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Defence ministry admits to testing uranium weapons

The ministry statement comes after Oerlikon Contraves admitted carrying out its own tests on depleted uranium in the 1970s

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss defence ministry has admitted it tested weapons containing depleted uranium in the 1980s. It said it suspended the tests after finding the weapons were not much more effective than conventional ones.

A spokesman for the defence ministry said on Tuesday the army had fired 16 shells containing uranium, before abandoning the experiment. He said the indoor tests lasted two days, and the waste treated by a specialised laboratory in Spiez.

The admission comes just two days after the revelation that the armaments company, Contraves, independently carried out tests with depleted uranium weapons about 30 years ago.

The revelations have heightened fears about the extent to which Swiss troops might have been exposed to radiation from the weapons.

An outbreak of leukaemia among Nato troops who served in the Balkans has fuelled speculation that the illnesses might be related to the alliance's use of depleted uranium weapons in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The Swiss authorities have offered medical tests to all 900 soldiers who have served in the territories since 1996.

They have also created an inter-departmental body to co-ordinate their response to the affair, including representatives of the public health office, the defence ministry and the development aid agency.

At a news conference on Tuesday following its first meeting, the health office said a permit was needed for uranium imports, and that its records contained only one request, from Contraves in 1985.

The director of the chemical laboratory in Spiez, Bernhard Brunner, said his institution had warned against the use of depleted uranium weapons as far back as 1976.

swissinfo with agencies

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