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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25794

Mrs Irwin asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 7 February 2001:

(1) Are Australia's armed forces issued with armaments containing depleted uranium; if so, (a) where is this material stored and (b) what special measures are taken with this material.

(2) Do members of Australia's armed forces come into contact with depleted uranium materials when operating with the armed forces of other countries.

(3) Are any procedures laid down for members of Australia's armed forces dealing with depleted uranium materials.

(4) Has his attention been drawn to concerns raised in the armed forces of some European countries which point to leukemia and other cancer related deaths among personnel who had served in Bosnia and came into contact with depleted uranium materials.

(5) What steps is the Australian Defence Force taking to monitor the health of existing and former defence personnel, including civilians, which could detect the effects of exposure to materials such as depleted uranium.

Mr Reith (Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) No.

(2) Members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) operating with other armed forces might come into contact with depleted uranium munitions but this would be limited to specific missions and situations.

(3) Australian Defence Force Publication (ADFP) 724 - Ionising Radiation Safety Manual provides specific occupational health and safety guidance for all sources of ionising radiation. Depleted uranium would be a very minor risk and the safety principles endorsed in ADFP 724 would provide the necessary protection against this risk. In the very specific instances where ADF troops operate with other nations using depleted uranium (primarily the UK and the US), our forces would implement the force protection measures for depleted uranium as directed by the host nation.

(4) I have noted the initial concerns amongst some European nations concerning leukemia and cancer related deaths from peacekeepers who served in the Balkans. These allegations have been shown to be false thus far. Recent medical and scientific reports from both a NATO medical committee of experts from 19 nations and a separate medical committee of 50 nations have found no evidence to support claims that depleted uranium munitions cause cancer.

(5) The ADF has undertaken a screening program to assess the risk of potential depleted uranium exposure to its members. Chief elements of this program include a directed range of health tests, a questionnaire, and a fact sheet to educate personnel. The information collected will be shared with the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Repatriation Medical Authority in case future studies become necessary. Future medical tests will be conducted as part of routine, five-yearly medical examinations, or more frequently based on the outcome of the result of the health tests, questionnaires, and clinical indications.