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CADU challenges Ministry of Defence spin

In the run up to the DU resolution vote at the United Nations General Assembly concerned members of the public have been asking their MPs to sign EDM 629 which calls on the Government to vote for the resolution.A number of supporters have received MoD spin in return.
29 November 2012 - Aneaka Kellay

The MoD standard response, has yet again failed to take account of major scientific uncertainty around DU and calls by international organisations for precaution and clean up. We have written a reply to the MoD spin below. Please use this to write again to your MP and the MoD demanding that they recognise calls for precaution and ban DU now!

Ministry of Defence

Thank you for your email regarding the use of depleted uranium (DU) and the associated Early Day Motion (EDM).

The UK currently maintains DU munitions in our arsenal because we have a duty to provide our troops with the best available equipment with which to protect them and to succeed in conflict.

The UK repeatedly used the argument of a duty to provide British troops with the best available equipment in relation to disarmament campaigns.

This was certainly true of parliamentary statements on cluster munitions before the UK signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions which banned their use in 2008.

In addition, MoD research in 2005 has shown that an upgrade to a German tungsten round is more effective than the current DU ammunition.

For more information on the military utility of depleted uranium munitions please see Overstating the case: an analysis of the utility of depleted uranium in kinetic energy penetrators.

Ministry of Defence

However, the UK only holds one type of munitions manufactured using DU, which is an anti-armour tank round. The Government has stated that, when required, it will continue to use DU, but that its use will be limited to a war fighting role – specifically in tank battles. Therefore, it is likely to be employed only in exceptional and limited circumstances. I fully support this view.

Since the 1970s the MoD has been aware of the inhalation hazard toxic DU dust poses when fired and for this reason DU is not fired during training its use is limited to a war fighting role. 

This decision is a tacit acceptance of the unacceptability of DU.

In what exceptional circumstance is the uncontrolled firing of nuclear waste in foreign countries acceptable?

See Managing Acceptability: UK policy on depleted uranium weapons for more information.

Ministry of Defence

You may be interested to know that the Government undertook a legal weapons review of these rounds to address the concerns of their use.

Where DU ordnance residues have existed in the aftermath of an armed conflict, annual potential radiation doses have been shown by scientific study to be well below the annual doses received by the general population from sources of natural radiation in the environment.

Limited data has been collected in post-conflict environments. The United Nations Environment Programme has repeatedly recommended precaution, decontamination, clean-up and awareness-raising.

During the late 1990s DU was fired by NATO forces in the Balkan region. The United Nations Environment Programme’s investigation into DU fired during this conflict noted that although results showed low levels of radiological and chemical toxicity, major scientific uncertainties persisted over the long term impact of DU. Precaution and recommendations for clean-up and decontamination were called for.

In 2003, Coalition Forces invaded Iraq. 57 times more DU was fired here than in half a decade of conflict in the Balkans. The US has not released firing data, making an assessment of the majority of contamination impossible to conduct. The UK has conducted a preliminary assessment of DU contamination at two strike sites. Further research has not been done due to the unstable security situation following the Iraq invasion in 2003. UNEP undertook a capacity building programme which was severely limited due to the US’s refusal to release firing data, limited funds (the UK’s DfID did part fund this programme) and the security situation. Results from this limited programme show low levels of contamination, scientific uncertainties were again highlighted, and strong recommendations for precaution and clean-up were made.

In 2010 UNEP issued a statement to the UN Secretary-General which again recommended precaution, decontamination, clean up and awareness-raising. As this letter shows, the UK continues to ignore these calls.

Ministry of Defence

Furthermore, scientific evidence has demonstrated there is no proven link between exposure to DU and, neither, a significant risk to public health, nor, a significant risk of any long-term damage to the environment.

Scientific research has demonstrated that there is the potential for DU to cause genetic mutations and cancer. There have been no studies done on exposed civilians. Major uncertainties exist in regards to long term environmental damage.

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the health impact of DU is outdated; their last report was updated in 2003. Since then, research undertaken at the US military’s Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) and other laboratories has used animal and in vitro studies to investigate the potential health implications of exposure to DU. Their data suggest, amongst other things, that DU exposure can damage DNA and has the potential to induce changes that can lead to cancer. It should be noted that the European Commission guidelines on the Precautionary Principle recommend that risk managers not allow an acceptable daily intake for substances recognised as genotoxic or carcinogenic.

Though research has been undertaken into the levels of exposure of military personnel to DU, no one has undertaken comprehensive long term research into civilian exposure or health outcomes. Reasons for this include the difficulty of undertaking detailed epidemiological survey work in fragile and insecure post conflict environments, a lack of interest from the states that use the weapons and the refusal by the US to reveal data on where it has fired the weapons.

UNEP has repeatedly called for a precautionary approach to DU, doing so after each of its studies in the Balkans. The UK Royal Society has suggested a range of precautionary measures in response to scientific uncertainties and the WHO has issued a number of precautionary guidelines for reducing the risk to civilians in areas in which DU has been used.

Ministry of Defence

As such, it concluded that Charm-3 is capable of being used lawfully by UK armed forces in an international armed conflict.

We dispute that CHARM3 is capable of being used lawfully by UK armed forces.

The CHARM3 legal weapons review was belatedly undertaken by the Government in 2012 after it was discovered by concerned parliamentarians that despite MoD assurances to the contrary and despite the use of DU in Iraq, a legal review of DU munitions had not yet taken place.

This review has not been published and thus cannot be held up to independent scrutiny.

However, a parliamentary statement regarding the legal review has been released. This statement on assessment has shown up the MoD legal team for taking a narrow approach to International Humanitarian Law. In the case of the legal definition of ‘discrimination’ the MoD have stated that as CHARM3 can be fired accurately it is not discriminatory by nature. This statement fails to take into account the potential indiscriminate and hazardous impact of DU dust contamination.

Ministry of Defence

I understand your call for the UK to support the resolution calling on states to take a precautionary approach to the use of DU. However, in light of its necessity to protect our troops I supported the Government’s decision to vote against. As such, I will not be signing the EDM.

In light of the necessity to protect civilians and troops during and after conflict it is vital that we take heed of the calls of established and reputable international organisations and take a precautionary approach to DU which precludes its use.

In places that DU has been used the UK must take a diligent and thorough approach to decontamination, clean-up and awareness-raising.