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Revelations over legality of Scottish depleted uranium testing trigger fresh anger

Scottish politicians have reacted angrily to the news that the test firing of DU in Scotland may breach the UK’s marine protection obligations under the OSPAR convention.
14 March 2013 - ICBUW

Declassified documents relating to the Dundrennan firing range in southern Scotland, which were obtained by the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU), have revealed that the MoD used what campaigners have described as ‘semantic trickery’ to justify the dumping of more than 6000 DU rounds in the Solway Firth. Under the OSPAR Convention, which aims to protect the marine environment of the north west Atlantic, signatories are banned from dumping toxic waste. Conscious of this, the MoD has sought to sidestep the treaty by arguing that the firing of chemically toxic and radioactive DU is in fact ‘placing’, which unlike dumping, is allowed under OSPAR rules.

Dundrennan map However, both the documents and previous statements by the MoD suggest that there is no intention to seek to recover the more than 30 tonnes of DU rounds that have been fired from the range into the sea. Recovery, they argue, would be technically difficult, costly and ‘set a dangerous precedent’. OSPAR is vague on what differentiates placing and dumping but campaigners argue that placing requires an intention to remove the waste.

CADU’s Aneaka Kellay said: "It is a sign of desperation that the MoD has resorted to semantic trickery to evade its responsibilities as it seeks to justify more DU dumping in Scottish waters."

In a report published last year, CADU highlighted the means through which the MoD has historically sought to distract attention from the intrinsic unacceptability of DU weapons and circumvent democratic processes to ensure that the controversial weapons would be developed and tested. “As early as the 1970s, the MoD was warned that ‘losing’ this DU in the Solway Firth would not be viewed as an acceptable form of disposal under the predecessor to the OSPAR Convention,” said Aneaka Kellay. “It looks as if this deception is finally catching up with them.

Scottish parliamentarians reacted angrily to the news after it triggered considerable media interest across Scotland, the anger is particularly acute among those whose constituency the range lies in. Dr Aileen McLeod, Scottish National Party (SNP) MSP for the south of Scotland branded the MoD’s behaviour as: “…a cynical attempt to get round international agreements designed to protect the environment, so that test firing of DU shells can continue.

She continued: “Although this issue is primarily reserved to Westminster, Scotland’s environment is the Scottish Government’s responsibility and I note that the Scottish Government is totally opposed to the test-firing of DU munitions anywhere in Scotland.

“The MoD and the Westminster Government must live up to their obligations to international agreements, not continue this practice and cover for it with weasel words. I am therefore writing to the UK Secretary of State for Defence to seek an assurance that no further test firing of DU shells will take place at Dundrennan.”

Dr McLeod’s concerns over a fresh round of testing are confirmed by research by CADU, which suggests that they will likely form part of a programme to extend the lifespan of the UK’s last remaining DU tank round – CHARM3. Tensions between the MoD and the Scottish government are particularly acute at the moment because of the approaching referendum on Scottish independence.

Many Scots feel that the UK government has long seen their country as a nuclear dump and military playground, with the presence of Trident submarines and extensive military exercises seen as particularly controversial. When powers were devolved to the Scottish parliament in 1998, control over defence matters was retained by the government in London, this has repeatedly caused frustration in Edinburgh, where the Scottish government has argued that it is powerless to intervene. Nevertheless the Scottish government has increasing control over environmental regulation, this could perhaps provide some means of constraining testing at Dundrennan. In 2011, the SNP passed a conference resolution calling for a ban on testing in Scotland and for the UK to abandon the use of the weapons.      

dundrennan gun firing The Dundrennan range is the only site in the UK where range and accuracy testing of DU rounds can be done and losing access to this site would be a major obstacle for the MoD’s plans to extend CHARM3’s lifespan. During testing, DU rounds are fired through canvas targets on the cliff top before ending up in the sea. The use of DU during training on land-based ranges in the UK is not permitted due to political and environmental concerns.


Sunday Herald: MoD 'places' its toxic tank shells in Solway Firth

BBC Scotland: Dundrennan weapon test legality questioned

Daily Record: MoD dodge ban to dump depleted uranium shells into Scottish waters

Galloway News: "Cynical" depleted uranium testing

Galloway Gazette: Calls for MoD to assure a continued ban on munitions dumping