UK Ministry of Defence: depleted uranium is not ‘safe’
In a letter responding to concerns from SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament Bill Wilson, UK Defence Minister Dr Liam Fox has acknowledged that the MoD does not consider that depleted uranium weapons are 'safe'. However he goes on to argue that no long term health or environmental problems attributable to depleted uranium use have been found.
In acknowledging that depleted uranium is hazardous, he sought to reassure Bill Wilson that in the UK the use, storage and handling of the weapons - and other environmental considerations, are governed by a range of legislation. This includes the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and the 2000 Ionising Radiation Regulations Act, both of which form part of the Health and Safety at Work Act and are enforced by the UK Health and Safety Executive.
While his aim may have been to reassure, the reference to the tight legislative framework concerning the use and management of depleted uranium munitions in the UK stands in stark contrast to the uncontrolled release of the substance during conflict. This once again highlights the fact that the military use of depleted uranium munitions inevitably breaches the most basic of radiation protection norms. Furthermore, their use is clearly at odds with the UK government’s own strategy on radioactive discharges – which is based on both the Precautionary and Polluter Pays principles, where:
"The Government considers that the unnecessary introduction of radioactivity into the environment is undesirable, even at levels where the doses to both human and non-human species are low and, on the basis of current knowledge, are unlikely to cause harm."
The letter then proceeds into more familiar territory, denying that any of the 3400 UK military veterans who attended the MoD-sponsored Gulf Veterans’ Medical Assessment Programme had shown any health impact from depleted uranium. It is debateable as to whether this general health programme was sufficiently focused to identify potential health issues related to exposure. No mention is made of the potential health impact on civilians living in conflict zones.
Fox once again reiterated that the UK did not support last autumn’s UN General Assembly resolution calling for user transparency because the wording pre-supposed that depleted uranium was harmful. One could reasonably argue that Fox himself has acknowledged just that in this letter and it is surely a position also held by the UK Health and Safety Executive.
Evidently believing that repetition equates to truth, Fox ends with the claims that the UK only uses depleted uranium in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and that UK troops require the weapons and it would be wrong to deny them what he calls a legitimate capacity.
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