Brit Defence Keeps All
Uranium For Bombs -
None To Help Cancer Sufferers
By Paul Brown
Environment Correspondent
The Guardian (London)

Cancer patients needing uranium to help diagnose their tumours have been refused help by the Ministry of Defence, which says it needs all its stocks for nuclear weapons.
A formal request for help from the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry has been turned down and the patients have been advised to look abroad for supplies since there is no longer any production in Britain.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU), along with plutonium, provides the explosive power of nuclear bombs but also plays a vital role in the detection and treatment of cancer.
With the end of the cold war and the decommissioning of weapons there was believed to be a military surplus of HEU, which is heavier than lead and costs £60,000 a pound.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said it had no uranium to spare but could give no explanation since all the information was classified. It is understood that the ministry has advised that the Department of Health should apply to the US which might have surplus military stocks.
HEU is the only substance presently licensed in both Europe and America for medical "targets", the starting point for making kits for medical diagnosis and treatment of cancer because its does not give rise to harmful radioactive byproducts.
The approach to the Ministry of Defence came after a series of events earlier this year brought the "scarcity, and even future availability" of HEU for medical purposes into sharp focus.
These included the Anglo-American operation to import weapons-grade uranium from the former Soviet republic of Georgia to the Atomic Energy Authority's complex at Dounreay in Scotland, which is Britain's main civilian centre for handling this grade of nuclear material.
The subsequent parliamentary select committee inquiry, coupled with fears expressed this summer by the Government's Health and Safety Executive, led to temporary closure of all nuclear materials manufacturing and recycling facilities at Dounreay.
The shortage of HEU is a result of the US government's attempts to end world trade. It fears that HEU could fall into the hands of terrorist groups or rogue governments to make crude atomic weapons. The Georgian uranium, however, will be used for medical purposes. The Dounreay complex is one of the main producers for hospitals throughout Europe but until now it has relied on recycling uranium from civilian reactors.
In 1997, seven million diagnoses were made in European hospitals using this type of treatment. HEU is the medical profession's favoured choice because the radioactive substance decays within six hours, long enough for a medical examination, but short enough to allow the patient to leave hospital directly afterwards.
Dounreay's director, Roy Nelson, who had earlier publicly drawn attention to the shortage, would not comment on the MoD's decision.
The nuclear fuel processing, recycling and manufacturing facilities at Dounreay are still closed. The Atomic Energy Authority has come up with a programme to upgrade them and the Science Minister, John Battle, has pledged public funding to ensure that the requirements of the Health and Safety Executive are met in full. The executive is considering a request from Dounreay to re-start its medical manufacture at an early date.
The DTI also refused to comment beyond saying it was hoping the UK Atomic Energy Authority would help it make a case for release of HEU to the Americans.