment Programme support this view. As many defeated tanks as possible within the British area of operations are being cordoned off and kept undisturbed, until it is possible to send scientists to examine them.