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The BBC's David Shukman
"The perception in many countries is that depleted uranium weapons have caused cancer amongst peacekeepers"
 real 56k

The BBC's Ben Brown
"Italy was one of the first countries to start screening"
 real 56k

Armed Forces Minister, John Spellar
"We are always open to new evidence"
 real 56k

Tony Flint, Nat. Gulf Veterans and Families Assoc.
"Depleted uranium causes other illnesses apart from cancer and leukaemia"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 01:48 GMT
UK relents over uranium tests
Yugoslav army tank near Pristina
DU-tipped weapons were used to destroy tanks in Kosovo
Thousands of British soldiers who may have been exposed to depleted uranium are to be offered a chance to be screened for health problems, the UK Government has announced.

The news came as the European Union revealed it would investigate the suggested link between uranium-tipped weapons and cases of cancer among Balkan peacekeepers.

Several European countries have already carried out medical tests on soldiers who served in the Kosovo conflict who may have been exposed to radiation from the ammunition.

DU shell
Dense DU shells can penetrate armour
But one scientist who has advised the UK Government on the issue described the screening programme as "pseudo-science" and said methods proposed were "unacceptable".

The UK says there is no evidence of a link between the weapons and cancer and Armed Forces Minister John Spellar told the House of Commons on Tuesday that depleted uranium would remain part of British forces' arsenal for the "foreseeable future".

He said there would be a voluntary screening programme for military personnel who had served in the Balkans and were worried about their health.

Click here to see where illness has been reported

But he stressed that if handled correctly DU shells "present no hazard to our forces" and said there was no evidence of higher cancer rates or other illness amongst Gulf veterans.

Speaking on BBC2's Newsnight programme, Professor Malcolm Hooper, who has advised the government on Gulf War illness, said a large, representative sample was vital for any proper study.

He said: "The whole thing is a complete ragbag of pseudo-science and spurious measurements which cannot be interpreted accurately and cannot obtain reliable data - quite unacceptable.

"What's required is a properly structured study with a sample size determined before you set out so you get an accurate representative sample, proper techniques being used to do the analysis so that you can actually measure depleted uranium and not total uranium."

'Government to consult'

He added that veterans who had come forward for tests previously had been deceived.

Reacting on Newsnight to the Royal Society's assertion that the screening programme was "scientifically useless", Mr Spellar said the government would be consulting on how to test.

"We would be consulting with the scientific bodies including the Royal Society in order to ascertain the best way of conducting the tests."

Kevin Rudland
Kevin Rudland: "Devastated"
But he added that the programme was not a full epidemiological study.

Earlier, his statement to the House of Commons had been greeted with anger by veterans of both the Balkans and the Gulf War.

Former Army engineer Kevin Rudland, who claims to have suffered from osteoarthritis, hair loss and post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Bosnia, said he was "devastated".

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith welcomed Mr Spellar's statement, but questioned why the Ministry of Defence's position on the need for health checks appeared to have changed over the last 24 hours.

European concern

The US military fired more than 30,000 rounds of DU ammunition, used for anti-tank purposes, during the fighting in Kosovo.

The armour-piercing weapons were also used during the conflict in Bosnia and in the Gulf war.

The ammunition has been implicated in the deaths of three Italian soldiers and eight European armies are testing their Kosovo veterans for uranium contamination.

Portuguese soldiers examine soil for contamination in Kosovo
Some Gulf veterans tested for depleted uranium poisoning are said to have had between 25 and 75 times the normal level of the chemical in their bodies.

Six Italian soldiers, five Belgians, two Dutch nationals, two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Czech have died after tours in the Balkans. Four French soldiers and five Belgians have also contracted leukaemia.

The material gives off relatively low levels of radiation, but can be dangerous if ingested, inhaled in dust or if it enters the body through cuts or wounds.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Scotland
Holyrood move over Gulf War Syndrome
09 Jan 01 | Europe
EU probes uranium arms
08 Jan 01 | Europe
Analysis: Uranium row tests Nato
06 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Tests needed for 'Balkans Syndrome'
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