Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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RBS and Barclays Targeted in Disinvestment Campaign

On November 6th ICBUW member organisations launched a global disinvestment campaign against investments by high street banks and investment funds in the manufacturers of uranium weapons.1

In collaboration with Network Flanders and Banktrack, ICBUW launched 'Too Risky for Business' - a dossier detailing how high street banks are supporting companies that manufacture indiscriminate and illegal weapon systems.2

The launch follows the November 1st landslide vote at the UN First Committee in support of a resolution recognising health concerns over the use of depleted uranium weapons.3 The vote was passed by 122 to six and left the US, UK, France and Israel isolated from global opinion.

Too Risky for Business shows that Barclays has significant shareholdings in both Alliant Tech Systems (ATK) and Gencorp. ATK is the largest ammunition manufacturer in the US and in addition to uranium weapons it also produces land mines, cluster bombs and parts for Trident nuclear missiles. Gencorp's wholly owned subsidiary Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee Inc. also produce uranium weapons and again have interests in rocket propulsion, warheads and tactical weapon systems. This year Barclays owned shares amounting to 3.1% of ATK and 4.8% of Gencorp.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has repeatedly formed part of an international banking syndicate that has provided revolving credit facilities and loans to ATK worth in excess of $500m. In 2004 and 2005 it again formed a syndicate to provide revolving credit facilities to General Dynamics, in each case the facility was valued at $1bn. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems manufactures a range of uranium weaponry for the US military. Many of its uranium products have been sold to contentious regimes such as Pakistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Actions against the banks named in the report will take place across the world and will continue until they disinvest. The Royal Bank of Scotland has already come under pressure in the UK this year for its stance on climate change and the oil industry.

The launch comes after a year of intense campaigning by ICBUW and its member organisations, and follows calls by the European Parliament for a ban on uranium in conventional weapon systems.4 In March this year, Belgium became the first country in the world to introduce a domestic ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapon systems.5 The decision by Brussels to take this step sent a clear message to all users of uranium weapons that the continued use of chemically toxic and radioactive weapon systems is incompatible with international humanitarian legal standards.

ICBUW is asking customers to disinvest from both of these banks and move their business to a more ethical body, such as the Cooperative or Triodos. ICBUW also welcomes direct action against either RBS or Barclays. We have produced an activist tool kit that contains the report, model letters and press releases and logos. It is available to download from:

We have also put together a quick disinvestment flyer targetting the UK banks. Download the 2 sided pdf

When you write to your banks, it's good to also send a copy to the head office. The head offices of RBS and Barclays are as follows:

The Board of Directors
The Royal Bank of Scotland
EH12 1HQ

The Board of Directors
Barclays PLC
1 Churchill Place
E14 5HP


1. November 6th is the United Nations Day for the Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment Through War and Armed Conflict.
2. ICBUW to launch global disinvestments campaign:
3. The resolution entitled 'Effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium' (A/C.1/62/L.18/Rev.1) was passed by 122 votes to six (US, UK, France, Israel, Czech, Netherlands: at the UN First Committee in New York, with 35 abstentions. The resolution urges UN member states to re-examine the health hazards posed by the use of uranium weapons. Full text (select your language of choice):
4. European Parliament Makes Fourth Call for DU Ban:
5. Belgium bans depleted uranium weapons and armour:

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons is a global coalition of 91 members in 25 countries. It campaigns for a ban on the use, transport, manufacture, sale and export of all conventional weapon systems containing uranium. It also seeks compensation for communities affected by the use of uranium weapons and the environmental remediation of such sites. For more information on the campaign, please visit:

What is depleted uranium and how is it used in weapons?
Depleted Uranium (DU) is nuclear waste. Uranium naturally occurs as three different isotopes U234, U235 and U238. Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons but the same number of protons. This means that they behave in the same way chemically, but different isotopes release different amounts and types of radiation.

The radioactive properties of DU, which is chiefly uranium 238, differ from those of uranium 235. Unlike U238, U235 is fissionable. This means that it is so unstable that firing neutrons at it can produce a self-sustaining series of nuclear reactions, releasing huge amounts of energy. This is the basis of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. However, before U235 is used, it needs to be concentrated as it only makes up a small proportion of naturally occurring uranium, around 0.7%. U238 makes up more than 99% of natural uranium and is less radioactive. After natural uranium has had most of the U235 removed from it, it is called 'depleted uranium' i.e. uranium depleted in the isotope U235. Each kilo of reactor ready enriched uranium produced leaves you with 7kg of DU.

Depleted Uranium itself is a chemically toxic and radioactive compound, which is used in armour piercing munitions because of its very high density. It is 1.7 times denser than lead, giving DU weapons increased range and penetrative power. They belong to a class of weapons called kinetic energy penetrators. The part of the weapon that is made of DU is called a penetrator: this is a long dart weighing more than four kilograms in the largest examples: it is neither a tip nor a coating. The penetrator is usually an alloy of DU and a small amount of another metal such as titanium and molybdenum. These give it extra strength and resistance to corrosion.

Who owns DU weapons and who has used them?
At least 18 countries are thought to have weapon systems with DU in their arsenals. These include: UK, US, France, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Oman, Thailand, China, India and Taiwan. Many of them were sold DU ammunition by the US while others, including France, Russia, Pakistan and India are thought to have developed it independently.

Governments have often initially denied using DU because of public health concerns. Estimates of DU munitions expended run to 280 tonnes in the Gulf War of 1991 by US and UK forces; and 14 tonnes in the Balkans in the latter half of the 1990s by NATO. There was further large-scale use in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but there is little data on this.
It is suspected that the US also used DU in Afghanistan in 2001, although both the US and UK governments have denied using it there. Leaked US transport documents suggest that US forces in Afghanistan had DU weapons, and the continued use of A10 'Tankbuster' aircraft in the country indicates that DU continues to be used.
Health Hazards of Uranium Weapons

There are three chief hazards associated with DU: its chemical toxicity, radioactivity and the effects of fine metal particles, or fumes, on the body. Both of these hazardous properties are exacerbated by the fact that DU is pyrophoric. A pyrophoric material is one that oxidizes rapidly and can burst into flame at low temperatures in the proximity of oxygen. As the projectile hits a hard target, the DU burns at temperatures of between 3000°C and 6000°C. As it oxidizes, it turns into a fine dust, which can be blown for long distances from the place of the impact; this dust can then be inhaled by soldiers and civilians alike.

We do not as yet understand the full impact that fine particles of DU oxide may have on the human body. We do not have an accurate internal dose assessment; we have little information on the precise distribution and dynamics of internalised particles, and we are still lacking a complete understanding of the mechanisms by which damage to cells and organs occurs. Despite this, there is mounting scientific evidence from both animal, and in vitro studies that suggest deleterious effects on human health from inhaled DU particles.
Animal and cellular studies have shown clear evidence of the carcinogenic (transforming healthy cells into cancerous ones), neurotoxic and immuno-toxic effects of DU (the immune system defends the body from Infections and even some types of cancerous cells); as well as its ability to damage the reproductive system and foetus (which may cause birth defects). Some data also suggests that uranium can directly damage the DNA and enzyme proteins in living cells. Many scientific and medical papers on the chemical and radiological toxicities of uranium have been published.

Assessing the precise mechanisms by which DU may damage the human body Is made more difficult because both Its chemical toxicity and radioactivity can cause similar effects, such as the generation of free radicals within the body.

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Page last updated: 6 November, 2008