The US has refused to rule out the use of DU shells in Libya, though it claims not to have fired any so far.
“I don’t want to speculate on what may or may not be used in the future,” the US air force spokeswoman, Paula Kurtz, said yesterday.
The US admitted using A-10 tankbuster aircraft designed to destroy armoured cars and tanks, and which are capable of firing 3,900 armour-piercing DU-tipped shells per minute.
Kurtz insisted that the A-10s had not been loaded with DU ammunition. “Weapons with depleted uranium have not been used in Libya,” she said.
But critics say that the US has sometimes been economical with the truth about the use of DU weapons. “We continue to seek a cast-iron guarantee that depleted uranium has not been used and will not be used in Libya,” said Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “The US has a long history of only admitting to deploying this radioactive material months or years after it has been used.”
DU is a radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal which has been used by UK and US military forces in armour-piercing shells fired in the Gulf, Balkans and Iraq wars, and is thought to be in use by around 18 other countries. When DU weapons burn, they release a hazardous dust.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that DU has not been used and will not be used in Libya, but the Ministry of Defence insists that DU remains part of its armoury.