by Paul Brown – The Guardian Weekly
LONDON (April 29, 2003) – Soldiers returning from the Gulf will be offered tests on the levels of depleted uranium in their bodies to check if they are in danger of kidney damage and lung cancer as a result of exposure, the Ministry of Defence said this week. The ministry was responding to a warning from the Royal Society, Britain’s top scientific body, that soldiers and civilians might be exposed to toxic levels. It challenged assurances from the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, that depleted uranium was not a risk.
A ministry spokeswoman said that if soldiers followed instructions correctly and wore respirators in areas where depleted uranium might have been used they would not suffer dangerous exposure, but all would be offered urine tests. The overall results would be published. The ministry said it would also publish details of where and how much depleted uranium was used.
Brian Spratt, chairman of the society’s working group on depleted uranium, said: “It is highly unsatisfactory to deploy a large amount of a material that is weakly radioactive and chemically toxic without knowing how much soldiers and civilians have been exposed to it . . . It is vital that this monitoring takes place within a matter of months.” Experts have calculated that between 1,000 and 2,000 tonnes of depleted uranium were used by the coalition in the Iraq campaign.