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Uranium Ammunition Used in Britain and Vieques
7 January 2001
Measuring radioactivity of bullets
Mikica Petrovic, AP
LONDON (AP) Uranium-tipped ammunition at the center of a health scare among NATO nations has been in use at two British firing ranges for more than 10 years, the Defense Ministry has acknowledged.
The ministry said late Saturday that depleted-uranium ammunition fired at ranges in northern England and Scotland since 1990 did not pose a significant health risk.
But amid rising concern that NATO's use of the armor-piercing weapons in the Balkans irradiated land and possibly harmed its own ground troops, one influential lawmaker called for an investigation.
``If it is shown that depleted uranium causes an increase in cancers, then we have got to look at alternative weapon systems and at precautions which could be taken to protect our troops, as well as at how we can clean up the areas where the shells were used,'' said Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defense Committee.
United Nations scientists who visited 11 areas struck by NATO munitions in Kosovo confirmed Friday they found signs of radioactivity at eight of the sites. They had yet to determine whether there were any health or environmental risks.
Italy is investigating 30 cases of illness involving soldiers who served in Kosovo, 12 of whom developed cancer. Five of those have died of leukemia.
Portugal has urged soldiers who had served in the Balkans and were exhibiting certain symptoms to report for radiation screening. Poland and Spain are also conducting tests on troops who had served, or are still serving, in the region.
So far, there is no conclusive link between the depleted uranium and sick soldiers.
The British defense ministry responded to a report in The Sunday Telegraph that claims uranium weapons are routinely fired at British ranges. The ammunition is used by U.S.-made A10 aircraft and Britain's Challenger tanks, the report said.
A ministry spokeswoman said use of the weapons at ranges at Eskmeals in northern England and Solway Firth in Scotland has been monitored by health officials, who found no evidence of risk to troops, civilians or wildlife.
In 1999 the U.S. military accidentally fired depleted uranium ammunition at a range on Vieques island in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico all a violation of U.S. federal law.
Activists in Vieques say six decades of U.S. military exercises on the 20-mile-long island have harmed the environment and threatened their health all charges the military denies.
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