- Depleted uranium shells used by British forces in southern
Iraqi battlefields are putting civilians at risk from 'alarmingly high'
levels of radioactivity.
- Experts are calling for the water and milk being used
by locals in Basra to be monitored after analysis of biological and soil
samples from battle zones found 'the highest number, highest levels and
highest concentrations of radioactive source points' in the Basra suburb
of Abu Khasib - the centre of the fiercest battles between UK forces and
- Readings taken from destroyed Iraqi tanks in Basra reveal
radiation levels 2,500 times higher than normal. In the surrounding area
researchers recorded radioactivity levels 20 times higher than normal.
- Critics of these controversial munitions - used to penetrate
tank armour - believe inhaling the radioactive dust left by the highly
combustible weapon causes cancer and birth defects. It has long been alleged
that depleted uranium (DU) used in the first Gulf conflict was responsible
for abnormally high levels of childhood leukaemia and birth defects in
Iraq. Depleted uranium is also believed by some to be a contributing factor
in Gulf War syndrome.
- The disclosure comes days after the charity Human Rights
Watch claimed hundreds of 'preventable' deaths of civilians have been caused
by the use of cluster bombs by US and UK forces during the conflict. The
latest research, based on a two-week field trip by scientists, was carried
out by the Canadian-based Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC) led by
a former US military doctor Asaf Durakovic.
- Tedd Weymann, deputy director of UMRC, said: 'At one
point the readings were so high that an alarm on one of my instruments
went off telling me to get back. Yet despite these alarmingly high levels
of radiation children play on the tanks or close by.'
- The amount of DU used during the Iraq war has not been
revealed, although some estimate it was more than a thousand tons. Last
week, Labour MP Llew Smith obtained from the Ministry of Defence a list
of 51 map co-ordinates in Iraq where sites were struck by DU weapons. France,
Spain and Italy claim soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo, where DU
shells were used by Nato, have contracted cancers.
- Witnesses told the UMRC that a British Army survey team
inspected Abu Khasib. 'The UK team arrived dressed in white full-body radiation
suits with protective facemasks and gloves. They were accompanied by translators
who were ordered to warn residents and local salvage crews that the tanks
in the battlefield are radioactive and must be avoided,' the report states,
adding: 'The British forces have taken no steps to post warnings, seal
tanks and personnel carriers or remove the highly radioactive assets.'
- Dr Chris Busby, who is a member of a government committee
examining radia tion risks, expressed concern. 'There is no question that
inhaling this radioactive dust can increase the risk of lymphomas,' he
- Professor Brian Spratt, who chaired a Royal Society working
group on the hazards of DU, said: 'British and US forces need to acknowledge
that DU is a potential hazard and make inroads into tackling it by being
open about where and how much has been deployed. Fragments of DU penetrators
are potentially hazardous, and should be removed, and areas of contamination
around impact sites identified. Impact sites in residential areas should
be a particular priority. Long-term monitoring of water and milk to detect
any increase in uranium levels should also be introduced in Iraq.'
- In a statement, the MoD said: 'The allegations made by
the UMRC are not substantiated by credible scientific evidence. They give
no activity concentrations of the material concentrations on the ground
or in the air, and their conclusions are not substantiated by readings
taken by MoD's own survey team... The MoD sent a small team of scientists
to Iraq in June to perform a preliminary survey in order to identify issues...
and provide safety advice to scientists in the field. This survey looked
at a small number of locations where tanks had been defeated by DU and
found limited contamination at localised points; the highest contamination
was at the point of entry on a defeated tank and this was fixed to the
metal and could not be rubbed off on the skin by touch, much less inhaled.
- 'The UMRC appears to consider a small, highly localised
area of contamination to present a large health risk. Use of "worst
case" data to calculate risks to the population is inappropriate.'
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