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UK Resumes DU Testing at Dundrennan Firing Range, SW Scotland

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced five days of test firing for its CHARM3 Challenger tank ammunition, beginning today.
10 March 2008 - ICBUW

Dundrennan map

According to the BBC, the trials involving the DU shells will take place over the next five days in order to carry out safety checks needed for military operations. The MoD said that only a small amount of the ammunition would be used and full monitoring would take place. The tests in southern Scotland will be conducted by the defence research agency, QinetiQ.

More than 6000 DU rounds have been fired into the Solway Firth from the south of Scotland range over the last two decades. They are fired through targets into the Firth - from where DU penetrators have repeatedly been dragged up by fishermen's nets. This is the first test firing in five years.

In 2007, a report found high uranium concentrations in soils and earthworms at the Dundrennan site, while ex-workers have described lax safety and exposure standards.

Firing Range map

Contamination has been caused by shells fragmenting upon firing and scattering DU particles across the range. Studies on the composition of UK DU shells used in the Balkans indicates that the US-supplied DU waste used in their manufacture had been contaminated by reactor products such as plutonium and the isotope U236.

In a statement the MoD said: "Agencies and regulatory bodies responsible for health and safety and environmental protection have agreed the arrangements.

"Comprehensive environmental monitoring programmes involving air, water, and soil sampling, have been in place at and around Kirkcudbright since the beginning of the DU munitions trials.

"The findings continue to show that DU does not pose a significant risk to the environment or to members of the public or site personnel."

CADU Development Worker Doug Weir said: "It is ironic that the UK has fired more uranium at home than it has done abroad. The 6000 rounds fired into and around the Solway Firth amounts to more than 20 tonnes of nuclear waste. Lurid stories of contaminated gun barrels wrapped in bin liners being transported by low-loader to the low level waste depository at Drigg in Cumbria abound, raising real concerns about the safety of open air testing at the site."

The Solway Firth has long been seen as a dumping ground for the military and nuclear industry. Following WWII, thousands of tonnes of incendiary weapons were dumped there, while high levels of radioactive contamination from the Sellafield nuclear complex to the south remains in marine sediments. Leukaemia levels in the area are higher than the national average.

Notes:

Campaign Against Depleted Uranium: http://www.cadu.org.uk

Assessing depleted uranium (DU) contamination of soil, plants and earthworms at UK weapons testing sites
http://www.rsc.org/publishing/journals/EM/article.asp?doi=b700719a

BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/south_of_scotland/7287009.stm