THE Ministry of Defence has been stopped from test-firing shells made of depleted uranium in Scotland by public opposition.

Defence ministers have assured MPs a planned weapon-testing programme will use alternatives to depleted uranium (DU).

The toxic radioactive metal, used to harden armour-piercing tank shells, has been blamed for cancers and birth defects suffered by soldiers and civilians after the Iraq war.

The MoD had been expected to re-start test-firing DU shells at the Dundrennan military range near Kirkcudbright later this year.

Over 30 years, army tanks have fired 6700 shells into the Solway Firth from the range, containing nearly 30 tonnes of DU. Some shells were misfired and contaminated the range. High levels of DU were found in earthworms on the site.

Armed forces minister Andrew Robathan has now said the shells "can be tested by firing variants that do not contain DU". Defence minister Philip Dunne has told the House of Commons testing "does not involve the firing of depleted uranium."

Rachel Thompson from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium hailed the MoD's shift as a "major victory," adding: "This U-turn is linked to increased parliamentary and public opposition to an environmentally dubious and potentially illegal practice."

The MoD insisted the programme never required the firing of DU. "This is entirely unconnected to campaigns against test-firing," said a spokesman.