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Report: Human Cost of Uranium Weapons Exhibition and Seminar, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.

On the 4th and 5th of February, the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) and ICBUW held an exhibition and seminar in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The events were sponsored by two MSPs Patrick Harvie (Greens) and Alasdair Morgan (Scottish Nationalist Party) and funded by the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.
12 February 2009 - ICBUW

The Scottish Parliament
The Scottish parliament, usually referred to as ‘Holyrood’ has powers that were devolved from the UK parliament in 1998. While full powers, such as direct control over matters like defence and foreign policy, were not devolved to its 129 members or MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), there are no limits as to what they can debate and MSPs have developed a more progressive stance on arms control than politicians in Westminster since devolution.

The placing of the UK’s testing range for uranium weapons at Dundrennan in the south west of Scotland has also ensured that uranium weapons have enjoyed a higher profile in Scotland than in the UK as a whole. This has also been the case for the Trident nuclear weapons system as the submarines that carry the weapons are berthed in Scotland – Scotland’s First Minister was keen that Scotland should be allowed Observer Status at the upcoming NPT Review Conference.
Spanning three years between 2002 and 2005, The Human Cost of Uranium Weapons by Japanese photojournalist Naomi Toyoda, records the impact that the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons has had on Iraq’s civilian population and exposed US veterans. During the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, more than 450,000 kilograms of uranium munitions were expended by UK and US forces. The weapons left a radioactive and toxic legacy for Iraq’s civilian population.

Exhibition

Naomi visited Iraq repeatedly from 1991 onwards, meeting with health professionals in areas contaminated by uranium weapons. In Iraq he found hospitals buckling under the sanctions regime that were struggling to help victims of childhood leukaemia. Treatments that would be seen as basic interventions in the West were denied to Iraqi physicians. In meeting Iraqi civilians he witnessed the human impact of what is all too easily dismissed simply as ‘collateral damage’ by the West.

The exhibition has previously toured Japan and Italy and has been shown in the European and Finnish Parliaments. The exhibition was sited in the parliament's Garden Lobby, while this meant that it was not open to the public, it did mean that MSPs had to walk past the photos to get to their offices.

Garden Lobby

Tested in Scotland - Used in Iraq

The accompanying seminar for MSPs, Scottish NGOs and faith groups was entitled Tested in Scotland – Used in Iraq. CADU Coordinator and ICBUW Steering Committee member Rae Street began with an introduction to both organisations and the issue. After a brief history of the campaign she then introduced its achievements at the UN and European level.

Rae Street was followed by independent advisor on radiation in the environment Dr Ian Fairlie. Dr Fairlie sat on the UK government’s Committee Examining the Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters (CERRIE) and has written extensively on DU, most recently for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

Dave Cullen, Rae Street, Dr Ian Fairlie
Dave Cullen, Rae Street, Dr Ian Fairlie

Dr Fairlie began by showing that the differences between depleted and natural uranium are less pronounced than their names suggest. He then showed that alpha emissions may be less of an issue than DU’s beta emissions. He described how the intense alpha emissions from tiny DU particles actually kill the cells directly surrounding it, however the particle’s beta emissions travel beyond this layer and are free to damage a wider sphere of cells. This damage is likely to be enhanced by the novel effects of radiation such as the Bystander Effect – whereby cells adjacent to those struck by radiation also exhibit damage – and uranium’s chemical toxicity. Damaged cells may then become cancerous.

Moving on to risk and our understanding of the effects of internal radioactive emitters, he described the huge uncertainties over the impact that this form of contamination has on the human body. Dr Fairlie made clear that these profound uncertainties, when coupled with the rapidly expanding volume of cellular and animal research into the effects of uranium, strongly support a precautionary approach to the use of uranium munitions and that the only logical result of this would be a moratorium on their use, leading to a global ban. He added that this position is further supported by the dearth of quality epidemiological research on the subject.

Dr Fairlie was followed by CADU’s Quaker Peaceworker, Dave Cullen. Dave presented the findings of a 2008 US Congressional report that strongly criticised the state of veterans’ monitoring. Dave began by discussing how the report had found that DU was unlikely to be one of the main causes of Gulf War Syndrome, instead it pointed the finger at pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to personnel to protect against chemical weapon exposure and pesticides. Nevertheless there was scope within the report to support the claim that DU may play a role in some of the health problems of some Gulf War veterans.

Dave then described the considerable criticism in the report towards the US military who had refused to release data on where uranium weapons had been used, this had meant that assessing which service personnel had been exposed was extremely challenging.

But the chief criticisms in the report were reserved for the design and undertaking of the government-sponsored studies into veterans with embedded shrapnel. The authors were shocked by the extremely small size of the study group and puzzled by the admission from the programme leaders that two cases of tumours had been ignored. When quizzed the study leader Dr Melissa McDiarmid apparently stated that she hadn’t thought that either would be linked to DU exposure and so hadn’t included either in her report. The report’s conclusion was that serious concerns over the use of uranium munitions remain and that the US’s studies into veterans with embedded fragments were of little use in proving anything due to serious flaws in the studies design.

It is worth pointing out that it is these veterans’ studies that are often quoted by the US and UK governments as they seek to defend the use of DU munitions.

Rae Street, Dave Cullen, Doug Weir
Rae Street, Dave Cullen, Doug Weir.

The final speaker was ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. Doug went into more detail about the Coalition’s achievements over the last five years, such as the two UN resolutions and the impressive support for the campaign at the European Parliament. He ended by asking for support from Scottish NGOs and MSPs in the development of a UK Coalition against uranium weapons, highlighting the importance of the UK's position for the global campaign as a user of DU munitions.

Following the speakers there was a wide ranging discussion between the attendees on how to move forward on the issue in Scotland. Ideas included tackling the transport of uranium weapons to the Dundrennan Range and other ways to restrict the firing of DU munitions there. It is hoped that Green MSPs will take up the issue in the parliament.

Attachments

  • Gulf War Illness & Depleted Uranium

    246 Kb - Format pdf
    Dave Cullen, CADU
    In November 2008 an exhaustive study on the health problems experienced by veterans of the 1991 Gulf War was produced by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses (RAC), a body set up by the US congress. The report powerfully illustrates the state of research on DU and human health, as well as showing the resistance within the US department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to proper investigation into Gulf War illness and the flaws in research that they have commissioned.
  • Gulf War Illness & Depleted Uranium - Presentation

    612 Kb - Format pdf
    Dave Cullen, CADU
    In November 2008 an exhaustive study on the health problems experienced by veterans of the 1991 Gulf War was produced by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses (RAC), a body set up by the US congress. The report powerfully illustrates the state of research on DU and human health, as well as showing the resistance within the US department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to proper investigation into Gulf War illness and the flaws in research that they have commissioned. Presentation from Human Cost of Uranium Weapons Exhibition and Seminar, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.
  • Towards a UK Uranium Weapons Coalition

    470 Kb - Format pdf
    Doug Weir
    Presentation at Holyrood on the growing momentum for a uranium weapons treaty and a call for UK NGOs to form a UK Uranium Weapons Coalition.