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Lord Gilbert: Uranium-238 is one of the three isotopes of uranium, all of which are sources of alpha particles. The health effects that may result from taking uranium-238 into the body depend not only on the route of entry, but also on the quantity and solubility of the uranium involved. The health effects of exposure to depleted uranium, which is around 99 per cent uranium-238, are summarised in a report produced by DERA Radiation Protection Services, Radiological and Chemical Hazards of Depleted Uranium (DRPS Report No. 13/93), a copy of which is available in the Library of the House. This report concludes that "The only clinical signs or symptoms from exposure to DU would arise if it was inhaled as a soluble compound or spilled on the skin. These would be transient kidney damage or skin irritation".
Lord Gilbert: A single particle of uranium oxide having a diameter of 5 microns will contain less than 0.000018 Becquerels of radioactivity. This is well below the limit of detection of even the most sensitive methods of personal monitoring, including bioassay. The radiation dose associated with such a small quantity or radioactivity, by whichever route it is taken into the body, is infinitesimally small. For comparison, the annual limit of intake for uranium-238, for a member of the public, as specified by the International Committee for Radiological Protection, equates to breathing in a
Soils, including those in desert areas, contain measurable quantities of naturally occurring uranium, which normally exist in oxide form. These oxides inevitably get suspended into the atmosphere by the action of the wind and other disturbing influences, to be breathed in by anyone in the vicinity. British troops will, therefore, undoubtedly have inhaled such particles of natural uranium oxide during Operation Granby.
Lord Gilbert: Depleted Uranium has had wide ranging use in both the civil and defence sectors, including shielding of radioactive sources, as counterbalances for aeroplanes and oil rigs, and also in tank and naval weapon ammunition.
The use and handling of depleted uranium is controlled by a number of different regulations, none of which requires a licence. The basic control of depleted uranium is provided by the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (amended 1995) which is administered by the Environment Agency. Other regulations which may be applicable are the ionising radiation regulations and associated code of practice 1985 and 1993, and the Radioactive Material (Road Transport) (Great Britain) Regulations 1996. Disposal, as opposed to use, of depleted uranium is, however, authorised only for licensed nuclear sites.
The British Army's depleted uranium munitions, 120mm tank ammunition, are stored in purpose-built ammunition facilities at various locations throughout the UK. Batches of depleted uranium rounds are stored and transported in unit load carriers which are protected to ensure emissions are kept below 5 milli-Sieverts, the annual radiation dose limit for non-radiation workers. All army ammunition, including depleted uranium tank ammunition, requires an explosives licence from the Chief Inspector of Explosives (Army).
The Royal Navy use depleted uranium in ammunition for the Phalanx close-in weapon system. The majority of this ammunition is stored aboard Her Majesty's ships afloat. The safety of naval munitions, including those containing depleted uranium, is the responsibility of the Chief Inspector Naval Ordnance, who issues safety statements concerning their handling and use.
Whether during the Gulf War special United States units were tasked with the collection of raw data concerning the nature of battlefield contamination resulting from the use of depleted uranium munitions by coalition forces, whether British commanders were informed of the likely hazards; and, if they were, what measures were taken to protect British troops from exposure to DU and its products of combustion.[HL435]
Lord Gilbert: A search of surviving contemporary departmental records has not found any information about the US data collection units and US signal referred to in the questions of the noble Countess. The US Department of Defense Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, OSAGWI, which is currently in the process of investigating Depleted Uranium related matters with a view to publishing its findings in a detailed "case narrative" on depleted uranium later this year, was therefore consulted and has provided the following advice:
Our investigation of DU-related matters has not focused on when or whether British Military commanders were informed of these actions. Since we are not aware of any British combat vehicles being involved in friendly-fire incidents involving DU munitions, the message traffic involving disposal guidance for equipment contaminated by
There are several US teams involved with the assessment of battle damaged equipment. These included teams interested in the intelligence aspects of damage to Iraqi equipment as well as Battle Damage Assessment Teams responsible for assessing the nature of damage to US equipment. In addition, an in-theatre team was assembled to monitor suspected friendly-fire vehicles for DU contamination and eventually to assist with complying with the NRC's requirements for preparing DU-contaminated equipment for shipment to the US. Again, our investigation has not focused on what was or was not communicated to British Forces."
Whether they accept scientific evidence that, upon impact, the products of combustion of depleted uranium (DU) munitions and other materials include microscopic uranium, beryllium and insoluble uranium dioxide particles which, if inhaled, ingested or absorbed may many years later result in beryllosis, cancer of the lungs, lymph nodes or bone, kidney damage, and birth defects in the children of individuals exposed to these products; and, if they do not, whether they will publish the evidence which demonstrates that the products of combustion of DU are safe to humans, animals and the environment.[HL472]
Lord Gilbert: The health effects which may arise from the use of depleted uranium in munitions, including combustion products, were considered in the then Defence Radiological Protection Services Report 13/93 Radiological and Chemical Hazards of Depleted Uranium, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House.
Significant concentrations of combustion products are liable to be present only within a small radius, about 200-300 metres, around hard targets that have been struck by a depleted uranium projectile. Realistic estimates of exposure, even within this area, indicate little risk either of cancer induction through radiological effects, or of kidney damage due to chemical toxicity. We are not aware of any published research which indicates that uranium oxide dust is a cause of birth defects, at whatever concentrations.
The potential hazards presented by depleted uranium combustion products are taken into account when providing training to service and civilian personnel who may have to enter areas contaminated with such products. With respect to public protection, comprehensive environmental monitoring programmes are in place at the two locations in the UK, Eskmeals and Kirkcudbright, where depleted uranium ammunition is fired. To date, calculated public radiation doses from all direct and indirect routes have been trivial, representing much less than 1 per cent. of the national annual radiation dose limit for members of the public. These monitoring programmes will continue until such time as the Environment Agency considers that no further monitoring is necessary.
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