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Professor Brian Spratt
"We're going to try to produce an independent view"
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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 10:44 GMT
Scientists to study uranium risk

Gulf War explosion Some blame exposure to depleted uranium for Gulf War Syndrome

A group of British scientists are launching an independent study into the dangers of depleted uranium (DU) used in making missiles and shells.

The six-strong Royal Society working group, which hopes to report its findings in the summer, could shed some light on the cause of Gulf War Syndrome.

"There is some public concern about the long-term consequences for military personnel, civilian populations and the environment," said Professor Brian Spratt, who is chairing the working group. The fears stem from the use of depleted uranium in military conflicts, such as the Gulf War and Kosovo.

Professor Brian Spratt Professor Spratt: 'Public are concerned'
"The Royal Society wishes to provide the public with an independent opinion of the possible health hazards associated with the use of depleted uranium munitions."

Depleted uranium is a by-product of processing fuel for nuclear reactors. Because it is so dense, it is used to make the armour-piercing tips of missiles and shells.

The material is less radioactive than natural uranium, but there are still fears about the effects of long-term exposure to it, and some have blamed it for sickness among Gulf War veterans.

"The problems are when these munitions hit a tank and some of the depleted uranium is put into particulate form which can be breathed in," Professor Spratt told the BBC.

"The other problem is shrapnel - you can have pieces of depleted uranium which are radioactive and also chemically toxic which can be embedded in part of the body.

Tank Weapons tipped with depleted uranium can pierce tank armour
"I'd hope we'd be able to judge whether those levels of exposure are likely to cause health hazards, unlikely to or extremely unlikely to.

"Hopefully we'll be able to help Gulf War veterans and reassure them, or not."

The scientists will also estimate the exposure, doses and possible health effects for a general population during and shortly after the use of depleted uranium munitions.

News of the investigation into the effects of depleted uranium comes after further evidence emerged that Gulf War Syndrome might have been caused by injections with the illegal substance squalene.

Despite years of studies, no single cause for the syndrome has yet been discovered, with the symptoms being blamed on vaccinations, battle stress or radiation from depleted uranium shells.


New research suggests that only those who have subsequently developed the so-called syndrome - the illness suffered by thousands of service people after the 1991 conflict with Iraq - showed antibodies to squalene.

The latest medical evidence was disclosed by the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association.

Gulf War veterans have previously accused the authorities of covering up the results of an alleged experiment into the chemical's effects.

Doctors believe squalene can help some vaccines fight anthrax and plague, with which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was thought to be prepared to shower Allied troops.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said no British soldiers were injected with squalene during the Gulf conflict.

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See also:
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium study 'shows clear damage'
17 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium ban demanded
16 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
UN probes Balkan depleted uranium
10 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Depleted uranium: a soldier's experience

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