MOD REQ 6- The 120mm white phosphorus shell


The 120mm white phosphorus shell

BACKGROUND Given the well documented P4 munitions contamination at Eagle River Flats in the US, we wondered whether the British Forces may have a similar historic problem. One of the main types of P4 weapon available to the British Military is the 120mm phosphorus shell.

The following Parliamentary question was asked:

White Phosphorus

Sir Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 26 June 2009, Official Report, column 1160W, what information his Department holds on munitions containing white phosphorus manufactured in the UK. [288805]

Bill Rammell [holding answer 21 July 2009]: The 120 mm white phosphorous shell is the only white phosphorous munition in the UK armed forces inventory manufactured in the UK. The inventory also includes the 60 mm and 81 mm white phosphorous mortar bombs, which are manufactured outside the UK.

The Department holds a range of information on the 120 mm white phosphorous shell, as it does on all its munitions. This includes, but is not limited to, information on contracts, Through Life Management, safety, legality/International Humanitarian Law, composition, performance, storage, handling, transportation, training, in-service surveillance, stockpile, and usage.”


“Please supply me in electronic form all information that you hold in respect of the uk produced 120mm white phosphorus shell in terms of information on contracts, Life management, safety, legality/International Humanitarian Law, composition, performance,
storage, handling, transportation, training, in-service surveillance, stockpile, and usage.”

A response was received from the MOD through The Defence and Support

“I am writing to confirm that we hold information on the subject you have requested. However, to provide all the information requested will require reading through in excess of 6,000 documents, including emails, meeting reports, minutes, official communications and representations, including those held in our archive, to find references specific to your request. It is estimated that even if we allocated a minimum of 15 minutes to each file, it would cost in excess of £37,000 to provide this information.

The MOD may be able to provide information requested if you reduce or refine your request to bring the cost of compliance under the limit. This might be achieved by limiting your request to, for example, usage, or storage, or safety of white phosphorous shells. Please contact me if you would like to refine your request or require advice on doing so.”

We refined the request .

“what are the approved contracts managed by the DE&S Defence Equipment and Support Team for the safe disposal of these shells on MOD land? Could you also confirm what are your approved remediation strategies on sites where white phosphorus shells have been fired in connection with particles of P4 in these shells entering water or saturated sediments on MOD land?”

Another response was received.

“Surplus white phosphorous munitions (shells and mortar rounds) are initially broken down at MOD Shoeburyness, under the terms of a Long Term Partnering Agreement with QinetiQ. This process involves the removal of fuzes and other white phosphorous-free explosive components for disposal on site. However, the safe disposal of the parts of the munition which contain or are contaminated by white phosphorous is contracted to a specialist company, Tradebe. These parts are transported to Tradebe’s private site in Fawley, near Southampton for full and final disposal. Tradebe’s website can be accessed via the following link:

White phosphorus munitions are used for training purposes on two MOD ranges, one at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire and the other at Larkhill in Wiltshire; the Larkhill range is part of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA). Both locations have dry impact areas and access to them is controlled. Activity at these ranges does not involve firing white phosphorus munitions into water or saturated sediments. In addition, under the management arrangements for both ranges, unexploded ordnance, including any white phosphorus munitions, is removed and made safe.

A third MOD range, at Pendine in Carmarthenshire contains a former white phosphorus grenade throwing range / facility that has not been used in the last 20 years; access to this area is also controlled. The throwing bays have been demolished, but there are no plans to remediate the site as the area is dry and there is unlikely to have been any ground penetration.”


The DE&S response refers to current p4 training areas and the current set up for disposal of these types of weapon. It is clear that access may be “controlled”, yet the areas are also open for business and animal grazing as our links show. P4 has a nasty habit of getting into areas not thought to be contaminated. What historic contamination took place on other sites and how weapons were disposed of in the past is another matter entirely. Land uses change over time, and some land can be sold off. Human access may be controlled, but as we know from our experience at Rattlechain lagoon- wildlife is not controlled by fences or even security guards with guns.