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17 Feb 1998 : Column WA17

Written Answers

Tuesday 17th February, 1998.

Depleted Uranium Ammunition

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answers by the Lord Gilbert on 12 January (WA151-2), what specific circumstances prevented the acquisition of sufficient information to answer the question set down on 11 December 1997 by the Countess of Mar on the incident at St. George's Lines, Camp Doha, in 1991, and on related questions pertaining to depleted uranium; and whether they will publish their answers in Hansard without delay, as well as placing them in the Library of the House.[HL172]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): In order to answer the seven related questions concerning depleted uranium to which the noble Lord refers, it has been necessary to establish the position in 1990-91 on a number of matters. This required the location of relevant contemporary documentation and also some of the personnel who were involved at the time. This work could not be completed within the timescale in which questions are normally answered. However, I have now written to the noble Countess answering all but one of the questions. A copy of this letter is attached and a copy will also be placed in the Library of the House.

Following is the letter referred to:

"Shortly before Christmas, you tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions concerning the use of Depleted Uranium, DU, ammunition in the Gulf. In particular, you sought information on training aids for personnel who deployed to the Gulf, safety instructions issued to military and civilian staff responsible for transporting, handling and using DU ammunition, and any risk assessment or research which has been carried out into the possible effects of exposure to DU. You also asked when the Ministry of Defence applied to the Health and Safety Executive for guidance on the use of DU and whether MOD will place in the Library of the House a copy of the 1991 report by the UK Atomic Energy Authority on the effects of DU fragments left in Southern Iraq. In addition, you asked a number of questions concerning the fire which occurred at Camp Doha near Kuwait City on 11 July 1991. I apologise for not responding earlier, but it has taken some time to obtain the necessary information to enable me properly to answer your questions.

DU hazards

Before I answer your specific questions, I thought it might be useful if I set out the Government's current position on the suggested link between the use of DU rounds during the Gulf War and the illnesses being experienced by some Gulf veterans. Two types of potential hazard are posed by DU: a radiation hazard,

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although DU is a low specific activity material as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a chemical toxicity hazard, which is similar to that posed by other heavy metals, such as lead. DU has the potential to cause adverse health effects if ingested; inhaled, for example from DU dust in the vicinity of a target, such as a tank which has been hit by the DU round; or absorbed, for example from embedded DU shrapnel. There is however so far no evidence to suggest that there is a link between the use of DU rounds in the Gulf and Gulf veterans' illnesses.

UK DU tank ammunition used in the Gulf

Tank ammunition with a DU core was used by both British and US troops during the Gulf War. DU-based tank ammunition was brought into service by MOD because of its unique capability as a kinetic penetrator against the most modern types of armour.

Prior to the Gulf War, the CHARM 1 round based on DU was being developed for use by the new Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank, also then under development, together with a more powerful gun. At the time of Operation GRANBY, it was, however, realised that the existing tungsten-based round in use with the Challenger 1 tank, which was the Main Battle Tank used by UK forces during the Gulf conflict, might not be sufficiently powerful to defeat the most modern Iraqi tanks, the Soviet designed T72s. It was, therefore, decided that MOD should proceed with the emergency development of a DU round for Challenger 1. The CHARM 1 DU round needed only minor modifications to fit the existing 120mm rifled-barrel L11 gun on Challenger 1, but a totally new charge needed to be developed. The new charge and slightly modified DU round were known at the time of the Gulf War as Jericho I and II respectively.

In the mid-1980s, radiation dose rates were measured around Ammunition Container Assemblies, ACAs, containing DU ammunition, and at strategic points in and around a Chieftain tank loaded with DU rounds. These measurements, which were carried out by the Atomic Weapons Establishment, AWE, at Aldermaston, showed that there is no significant external radiation hazard to personnel working around ACAs and that tank crews would be unlikely to receive a radiation dose greater than the present National statutory dose limit in all reasonably foreseeable circumstances. These results were confirmed as being applicable to Challenger 1 tanks during a further trial held in November 1990 by AWE at Royal Ordnance Chorley. The new round was, therefore, deployed to the Gulf and issued just before the start of Coalition operations against Iraq. Our current assessment is that 88 DU tank rounds were fired by UK forces during hostilities with Iraq. Additional DU rounds had been fired earlier during work-up training to establish the round's Mean Point of Impact, MPI. After the Gulf War, the unfired CHARM 1 DU rounds were placed in ACAs and returned to the UK, where they remain in storage.

When the decision was taken to bring the CHARM 1 DU round into service for the Gulf, an RAOC Technical Ammunition Bulletin, TAB, was produced, which set out the safety procedures for those, such as Ammunition

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Technicians, who were involved in its handling, transportation and storage. It was subsequently believed within MOD that the contents of this TAB had also been communicated to all those who might come into contact with DU ammunition, although it was not drafted for this purpose. However, it was discovered in 1993 that only certain groups had been given this advice. We believe that the TAB was issued to personnel involved in explosive ordnance disposal, whose work entailed a direct risk of significant exposure, and to Ordnance Corps personnel involved in the transportation and storage of the ammunition, but it appears that it was not seen by tank crews. This TAB has now been declassified and I attach a copy for your information, a copy of which I will also place in the Library of the House. The TAB in question refers to a second, more highly classified, TAB which gave the specifications of the DU round. The current version of that second TAB remains a classified document.

Training aids for the Gulf

The DU-based tank round used by UK troops in the Gulf conflict is almost identical in size and shape to the tungsten-based round which was already in use with Challenger 1. It was thought, therefore, that no specific training aid for the new DU round was considered to be necessary.

Current DU tank ammunition

The tank ammunition training rounds currently in use in the British Army do not contain DU, as DU tank rounds are not used during peacetime training. The new operational round for Challenger 2, known as CHARM 3, which is due to enter service in 1999, will contain a DU core. No satisfactory alternative material currently exists to achieve the levels of penetration required to defeat modern Main Battle Tanks. Although research is being conducted into alternative materials, none has so far demonstrated significant potential. The CHARM 3 DU round will not be used during peacetime training. A surrogate non-DU round with a restricted range and considerably decreased penetrative capability, to be known as the CHARM 3 Training Round, C3TR, is being developed for this purpose, although the procurement programme to provide this round has yet to be endorsed.

Use of DU ammunition by the Royal Navy

At the time of the Gulf War, the Royal Navy was equipped with 20mm ammunition containing DU for its Vulcan Phalanx close-in-weapon-system. This ammunition was not used in the Gulf, apart from some rounds fired for proving purposes.

Safety instructions for the use of this ammunition were, at the time of the Gulf War, covered in a Chief Inspector Naval Ordnance, CINO, Formal Safety Statement issued on 18 November 1988 and subsequently updated on 3 May 1990. This document was widely circulated among the ammunition handling authorities and also to the Weapon Engineering Training School at HMS Collingwood, where all ships' maintainers of Phalanx are trained. Since the Gulf conflict, this document has been reissued on a further three occasions. A Defence Council Instruction, DCI,

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entitled Radiological and Toxicity Hazards associated with Phalanx DU ammunition was also in existence before the start of Coalition operations against Iraq. The CINO Safety Statement and the DCI are classified documents. No formal instructions were issued to ships in the Gulf as the training provided to ships' maintainers at HMS Collingwood was deemed to be sufficient.

Safety instructions

General instructions and guidance concerning DU ammunition are published by the Explosives Storage and Transport Committee, ESTC, of the Ministry of Defence in the form of Prescriptions and Guidance Notes. ESTC is an inter-departmental body which provides a mechanism through which the Secretary of State for Defence meets his obligation to ensure that MOD ammunition and explosives are stored and transported safely when in the charge of the MOD. ESTC Guidance Note No. 1 covers the storage and transport of DU munitions, including the properties of DU, radiological protection, accident consequences, and fire fighting and post-accident recovery. Guidance Note No. 5 covers contingency planning for accidents/incidents involving DU ammunition. Individual munition-specific Prescriptions, including Prescription No. 4 for the 120mm DU tank round, are also published centrally in MOD and cover the legal and safety aspects of storage and transport. The classification of the three documents referred to above is currently under review.

The ESTC publications are distributed to, amongst others, the three Services, the Procurement Executive and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, DERA. They may be adopted directly by the individual Services and departments or, if appropriate, interpreted, along with safety advice provided by the Ordnance Board, in Single Service Explosives Regulations; for example, the Army's Ammunition and Explosives Regulations which cover the identification, health hazards, precautionary measures and safe procedures for the disposal of DU ammunition.

Consultation with HSE

As far as MOD officials are aware, the Ministry of Defence has not formally applied to the Health and Safety Executive, HSE, for official recommendations, guidance or usage procedures in the storage and transportation of DU ammunition. However, HSE are consulted on these aspects through their membership of ESTC. The MOD instructions and guidance do, of course, take into account all relevant legislation.

DU exposures

The Government are not aware of any UK Service personnel who sustained shrapnel injuries from DU ammunition. A very small number of British troops, who expressed concern that they might have inhaled DU dust during training in the Gulf before the start of hostilities, were nevertheless subject to Whole Body Monitoring on 8 February 1991 by the Defence Radiological Protection Services, DRPS, at the Institute of Naval Medicine. They showed no detectable DU contamination. Whole Body Monitoring involves monitoring an individual with an array of sensitive

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radiation detectors placed around the body and is a widely used and well established technique. None of those veterans who have so far been examined by the Medical Assessment Programme, MAP, has displayed symptoms consistent with exposure to DU. A report published in 1993 by the DRPS, a copy of which has already been placed in the Library of the House, concluded that there was no indication that any British troops had been subjected to harmful over-exposure to DU during the Gulf War.


No specific research is being conducted in the UK into the effect of exposure to depleted uranium and contaminated debris on military personnel who served in the Gulf. However, the US Government is conducting research to investigate the long-term health effects and toxicity of DU, including potential reproductive and carcinogenic effects. In addition, the US Department of Veterans Affairs is studying the effects of uranium absorption and low-dose uranium exposure in its continuing follow-up of US veterans with DU shrapnel wounds. The teams conducting epidemiological studies into the health of UK Gulf veterans and their families are, though, aware that DU is one of many possible exposures in the Gulf which have been put forward as a potential cause of Gulf-related illnesses and will be taking this into account in their studies. The Government are not aware of any research currently being conducted on Iraqi civilians who may have come into contact with DU after the Gulf War, nor are we aware of any which is planned.

Risk assessments

Qualitative and quantitative risk assessments of possible DU contamination of British troops have been carried out since the Gulf War and the results of these are summarised in the DRPS report which I have already mentioned. Precise details of these assessments, which give details of the specification and performance of the DU tank round, remain classified, as this information could be of use to potential aggressors.

I am, therefore, withholding them under exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

AEA paper

In one of your written questions, and during Oral Questions on 22 January, you refer to a report of August 1991 by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, AEA, on the effects of DU ammunition fragments left in Southern Iraq after the Gulf War. I will reply shortly on this issue.

Camp Doha

Turning to your question concerning the fire at Camp Doha in Kuwait on 11 July 1991, contemporary departmental records indicate that the 14th/20th King's Hussars, the 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars had left the Gulf region by mid-April 1991. However, approximately 250 personnel, mainly from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment and Headquarters British Forces Middle East, were present at Camp Doha when the fire occurred, as the HQ for the

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UK forces that remained in Kuwait, known as St. George's Lines, was inside the camp.

The fire broke out in a US motor pool in the North Compound of Camp Doha on 11 July and resulted in the destruction of a large number of US vehicles and injuries, some serious, to approximately 50 US personnel. There is no mention in surviving contemporary UK records of any UK personnel suffering from DU shrapnel wounds or illness caused by exposure to DU as a result of this fire, although a small number of UK personnel were reported to have suffered superficial injuries, mostly from flying glass. There were no fatalities, either US or British.

When the fire broke out, the British contingent, with the exception of the Guard Reaction Party and a Signals detachment, who were located at the Camp's main gate, were immediately evacuated and later accommodated on RFA Sir Galahad and at a nearby camp. On the following day, 21 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron began to clear bomblets and unexploded ordnance from the British section of Camp Doha. During this clearance operation, which was completed a few days later, a further British soldier was injured by a live artillery bomblet, which did not contain DU. Once the British section of the camp was safe from the threat posed by unexploded ordnance, the UK contingent returned to collect their vehicles, equipment, stores and personal belongings and cleaned up the British section, as far as this was possible before handing over the site to the US Army. All UK personnel were clear of the camp by 17 July 1991.

No specific regime is in place to monitor those UK personnel who were present at the time of the fire or during the subsequent clearance operation for possible delayed effects of exposure to DU. However, like all Gulf veterans, any of those present at Camp Doha on 11 July who are concerned about their health as a result of their service in the Gulf, can seek a referral to the MAP, a process with which you are familiar.

The US Department of Defense is currently investigating this incident, along with other DU-related matters, and plans to publish its findings in a detailed "case narrative" on DU later this year.

A copy of this letter will be placed in the Library of the House, and will be published in Hansard in response to Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn's question."

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