MPs call on UK not to renew its depleted uranium weapons
British parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have called on the government to cancel plans to extend the life of the UK's last remaining depleted uranium round, the ironically named CHARM3.
That this House notes that the British Army maintains depleted uranium (DU) munitions within its arsenal and that 2.3 tonnes of DU rounds were fired by UK forces during the 1991 and 2003 Iraq conflicts; recognises the potential risk to health and the environment that accompanies the use of these weapons; appreciates the costs and technical difficulties associated with managing sites and material contaminated by their use; further notes that UK radioactive waste discharge policy is based on both the precautionary and polluter pays principles and that international pressure over the use of DU is increasing; further recognises that using munitions that leave a toxic legacy is particularly inappropriate in contemporary peacekeeping and humanitarian operations; is aware that CHARM3, the UK's only remaining operational DU round, is no longer manufactured and that its propellant charges are due to expire in 2013; further notes that the UK has options beyond re-licensing or re-developing the existing charge, or replacing the current ammunition with a new DU round; and calls on the Government to take this opportunity to cease using DU in its kinetic energy ammunition.
CHARM3 is a 120mm tank round that was specially designed for the UK's Challenger 2 tank fleet. The design of the round is such that it cannot be fired by the UK's NATO allies - nor can the UK Challenger tanks fire NATO standard ammunition. Environmental regulations ensure that the UK cannot fire the rounds during operational training on British soil, although the rounds are test fired at the Dundrennan range in Scotland, where more than 30 tonnes of DU has been fired into the Solway Firth.
The round comes in two parts - the DU penetrator and a propellant charge, and it is the propellant charge that is becoming increasingly unstable. Tests have been underway for several years to modify the UK's Challenger tank fleet to allow it to fire NATO standard rounds. The results suggested that German-made tungsten rounds outperformed CHARM3.
However cuts in defence spending and uncertainty over the future size of the UK's Challenger fleet have led the MoD to investigate whether they can extend the life of CHARM3 beyond 2013, but this would entail further controversial test firing at the Dundrennan range and merely delay the problem.
Meanwhile, campaigners in the UK are calling on the MoD to take this opportunity to shift away from the use of depleted uranium permenantly and to acknowledge the threat it poses to human and environmental health. However it is felt that there is intense sensitivity over admitting that the weapons poses any risk, in spite of a recent admission that the weapons are not safe by the former defence minister Liam Fox.
"The UK is facing an historic opportunity to make the right decision and to abandon its last remaining depleted uranium round," said CADU's Campaigner Aneaka Kellay. "It needs to accept the fact that these increasingly obsolete Cold War relics pose a serious hazard to human health and that their use places an unacceptable burden on states recovering from conflict. It is also deeply hypocritical to contaminate the environment of other countries in ways that would clearly breach UK regulations."
The parliamentarians have noted that shifting away from the use of depleted uranium would make it easier for the UK to take a leading role in a global ban on the use of uranium in conventional weapons.
CADU is calling on UK campaigners to urge their MPs to support Early Day Motion 2318 Depleted Uranium Weapons Renewal.
Early Day Motion 2318 Depleted Uranium Weapons Renewal.