Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

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Testing in Britain

The risks of Depleted Uranium are not only present during wars, or far-off conflicts, but affect us much closer to home, where the weapons are manufactured and tested.

Regular test-firing of depleted uranium shells started in 1980 at Eskmeals in Cumbria and at the Ministry of Defence's firing range at Dundrennan, near Kirkcudbright in South-west Scotland in 1981. Firing of depleted uranium by the MoD has also occurred at West Freugh near Stranraer, White Sands, New Mexico, Aberdeen, Maryland in the United States, and Gramat in France.

In June 1993 the MoD, answering a parliamentary question, in effect denied that there was any problem with 'only very low levels of radioactivity' detected. But when radiation reports were made public (with some excisions) in July these revealed serious contamination outside the controlled area at Eskmeals, and grass and soil samples at Kirkcudbright were 'well above acceptable limits'.

The firing results in the accumulation of radioactive waste at these sites, currently 91 cubic metres at Eskmeals estimated to rise to 468 cubic metres by 2030. At Kirkcudbright there is considered to be no nuclear waste as depleted uranium shells are fired into the Solway Firth.

At Kirkcudbright a misfiring on 13 November 1989 involved a depleted uranium shell exploding into fragments on hitting a stone bank. This resulted in a local concentration of 1,692 mg/kg well exceeding the MoD's normal limit of 72 mg/kg and upper limit of 300 mg/kg. Presumably, in investigating this incident, military personnel inspected the site of impact and were exposed to this concentration. Depending on wind and weather conditions, local populations in Britain may be exposed to unknown concentrations over prolonged periods.

For a report on the potential testing of depleted uranium off Cape Wrath in Scotland, see CADU News 3.

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From CADU News 7: Spring 2001

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003