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Depleted Uranium

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2001

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What action they are taking to investigate the operational significance of all existing types of depleted uranium-based munitions; and whether all such types are required. [HL752]

The Ministry of Defence has for many years conducted research into weapon and armour materials and designs. Research and consultation with allies continues to include the search for potential alternatives to depleted uranium a.nd to identify and characterise their cost effectiveness and environmental impact. Depleted uranium still has a significant margin of operational effectiveness over alternative materials when employed in anti-armour weapon systems. In recent years, a new tungsten round has been developed for the Royal Navy's Phalanx close-in weapons system that offers superior performance (anti-armour qualities are not important for this weapon system). Since 1996, all replacement ammunition for the Phalanx system has been of the tungsten variety.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What arrangements they are making to ensure that whenever depleted uranium is used in firing tests or training, the health and wellbeing of adjacent civilian communities are protected. [HL754]

The DU firing test programme in the United Kingdom is subject to regulation under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, which the Ministry of Defence follows voluntarily, and the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, which is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive. The Environment Agency in England and and Wales and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency in Scotland also are provided with details of monitoring surveys including annual reports of the firing programme.In 1993, the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) commissioned the consultants W S Atkins to conduct an independent environmental impact assessment of the firing of DU at the firing ranges at Eskmeals and Kirkcudbright.

The consultants' report concluded that the radiation doses to members of the public, and the associated risks from exposure to DU released into the environment, were extremely low. A copy of the report was placed in the Library of the House in 1995.

The report also made certain recommendations which were subsequently adopted for the ongoing environmental programme, now overseen by the Defence Radiological Protection Service (part of DERA). This monitoring programme has confirmed that there are only low levels of DU contamination, which are well below anything that could be considered a health hazard either to those who work at the sites or those living nearby. The results of this monitoring are published annually and local authorities at both sites, together with the Environment Agency and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, receive copies.

DU is also used by the Royal Navy in their Phalanx close-in weapons system. All live firings are undertaken in dedicated Exercise areas or on the high seas but in the latter case only after issuing a Notice to Airmen and a Notice of Intent. Given that the Naval DU ammunition will be submerged after firings over deep water there is no likelihood of the public coming into direct contact with fired penetrators.

In addition, the Ministry of Defence Explosive Storage and Transport Committee lays down the policy and standards for the storage and transportation of all conventional military explosives held by the UK MoD and this includes DU munitions. These standards are then enshrined as necessary in Single Service regulations and working practices.