FEWER than 10 of the 70,000 British troops involved in operations in Iraq over the past 11 months have tested positive for signs of depleted uranium (DU) contamination, according to figures obtained by The Herald.

All of those affected were hit by shrapnel from DU tank or aircraft cannon shells during ''friendly fire'' incidents in the advance on Basra and have since received treatment for ''very low-level'' radiation poisoning.

The news comes a day after a Scottish veteran of the 1991 Gulf conflict became the first British soldier to win a war pension for DU poisoning.

Kenny Duncan, a father of three from Clackmannanshire, convinced a pensions tribunal that his subsequent ill health was directly attributable to inhaling uranium dust from burned-out armoured vehicles he was ordered to carry back from the front lines on his tank transporter 13 years ago.

Successive governments have resisted calls for a public inquiry into the harmful effects of depleted uranium ammunition to avoid compensation claims, which could potentially cost them hundreds of millions of pounds.

DU is the waste product of nuclear power stations and is 1.7 times as dense as lead, making it perfect for penetrating tank armour.

Shaped into rods and fired from either tank guns or the rapid-fire cannon on American A10 ''tankbuster'' aircraft, it also produces intense heat on impact.

Both the MoD and the US Defence Department still insist that the radioactive dust plume produced when a round strikes its target is only harmful if inhaled, swallowed or in wounds caused by shrapnel when the shell fragments.

Veterans' organisations claim the dust, relatively harmless outside the body, can lodge in the lymph glands if ingested and cause cancer.

Every serviceman or woman who took part in last year's Iraq campaign or has since been posted to Basra on garrison duty has been offered the chance of supplying a urine sample to determine whether there is DU in his or her body.

An MoD spokeswoman said only 275 have submitted samples. All have tested negative for contamination.