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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 16585

Senator Chris Evans asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 15 July 2003:

(1) Does the Australian Government have a position on the acquisition and use of munitions containing depleted uranium; if so, can an outline of this position be provided.

(2) Does the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have a position on the acquisition and use of munitions containing depleted uranium; if so, can an outline of this position be provided.

(3) Do members of the ADF receive training on the use and handling of munitions containing depleted uranium; if so, what is the nature of this training.

(4) What measures are in place to monitor and protect members of the ADF who may be exposed to munitions containing depleted uranium, such as in the recent conflict in Iraq.

(5) Have munitions containing depleted uranium ever been used in exercises within Australia; if so, can a list be provided of the occasions on which such munitions were used, including the nature of the exercises.

(6) (a) Does the ADF have a stock of munitions containing depleted uranium; and (b) has the ADF ever had a stock of depleted uranium munitions.

(7) What Australian weapons systems have in the past used, or still do use, munitions containing depleted uranium.

(8) Is the United States military permitted to transport munitions containing depleted uranium on Australian soil or within Australian waters.

Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) Yes. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) does not currently have, nor does it plan to acquire depleted uranium munitions.

(3) Yes.

Before agreeing to any military deployment, the Government carefully considers the range of potential risks and threats in the area of operations and ensures that all personnel deploying are properly trained and equipped for this environment.

The health risk from exposure to Depleted Uranium for Australian Defence Force personnel performing their normal operational duties is considered to be very low. Because of this assessment, no specific health briefing on DU was given prior to the initial deployment. Due to an increased interest in DU, health briefings on DU commenced in March 2003. Health briefings for future deployments to Iraq will include detailed information about depleted uranium.

(4) The Government is aware that the United States (US) has deployed numerous military health physicists and radiation protection officers to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Recent scientific studies suggest that there may be a slight health risk associated with significant ingestion and inhalation of depleted uranium. Defence Health Service has been advised that no Australian personnel were involved in tasks where these high respiratory exposures could occur. As a precautionary measure under Defence's duty of care to ADF personnel, Defence Health Service has developed its own testing protocols for ADF personnel who may have been exposed to depleted uranium and other agents. In view of the potentially wide range of operational, occupational and environmental hazards, ADF personnel deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations undergo a post-deployment medical screen in the area of Operation or as soon as practicable on return to Australia.

This will include an exposure assessment questionnaire and subsequent urinary uranium screening for persons assessed as having possible exposure to depleted uranium. The urinary uranium screening test will also be offered to non-exposed personnel who want the test performed. A small number of personnel have been voluntarily screened post deployment and results have been within the normal range for the Australian population. An updated Health Bulletin is at the final draft stage of preparations and will outline the specific additional post-deployment medical requirements for Operations SLIPPER/PALATE, BASTILLE, FALCONER and CATALYST.

(5) The ADF and its contractors have reviewed documents and data pertaining to the weapons used on Australian Training Areas and any requests from foreign forces for the use of depleted uranium munitions. No evidence of depleted uranium ammunition being used on Australian Training Areas was found. There are no available records of exact times and locations at which depleted uranium munitions were expended at sea.

(6) (a) No.

(b) Yes.

(7) Ammunition containing depleted uranium was used in the Phalanx 20mm Close in Weapons System on Navy ships from 1981 until 1990.

(8) Yes.