Public Protests Force Halt to Military Firing of Depleted Uranium Shells

April 29th, 2013 - by admin

Rob Edwards / Herald Scotland & WikiMapia & Ban Depleted Urainium / ICBUW & Secret – 2013-04-29 01:29:32

MoD Ends Scottish Uranium Shell Tests
Rob Edwards Environment Editor / Herald Scotland

(April 28, 2013) — 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.

Dundrennan Penetrating Weapons Test Site

Since 1982, more than 6,000 depleted uranium shells, usually in the form of anti-tank munitions, have been fired from the range into the Solway Firth. The majority of the 20-tons of shells remain on the seabed after firing, except one that was dredged up in a trawler’s nets.

All attempts to recover the shells have so far failed. The MoD claim that the range is subject to a number of strictly controlled conditions and there is a comprehensive monitoring programme to ensure that depleted uranium contamination is kept to a minimum.

Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, and the presence of depleted uranium ceramic aerosols can pose a long-term threat to human health and the environment. When in a solid form, DU is not very dangerous, the real hazard comes from dust that is produced when shells burn on impact with hard surfaces. At Dundrennan, the DU shells are fired through ‘soft’ targets — canvas or plastic targets suspended from gantries purpose built on the ranges – into the sea.

However, local residents of the range have complained that there have been misfirings and as a result, parts of the range have been contaminated with radioactive dust. In 1994, a tank containing DU munitions exploded during a ‘large bomb test’ scattering DU and shrapnel over a wide area. Despite advice from the MoD’s own scientists that debris and contaminated soil should be cleared, the tank hulk and scattered remnants still remain.

The MoD admit 93 misfirings at the range, for example, in 1989 a DU shell hit a wall causing radiation levels up to 24 times the MoD’s own safety levels. The MoD’s own surveys show that in places radiation levels in soil and grass from the range are “well above acceptable limits”.

Prior to the Iraq war, in February 2003, Challenger tanks used the Dundrennan range to test-fire DU shells in order to become battle ready. Almost 200 DU shells were fired on that occasion. Challenger II tanks almost exclusively fire DU munition

UK Resumes DU Testing at
Dundrennan Firing Range, SW Scotland

Ban Depleted Urainium / ICBUW

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced five days of test firing for its CHARM3 Challenger tank ammunition, beginning today.

(March 10, 2008) – According to the BBC, the trials involving the DU shells will take place over the next five days in order to carry out safety checks needed for military operations. The MoD said that only a small amount of the ammunition would be used and full monitoring would take place. The tests in southern Scotland will be conducted by the defence research agency, QinetiQ.

More than 6000 DU rounds have been fired into the Solway Firth from the south of Scotland range over the last two decades. They are fired through targets into the Firth – from where DU penetrators have repeatedly been dragged up by fishermen’s nets. This is the first test firing in five years.

In 2007, a report found high uranium concentrations in soils and earthworms at the Dundrennan site, while ex-workers have described lax safety and exposure standards.

Contamination has been caused by shells fragmenting upon firing and scattering DU particles across the range. Studies on the composition of UK DU shells used in the Balkans indicates that the US-supplied DU waste used in their manufacture had been contaminated by reactor products such as plutonium and the isotope U236.

In a statement the MoD said: “Agencies and regulatory bodies responsible for health and safety and environmental protection have agreed the arrangements.

“Comprehensive environmental monitoring programmes involving air, water, and soil sampling, have been in place at and around Kirkcudbright since the beginning of the DU munitions trials.

“The findings continue to show that DU does not pose a significant risk to the environment or to members of the public or site personnel.”

CADU Development Worker Doug Weir said: “It is ironic that the UK has fired more uranium at home than it has done abroad. The 6000 rounds fired into and around the Solway Firth amounts to more than 20 tonnes of nuclear waste.

Lurid stories of contaminated gun barrels wrapped in bin liners being transported by low-loader to the low level waste depository at Drigg in Cumbria abound, raising real concerns about the safety of open air testing at the site.”

The Solway Firth has long been seen as a dumping ground for the military and nuclear industry. Following WWII, thousands of tonnes of incendiary weapons were dumped there, while high levels of radioactive contamination from the Sellafield nuclear complex to the south remains in marine sediments. Leukaemia levels in the area are higher than the national average.

Campaign Against Depleted Uranium:

Assessing depleted uranium (DU) contamination of soil, plants and earthworms at UK weapons testing sites


Dundrennan Range

The Dundrennan Range is a weapons testing range on the Solway Firth near Kirkcudbright, southwest Scotland. Dating back to 1942, it is part of the Kirkcudbright Training Area, 4,700 acres of farming land acquired by the army during World War II to train forces in preparation for the invasion of Europe. It includes a 15 x 19 mile sea danger area, where projectiles are fired into the Solway.

The range is the site of the Electro-Magnetic Launch Facility where, since 1993, the MoD and the United States Army have been working on a research project aimed at developing an electro-magnetic launcher, or rail gun, which will last until at least 2009. Projectiles from the gun can travel at up to 7,500 mph, are the thickness of a broom handle and about a foot long. The projectiles carry no payload as the kinetic energy of their speed is enough to destroy a tank at a range of five miles, and render any armour ineffective.

It has been claimed that environmental damage could be or has been done by the testing of shells containing depleted uranium (DU) at this site. Over 6,500 are said to have been fired in the period up to 1999.

On March 10, 2008, five days of testing DU shells (tank ammunition) began at the range, reported to be the first firing of DU ammunition there for five years. The MoD stated that the testing was needed to carry out safety checks for military operations. The occasion was used by Mike Russell MSP, to state that he was disappointed at the lack of consultation regarding the exercise, stating “The Scottish Government has not been consulted on this issue and it is clearly disappointing that the MoD has not taken local opinion into account”.

South of Scotland SNP MSP Alasdair Morgan said he was also concerned at the decision. Local campaigners staged a protest in nearby Kirkcudbright against the test firing.

The MoD said comprehensive environmental monitoring had been in place around the military range for several years, and findings were that the DU shells did not pose a significant risk to the environment or people in the area.

MoD ‘Places’ Its Toxic Tank Shells in Solway Firth
Ministry of Defence uses semantics to evade ban on dumping of depleted uranium at sea

Rob Edwards / Herald Scotland

(March 10, 2013) — The Ministry of Defence has been evading an international ban on dumping radioactive waste at sea by redefining thousands of uranium weapons fired in the Solway Firth as “placements.”

Minutes of secret meetings released under freedom-of-information law reveal the MoD was worried about breaching an inter-government agreement on marine pollution by firing depleted uranium (DU) tank rounds into the sea from a military range at Dundrennan near Kirkcudbright.

But officials found a way round the problem, by claiming the munitions were not being “dumped” in the sea, but “placed” there. This is despite the fact attempts to retrieve them have failed, and their locations are unknown. DU is toxic and radioactive and has been linked to increases in cancers and birth defects in Iraq, where it has been used as a weapon. It has also been linked to health concerns among members of UK armed forces exposed to the shells.

Campaigners have accused the MoD of resorting to “semantic trickery” to justify its plans to dump more DU weapons in Scottish waters.

In the past 30 years, over 6,700 shells have been fired from the range, containing nearly 30 tonnes of DU. They pierce canvas targets on the cliffs, then plunge in the sea.

At an MoD meeting in June 2004, an official was minuted suggesting there could be “a future problem” firing DU into the sea. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, known as the OSPAR convention, agreed by 15 governments, including the UK, said “it was illegal to dump waste into the sea”, he warned.

According to the minute, this provoked “discussion surrounding the wording”. But another official said there was no problem because the MoD’s interpretation was “the projectiles were placements not dumping”. The 1992 OSPAR convention says dumping does not include “placement of matter for a purpose other than the mere disposal thereof”.

Aneaka Kellay from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium said: “The Scottish public will struggle to understand how the MoD thought they could evade their legal and moral responsibility not to pollute the sea by calling this a ‘placement’.

“However the MoD name their firing programme, the fact remains they have purposefully released nuclear waste into the Solway Firth, with little idea of how this will affect the marine environment.”

She called on the MoD to retrieve the DU rounds it had fired in the sea, and to refrain from firing more “as we seek legal advice on this glorified form of dumping.”

Katy Clark, the Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, said: “The legal basis on which the test-firing has occurred is open to serious questioning.”

An MoD spokeswoman said: “All testing is in accordance with procedures agreed with the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.”

The Scottish Government said it was “strongly opposed to the testing by MoD of DU shells on Scottish soil and in Scottish waters”.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.