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|Monday, January 15, 2001, updated at 10:45(GMT+8)|
British Nuclear Watchdog Issued Alert on DU Shells in 1991 ReportThe British government was warned by its own nuclear safety adviser a decade ago that depleted uranium (DU) shells used in the Gulf War in 1990 would be a health risk to British troops and would cause "political problems", The Times newspaper reported on Monday.
Years before DU weapons were used by NATO in the Balkans, a confidential paper written by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) made clear that shells left in Kuwait were a potential source of radioactive contamination, the newspaper said.
"Handling heavy metal munitions does pose some potential hazards, as does the possibility of the spread of radioactive and toxic contamination as a result of firing in battle," the report quoted the AEA as saying in an confidential report to the government.
The paper said there was an urgent need to clear up the DU shells in Kuwait because of the risks of radioactive contamination.
The Times also quoted Shaun Rusling, who heads Britain's Gulf War veterans' body, as saying that 521 veterans of the 1991 war had died since the end of the conflict and more than 5,000 were suffering illnesses such as leukaemia.
But British government has repeatedly denied the risks soldiers had taken by using or exposing to the DU ammunition.
"There is no scientific evidence to support claims that the use of radioactive material caused illness, including leukaemia, with military personnel exposed to it," Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the Sky news television on Sunday.
Hoon said that DU shells only pose a limited risk to soldiers if they enter a tank knocked out by the weapons immediately after it has been hit.
"Beyond that specified, limited risk, there are no risks associated with DU and certainly no proven link between its use and illness," he added.
He said British army would continue to use armor-piercing DU shells because they were "extraordinarily effective".
Hoon also made it clear that Britain would take appropriate action if it finds clear evidence of a link between depleted uranium (DU) munitions and illness.
Depleted uranium is used in shells and bullets to increase their ability to pierce armor and can be pulverized on impact into a toxic radioactive dust, according to defense experts.
Britain last week agreed to test veterans who are worried they may be suffering health problems as a result of exposure to depleted uranium.
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