DU a brief history
The UK began a DU research and development programme during the Cold War. The major justifications for this were a “concern about the Soviet tank threat and about the improving capabilities of Soviet armour.”  As well as a need to keep up with the Russians, French and American’s who all had DU programmes of their own. Currently the UK is one of only six countries to have developed and manufactured DU weapons.
What DU weapons does the UK use?
The UK’s DU rounds are composed of two parts, the propellant charge and the penetrator (a depleted uranium dart). The propellant charge for the CHARM 3 round is due to expire in 2013. The UK can use this as an opportunity to stop using DU weapons. However, the Ministry of Defence is developing a Life Extension Programme that will “enable the life of the CHARM III stockpile to be extended beyond 2013” . The Don’t DU It campaign is seeking to challenge this and push the MoD into no longer using DU weapons.
Where has DU been used?
Only the US and the UK are known to have fired DU in warfare. The US acting through NATO of which the UK is a member, has fired at least 1,271kg in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1994-5; and more than 5,723kg in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro in 1999.
During the 1991 and 2003 conflicts in Iraq, at least 404,000 kg of DU was expended by the US and UK, 2,300kg of which was used by the UK. The amount of DU used in Iraq is 57 times more than that used in the Balkans .
While its use has been alleged in a number of other conflicts such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Georgia and Chechnya, this has not been confirmed.
UK policy on DU
There are four central aspects of the UK’s policy on DU; a claimed utility, a denial of risk, a lack of responsibility, and a belief that DU weapons are legal.
“DU anti-armour munitions will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future because we have a duty to provide our troops with the best available equipment with which to protect them and succeed in conflict.” – Ministry of Defence, 2011
Under International humanitarian Law (IHL) stating that DU munitions are ‘the best available equipment’ is not a trump card. The military utility claimed for a weapon has no bearing on the UK’s legal obligations. There is a strong case for a precautionary approach to DU under IHL.
Denial of risk
“DU has not been shown to present the health or environmental risks… [however] On the basis of reports by the Royal Society and others, the MOD does not consider DU is 'safe'.” – Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, 2011
Despite that fact that the MoD has said that DU weapons are not ‘safe’, the MoD remains adamant that the use of DU does not put civilians, military personnel, or the environment at risk.
There are a number of factors that suggest DU does have a significant impact on civilians and veterans. However, large scale epidemiological studies have not been done in affected areas  and we do not have reliable data civilian exposure to DU dust. In fact, in the case of Iraq, where the largest volume of DU has been fired, the UK and US governments are largely responsible for the conditions which have made studies of the type required impossible.
The fact that we have little evidence of exposure means that there is a potential risk, and to assert there is no risk is incorrect. Morally, and according to International Humanitarian Law, this potential risk should lead to a precautionary approach to the use of DU weapons: a precautionary approach that would preclude their use.
Hypocrisy also exists in the fact that the UK’s own domestic policy on radioactive discharges is based on both the Precautionary and Polluter Pays principles, where: "The Government considers that the unnecessary introduction of radioactivity into the environment is undesirable, even at levels where the doses to both human and non-human species are low and, on the basis of current knowledge, are unlikely to cause harm." but in overseas conflict scenarios, the government is willing to use weapons that release large quantities of chemically and radiologically hazardous DU dust in an uncontrolled manner while denying that there is any risk to civilians.
Although the large scale epidemiological studies have not been done – there is a considerable amount of research identifying means through which DU exposure can damage health and there is a clear biological pathway. Combined with the difficulties post-conflict institutions face in managing DU contamination and constant instability of conflict, it is clear that precaution should prevail and that any such approach would preclude the use of the weapons.
Lack of responsibility
“Responsibility for clean-up after an armed conflict falls to the country's civilian administration with assistance from the international community.” – Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, 2010
This statement reflects the hypocrisy of our government. Given that their own strategy on radioactive discharges is based on the Precautionary and Polluter Pays principles , and within International Environmental Law, according to Article 16 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development “the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution” , this means that those responsible for pollution should pay for its clean up. However, in the case of conflict this principle is not held to, and the UK government has persistently stated that responsibility for decontamination falls to the civilian population and the international community . Although the Department for International Development (DFID) supported the UN Environment Programme’s capacity building programme in Iraq, they are not willing to be held to a polluter pays principle. This hypocritical attitude towards toxic remnants of war must be challenged.
Claim that DU weapons are legal
“The Government's policy remains that DU can be used within weapons; it is not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. UK armed forces use DU munitions in accordance with international humanitarian law. It would be quite wrong to deny our serving personnel a legitimate capability.” - Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, 2011
The UK consistently states that it uses DU weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL). Although no sole treaty explicitly banning the use of DU is yet in force, there is a clear case that using DU runs counter to the basic rules and principles enshrined in written and customary International Humanitarian Law.
General principles of the laws of war/IHL prohibit weapons and means or methods of warfare that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, have indiscriminate effects or cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.
The UK government also states that DU weapons are not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. However over the last six years a number of UN resolutions, calls for moratoriums on DU use from the European parliament and domestic bans contradict this assertion . Belgium in 2007 and Costa Rica in 2011 became the first two countries to ban DU weapons, New Zealand and Ireland are likely to follow suit in the near future.
Despite these strong arguments, IHL is open to interpretation, and lacks strong enforcement mechanisms, therefore it is difficult to use it as means to hold the government accountable. This is why our long term aim is to campaign for a treaty that bans the manufacture, export, and use of uranium weapons, see here for more information about the legal status of DU weapons.
UK’s International stance
The UK has consistently opposed efforts at the UN and within Europe for stronger action on DU. This has included voting against UN resolutions highlighting DU’s potential health impact -which they acknowledge in warnings to their own troops; voting against calls for additional research in affected states -which they have historically supported through DfID grants; and voting against a call for users to hand over targeting information to affected states when requested to do so -which they have done voluntarily in Iraq for the 2003 invasion. This hypocritical approach has been due in part to a joint position with France and the US.
As a user of the weapons and a NATO and UN Security Council member, the UK enjoys an influential position in the global debate over the acceptability of these weapons. Should the UK move away from the use of DU it would have a significant global impact. See the ICBUW site for more details of the international campaign.
 David Owen, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 30th November 1978, DEFE 11/919, Kew National Archives
 Karen Webb, DE&S Policy Secretariat Weapons, Ministry of Defence, 12th September 2011, Letter in response to an FOI request
 David Cullen, (2011) A Question of Responsibility: depleted uranium weapons in the Balkans, ICBUW , p.3
 Ministry of Defence, Depleted Uranium, (2011), available at: www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/HealthandSafety/DepletedUranium
 Somw studies have been done on the effects on soldiers, none have been large enough to make meaningful conclusions. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2008b) Epidemiologic Studies of Veterans Exposed to Depleted Uranium. National Academies Press. Available for download at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12200.html
 Hansard, (2010) HC 22 July 2010 : Column 482W
 McDonald, A.(2008) Depleted uranium weapons: the next target for disarmament? Disarmament forum, UNIDIR, vol 3, p21
 Personal conversation with ex-military personnel