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UN Secretary General Publishes Report on Uranium Weapons

In response to last year's General Assembly Resolution, the UN Secretary General has published a report on the use of uranium weapons. The report contains the opinions of 15 states plus those of the IAEA and WHO. Four additional reports were added after the initial publication - those of Jamaica, Bangladesh, Italy, Bolivia and UNEP.
17 September 2008 - ICBUW

Opinion in the report is largely divided between states that accept that there is a problem and others, chiefly NATO members, who deny that DU can damage human health and the environment. That nearly 20 states have now submitted opinions is unusual, resolutions rarely garner such a strong response from UN member states. (Scroll down to download the full text of the reports as two pdfs).

Submissions by the WHO and IAEA provided few surprises, although there does seem to be a slight softening of the WHO's position, this is in advance of a further WHO report to be published later this year. However few are expecting much of a shift from their entrenched position. UNEP's report is workmanlike and reasonably balanced, highlighting serious uncertainties over the long-term impact of uranium weapons on the environment and human health. Particular concern is paid to groundwater contamination.

One of the strongest attacks on DU use came from Serbia, a state that has had considerable experience in dealing with DU contamination. Equally scathing is that from Bolivia. Italy maintains a largely neutral position by calling for more monitoring of exposed individuals. The call for further research is echoed by many of the states.

It is our belief that the precaution should be taken to ban further use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium as long as it is not known how they may affect the health of the population and the environment. Once that moratorium has been established, a group of governmental experts could be convened to consider the subject comprehensively. Argentina.

ICBUW broadly welcomed some of what is contained within the Secretary General's report but was disappointed by the lack of a focus on civilian health from NATO members, whose focus remains only the safety of their own troops. The US and UK, both of whom voted against the initial resolution, are notable by their absence.

The enrichment process produces an extraordinary volume of depleted uranium with a very low percentage of U-235 compared to U-238. Even so, when the ratios (between the two isotopes) are compared with that found in nature, where uranium is mixed with tens of hundreds of tons of extraneous material, it can be concluded that depleted uranium is very dangerous. Cuba.

The report does indicate that domestic campaigns to raise awareness about DU are having an effect with largely positive responses from Finland and Japan, where opposition to the use of DU has been high. It will be used to form the basis of discussions on DU at the UN General Assembly later this year.

Finland greatly values international efforts to discuss the potential risks of the use of depleted uranium in armaments and ammunitions. Finland

"We have been heartened by the response of several states in this report," said an ICBUW spokesperson. "In spite of the US and UK's efforts to shut down all discussion on the health effects of uranium weapons, this report shows that dissenting views can make themselves heard. We call upon all states who care about the impact of these weapons on civilian populations to work with us towards a treaty process that will prohibit the use of these weapons for good while providing support for their victims."

It is absolutely essential for the United Nations and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use their good offices to impose a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to redouble their efforts to promote a worldwide ban on their use as well as systematically to halt production and procurement of this type of weaponry. Bolivia.

ICBUW members will be in New York for the UN First Committee this October where we hope to have a stronger follow-up resolution submitted, one that will keep the issue of uranium weapons alive in the UN for many years to come.

The Process
1. The General Assembly, in paragraph 1 of its resolution 62/30, requested the Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States and relevant international organizations on the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium, and to submit a report on the subject to the General Assembly at its sixty-third session.

2. On 15 February 2008, a note verbale was sent to Member States requesting them to submit their reports by 31 May 2008. The Office for Disarmament Affairs also submitted a request to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

3. To date, the Secretary-General has received 17 replies from Governments, IAEA and WHO, which are reproduced below. Additional replies received from Member States will be issued as addenda to the present report.

4. Owing to the page limit for the report, information of a general scientific nature contained in national submissions has not been reproduced. The full texts of the submissions and additional information attached thereto are available for consultation at the Office for Disarmament Affairs.