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U.S. Navy uses DU in coast waters; activists may go to court

The Navy routinely tests DU weapons in prime fishing areas off the coast of Washington, raising concerns from scientists, fishermen and activists. The Navy insists the use of depleted uranium off the coast is "routine" and poses no threat to the environment or to service personnel. But a coalition of Northwest environmental and anti-war activists say they are considering seeking an injunction to halt the tests.

"The Navy is willing to put us all at risk, including its own sailors, to improve its war-fighting capabilities," said Glen Milner, of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, one of the groups weighing a suit to stop the Navy tests. Milner received information on the Navy's tests of depleted uranium ammunition off the coast in a memo released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

No major studies apparently have been done on the effects of such weapons in the ocean. But Milner says, "It just makes sense that if DU can contaminate land and get into the food chain, then it would do the same thing in the sea."

The weapon in question is the Phalanx, which is also known as a Close In Weapons System. Such a system is on virtually all U.S. Navy combat ships. It includes radar and rapid-fire 20mm guns. The guns are capable of firing up to 3,000 or 4,500 rounds per minute of DU.

Robert Alverson, president of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association in Seattle, said he was "very troubled" to hear that the Navy was using DU off the coast of Washington. The areas used for testing are designated Navy Warning Areas and are prime fishing areas "It is folly to be testing anything in this area that might contaminate the natural food supply. If any species ever turns up with radiation, it would be devastating to the fishing industry," Alverson said.

Leonard Dietz, a research associate with the private, non-profit Uranium Medical Research Centre in Canada and the United States, said that the degree of environmental contamination the DU rounds will cause in sea water depends on what kinds of targets were hit and how much DU was fired. "Corrosion of the DU by sea water would occur over a long time," said Dietz. "The end result is that the ocean becomes a dumping ground for the spent DU penetrators and they add to the (natural) uranium content of sea water," he said.

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003