A petition on the Downing Street website which asked the Prime Minister to Ban the use of DU (depleted uranium) weapons in warfare, has now expired. Because I signed this petition, I received an e-mail with a link to the part of the site which has Tony Blair’s reasons for dismissing this petition (along with all the others). This is what he had to say:
The Government considers that the country’s Armed Forces deserve the very best equipment with which to protect themselves and to succeed in conflict. At present, the best anti-tank munition for the Army’s Challenger Main Battle tanks is the 120 mm anti-tank depleted uranium (DU) round. This round will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future because the use of DU is legal and because its use does not present the health risks suggested by a very small minority of scientists.
DU is only weakly radioactive and this is agreed by independent expert groups. Many independent reports have been produced that consider the battlefield effects of using DU munitions. These are available on the World Wide Web and include work by the Royal Society, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). No widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact the health of the general population or deployed personnel has been found in environmental surveys and no traces of DU have been found in urine samples collected from several hundred UK veterans who have served in both Gulf conflicts and the Balkans. In short, contrary to popular belief there is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to link DU with ill-health or with birth defects.
Media reports of DU-induced cancers and birth defects in Iraq have not been substantiated with credible scientific evidence. Many other factors need to be considered as possible causes, for example, some scientists have blamed the former Iraqi Government’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens.
Really? I suppose you can draw that conclusion if you withhold research into the effects of DU.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2001 said they posed only a small contamination risk.
But a senior UN scientist said research showing how depleted uranium could cause cancer was withheld.
Blair’s statement seems to have been largely lifted from the MOD website. The same website also states that the cleanup of DU contamination in Iraq is being left to the Iraqi government. So why would the US military make tape warning of the effects of depleted uranium and then not show it to troops? UK personnel in Iraq were issued with this Depleted Uranium information card by the MOD:
“DU Information Card (introduced 03/03) F Med 1018
You have been deployed to a theatre where Depleted Uranium(DU) munitions have been used.
DU is a weakly radioactive heavy metal, which has the potential to cause ill health
You may have been exposed to dust containing DU during your deployment
You are eligiable for a urine test to measure uranium.
If you wish to know more about having this test, you should consult your unit medical officer on return to your home base.
Your medical officer can provide information about the health effects of DU.
Information is also available on the MOD web site:
A useful resource on Depleted Uranium munitions an be found at the Campaign against Depleted Uranium. There you can find reports about the effects of DU and links to other sites on the subject.
Just as a reminder of what we are talking about, here is an old video about the effects of Depleted Uranium from the beginning of the Iraq War (warning, this video is highly emotive and has some very disturbing images).
The use of DU munitions, though not illegal under international law, does go against established principles of humanitarian law. Belgium has now banned uranium weapons, the first country to do so. This ban will affect US shipments of uranium ammunition and armour plate via the port of Antwerp. Obviously there is at the very least a question over the safety of the use of DU munitions which was reported on as far back as 2003 if not earlier. To dismiss the call for a ban on these weapons out of hand seems irresponsible in the extreme.