BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 23:18 GMT
Uranium shells used on UK ranges
British soldiers in Kosovo
There are currently no plans to test British veterans
Shells containing uranium, which are at the centre of the 'Balkan syndrome' controversy, have been used on UK firing ranges, it has been confirmed.

The Ministry of Defence said the weapons had been used on ranges at Eskmeals in Cumbria and Kirkcudbright, Dumfries.

But it insisted it had no reason to believe that the shells posed any significant risk to British personnel.

The use of the shells at the ranges since 1990 had been monitored by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which had found no evidence of risk to troops, civilians or wildlife, a spokeswoman said.

The ammunition was fired on to land at Eskmeals, and into the Solway Firth from the Scottish site.

The firings do not pose a significant risk to marine life, service personnel or civilians

Ministry of Defence
The MoD spokeswoman said: "These firings are conducted as lawful activities and all international and national legal obligations are fulfilled.

"They are carried out under the Ionising Radiation Regulations enforced by the HSE, who have had a monitoring programme and have published results which continue to show that the firings do not pose a significant risk to marine life, service personnel or civilians."

Investigations are now 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.

In the 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.

Geoff Hoon
Geoff Hoon: Set to be called before committee
Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, 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 on Friday that 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.

An increasing number of veterans have come forward claiming that they are suffering from "Balkan War Syndrome".

Sixteen soldiers from six different countries have died of leukaemia since returning from service in the Balkans.


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 servicemen.

Mr George, whose committee meets on 10 January, has called for speedy action to carry out tests on a sample of servicemen and women who went to Kosovo.

The MoD must not repeat its lengthy delay in recognising Gulf War Syndrome, he said.

"We are very much aware of how indifferent the last government was to the pleas of soldiers that they were suffering because of their service in the Gulf," he said.

"I am sure that the present-day ministers will not want to be as uncooperative as their predecessors.

"The government has got to say what its analysis of the situation is, what it is doing and what it proposes to do."

'Moral and legal responsibility'

He said if it was found that those who served in Kosovo were more vulnerable to illness, then alternative weapon systems had to be considered and precautions taken to protect troops.

"If there is a problem, we need to know that our guys are getting the best treatment possible," he said.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "The use of depleted uranium shells has long been controversial and we owe it to the men and women of our armed forces to take every precaution for their protection.

"Nor can we shirk our moral and legal responsibility not to use a weapon which may have devastating consequences for civilians long after the conflict has ended."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Key stories



See also:

06 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Tests needed for 'Balkans Syndrome'
06 Jan 01 | Europe
UN finds radiation in Kosovo
05 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
No uranium tests for UK troops
05 Jan 01 | Europe
Nato divided over Balkan syndrome
04 Jan 01 | Europe
EU presses Nato over uranium arms
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories