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Scotland: anger as depleted uranium shells to be test-fired again

HIGHLY controversial depleted uranium shells are set to be test-fired in Scotland again, the Sunday Herald has learned. First published in the Sunday Herald by Rob Edwards.
8 November 2011 - Rob Edwards

HIGHLY controversial depleted uranium shells are set to be test-fired in Scotland again, the Sunday Herald has learned.

The resumption of DU testing at the Dundrennan military firing range near Kirkcudbright on the Solway coast will reignite opposition from the Scottish Government and environmentalists worried about pollution and possible health effects.

Depleted uranium shells are blamed for causing radioactive and heavy metal pollution and are used by Challenger tanks

The revelation comes as politicians and campaigners launch a new drive today to persuade the MoD to drop DU weapons. A motion at Westminster is backed by Labour, Liberal, Tory, Nationalist and other MPs.

DU is a radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal produced as waste by the nuclear industry. It has been widely used by UK and US military forces to harden armour-piercing shells fired in the Gulf, Balkans and Iraq wars.

When DU weapons burn, they release a dust that can contaminate wide areas. Civilians and soldiers exposed to the contamination claim to have suffered from cancers, birth defects and other illnesses.

More than 6000 shells were fired at Dundrennan in Dumfriesshire from 1982 to 2008 when tests stopped. Soil samples from 2006 showed the highest contamination for 10 years in breach of agreed safety limits, and high levels of DU have been discovered in earthworms on the site.

According to the MoD, the propelling charges in the CHARM3 DU shells fired by Challenger tanks need to be renewed in 2013.

The MoD says it wants to retain its DU capability and is “considering options” for the renewal. But any replacement or modified shells will need to be tested at Dundrennan.

“Current plans to extend the life of the UK’s DU ammunition will entail more testing at Dundrennan, unless the Government at last recognises DU’s unacceptability and removes this toxic Cold War relic from its arsenal,” said Aneaka Kellay from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium.

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, Katy Clark, said she would be concerned if DU tests resumed. “There remain health concerns about these weapons and we should be concentrating on getting an international ban on their production and use,” she said.

Clark is one of the sponsors of an early day motion in the House of Commons that criticises DU for leaving a “toxic legacy”. It calls on the Government to cease using DU.

The motion is supported by 23 MPs, including the SNP leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson; Conservative backbencher Peter Bottomley; four LibDems; three members of Plaid Cymru; and 11 Labour MPs.

Campaigners have evidence that tests for the MoD have suggested that German-made tungsten shells performed better than DU shells. They believe that this, combined with spending cuts, could spell the end for Britain’s DU weapons.

The Scottish Government said it was “strongly opposed” to DU testing on Scottish soil. “While this is a reserved matter, the MoD has assured the Scottish Government it will provide early notification of any test firing of depleted uranium shells at Kirkcudbright,” said a Government spokeswoman.

The MoD said: “Any current testing has all been done in full consultation with the Scottish Government and there is nothing to suggest this would not continue.”


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