Solway's Silver Bullet
"Unborn children of the region are being asked to pay the highest
price, the integrity of their DNA."1
Ross B. Mirkarimi
A new kind of nuclear war is being waged. It's already being fought
in Scotland and the combatants are you and me. Our attackers are the Ministry
of Defence, a force which has already poisoned its own soldiers and threatened
the health of the civilian populations of the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait
Why is this happening? The threat comes from 'the coalition'
of the perceived need to re-use uranium left-over from commercial production,
and a military 'need' for a strengthened shell casing. The result
is Depleted Uranium, nicknamed 'the silver bullet'.
In 1996, the UN Subcommission on Human Rights classified Depleted Uranium
(DU) ammunition as an indiscriminate 'Weapon of Mass Destruction',
and a 'Crime Against Humanity'. Grant Wakefield, of opposition
group 'The Fire Next Time', says: "The use of DU, and the
subsequent massive efforts to downplay its after-effects represents one
of the most stupendous and outrageous lies ever told by Western governments."
What is Depleted Uranium? DU is used to make projectiles which can penetrate
armour, for example in anti-tank missiles. After penetration the DU forms
a powder which is 'pyrophoric', burning to form a fine dust
of uranium oxides. DU is a by-product from the production of enriched
fuel for nuclear reactors and weapons, and used to manufacture shells,
bullets and protective armour of tanks. This excess uranium, composed
mainly of the uranium isotope U-238, is called "depleted" because
it has a lower than normal content of the fissionable material. But it
has one very "excellent" property - it is extremely dense
and capable of penetrating heavily armoured vehicles.
DU spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized particles
less than five microns in diameter, small enough to be inhaled. At least
70% of the uranium in these weapons is released in this form on impact,
and these tiny particles travel long distances when airborne. Today's
precision bombing headline is tomorrow's contaminated landscape.
Poisoning The Populations of Kuwait and Iraq
A minimum of 940,000 rounds of DU were fired by US forces during the
Gulf 'war'. An estimated 300 metric tonnes of DU material was
deposited over vast tracts of land, primarily in Southern Iraq. A letter
was sent to the Royal UK Ordnance on April 21st 1991 by Paddy Bartholomew,
Business Development Manager of AEA Technology, the trading name for the
UK Atomic Energy Authority. Enclosed was a 'threat paper', marked
'UK restricted' which set out the true nature of the contamination:
"US tanks fired 5,000 rounds, US aircraft many tens of thousands
of rounds, and UK tanks a small number of DU rounds. The tank ammunition
alone will amount to greater then 50,000 lbs. of DU. [...] If the tank
inventory of the DU was inhaled, the latest International Committee of
Radiological Protection risk factor calculates 500,000 potential deaths.
The DU will spread around the battlefield and target vehicles in various
sizes and quantities. [....] It would be unwise for people to stay close
to large quantities of DU for long periods and this would obviously be
of concern to the local population if they collect this heavy metal and
The people of Basra have just received their second dose of missiles tipped
with depleted uranium in 12 years. They're still reeling from the
Scott Taylor, the editor of Esprit de Corps magazine, writes: "For
the past 10 years the medical staff at the Basra Pediatric Hospital have
compiled a very disturbing photographic record which catalogues thousands
of patients born with 'congenital anomalies'." Due to its
strategic location - just north of Kuwait - Basra was one of the
most heavily targeted Iraqi cities during the Coalition Forces' aerial
bombardment during what's being called 'Gulf War I'.
In the decade since Operation Desert Storm, the lethal legacy of that
conflict continues unabated in the form of widespread cancer, an epidemic
of renal disease and a tremendous increase in genetic birth defects. The
collection of photographs which line the walls of the Basra Hospital "memorial
gallery" are horrific: grotesque babies born with two heads, tiny
infants with internal organs protruding through their chest cavities,
numerous limbless children, and an alarming number of newborns who reached
full term without developing any skin.
"To find similar congenital anomalies we have had to research the
radioactive aftermaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki", said Dr. Khalid
Al-Abidi, Iraq's Deputy Minister of Health. But as the Campaign Against
Depleted Uranium says: "The risks of Depleted Uranium are not only
present during wars, or far-off conflicts, but affect us much closer to
home, where the weapons are manufactured and tested."
Scotland: Birthplace of The New Warfare
As depleted uranium shells rained down on Iraq, the Scottish people
could take pride in the fact that the weaponry has been developed and
tested in and around the Solway Firth for the past twenty years. We simply
couldn't have brought them this level of liberatory democracy if
we hadn't already tried it out at home.
Many thousands of DU tipped shells have been test-fired from the Dundrennan
range, though the MoD insist that the environmental contamination caused
by the shells is negligible as "they were fired into a cloth target"2
and there was no known risk to public health.
This process, which sets up the Dumfries countryside and its local population
as an open air medical experiment, was halted recently, ironically, because
of restrictions over access to land due to foot and mouth disease. But
now they're testing again.
While the after-effects of depleted uranium are shrouded with expected
secrecy, the bald facts are made plain in several key reports. A frank
admission from the US in 1990 stated: "Short-term effects of high
doses can result in death, while long-term effects of low doses have been
implicated in cancer."3
But while the suspected connection between Gulf War Syndrome and DU has
galvanised a movement to oppose this scientific experiment in America,
it has been slow off the ground in Scotland. In the US, the Depleted Uranium
Citizens' Network began its work in 1992 and introduced itself to
the public in March of 1993 with the release of a report entitled 'Uranium
Battlefields Home and Abroad'. This report was written by DU Network
members, the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, the Progressive
Alliance for Community Empowerment, and Citizen Alert. The DU Network's
membership consists of people living near uranium enrichment plants and
near facilities where DU munitions are made, former workers at those facilities,
people living near where DU weapons are tested, and both Persian Gulf
and Atomic veterans.
In Scotland there is little opposition. It's difficult to tell why
not. Maybe it's the geography of Dundrennan. Certainly culpable are
the failed Scottish Labour Party, the useless Scottish Environmental Protection
Agency (SEPA) and the opportunistic Nationalist agenda that plays to a
pro-military sub-agenda. Unfortunately, also true is that the softly-softly
approach of Scotland's Green MSP, the multi-coloured scarf-wearing
Robin Harper, has been ineffective. Perhaps Kevin Dunion, in his new role
as Scotland's Secret's Supremo, can uncover some of the truth
about the military in Scotland? But the more likely reality is that we
shall have to uncover the truth ourselves.
Elsewhere the anti-DU movement has grown out of disaffected soldiers'
own politicisation. Their legal and medical cases - and a growing realisation
that they are the dispensable pawns of the military - have fuelled
rather than quelled an investigative spirit that's lacking in Scotland.
In the US this has been enhanced by a radicalised veteran's movement
and a decade of enquiry into Gulf War Syndrome. Scotland wears its military
history on its shoulder with pride. It's part of some strange nostalgic
affection with our violence. Scottish regiments, long bought by the British
to wage wars abroad (be it Ireland or Iraq) carry this notion of romance
with them through the centuries. So, the nationalists would rather bristle
under regimental pride than look into the filthy secrets of experiments
on the civilian population.
Like Dounreay, also left unanswered, unresolved and unwanted, the rural
positioning of the Dundrennan Range suits the Generals and the career
politicians busying themselves with the defence of the realm and the creation
of micro-policy at Holyrood.
Manuel Pino, an environmental activist from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico,
sees links between the geography and the placement of radioactive military
sites in the US: "In remote areas of the Navajo Reservation there
are still over one thousand unreclaimed uranium pit mines open, filled
with water, inviting children to swim and animals to drink."
Uranium development on indigenous people's land parallels the history
of the nuclear industry in the United States. When the race to build atomic
weapons began in secrecy during World War II, nuclear weapons research
had been established in New Mexico. Six Pueblo nations in northern New
Mexico are within thirty miles of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory,
where the first atomic bomb was developed. The remote desert spot called
Trinity, New Mexico, where on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was
tested, is within sixty miles of the Mescalero Apache Nation. The Grants
Mineral Belt - which would ultimately become the largest uranium belt
in the world - was located on or near the Navajo nation and Laguna
and Acoma Pueblo lands.
It's said that the MoD were asked to identify a UK site for nuclear
testing - Caithness. The only factor that stopped it was the levels
of rainfall rather than the population.
Fighting Military Occupation in Puerto Rico
Since 1938, the US Navy has been acquiring land in Vieques by expropriation.
The US Navy uses 75% of the Island's soil for war manoeuvres, and
bomb storage. Not surprisingly, the Puerto Rican population of 9,000 have
learnt effective methods to oppose their further colonisation.
Vieques' fishermen have been at the forefront of a courageous resistance
to military occupation confronting warships at sea several times. In February
of 1978, US admiral Robert Fanagan told the fishermen that they would
not be allowed to fish during 3 weeks. NATO countries had planned an intensive
military manoeuvre along all of Vieques' coastline. Carlo Zenûn
informed him that they would protest. "Imagine me, a Puerto Rican
fisherman, telling a US Navy admiral that we're going to cause problems
for them", he said. On February 6th, 1978, fed-up with the Navy's
arrogance, the fishermen took a desperate gamble. Forty fishing boats
'invaded' waters where target practice with live ammunition
was about to begin. They were successful in stalling the manoeuvres and
awakening the support of the entire Puerto Rican nation. This activism
at sea has won important victories for the people of Vieques during their
struggle against the US Navy.
After a civilian, David Sanes Rodrìguez, was killed by the navy
on April 19th, 1999, a group of civilians gathered in the "accident"
area to protest the bombardments. This show of outrage and civil disobedience
was a frontal challenge to the US Navy's ill-gotten authority. On
April 21st a group gathered at the place of the bombings, placed a large
cross and named the area Mount David, in memory of Mr. Sanes. Mount David
is peppered with live ammunition. In spite of this, many people organised
protests behind the gates of the Navy's restricted areas. All these
protests have successfully detained the bombings since Sanes' death.
"I know that there is a great danger", said Pablo Connelly,
one of the civilians that protested, "I know that the risks are great,
but all the risks are worth it. I do this for my children and for the
children of all Viequenses and I know that during the time that I remain
here there is not going to fall a single bomb in Vieques."
On May 8th, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) established a second
campsite in Playa Carrucho. The president of the party, Senator Ruben
Berrios, vowed to stay in the campsite until either the Navy left or he
was arrested. A scenario of confrontation was set. Once again, David faced
Goliath eye to eye. Many other Encampments of Civil Disobedience were
established over the course of that year in the target range. At the beginning
of May 2000, there were about 14 of them with over one hundred people
living permanently in such harsh conditions.
On Thursday, May 4, 2000, at 5:30am federal authorities began to arrest
the people conducting Civil Disobedience in Vieques. This act was considered
an offence of the US Government against the will of the people of Vieques
and Puerto Rico, who took back their land for one full year to prevent
the bombing and shelling of the Island.
History Of DU Testing In Scotland
Regular test-firing of DU shells started in 1980 at Eskmeals in Cumbria,
and at the Ministry of Defence's firing range at Dundrennan, near
Kirkcudbright in South-west Scotland in 1981. In June 1993 the MoD, answering
a parliamentary question, in effect denied that there was any problem,
there being "only very low levels of radioactivity" detected.
But when radiation reports were made public in July (with some excisions)
these revealed serious levels of contamination outside the controlled
area at Eskmeals, and grass and soil samples at Kirkcudbright were "well
above acceptable limits." The test-firings had resulted in the accumulation
of radioactive waste at these sites. Currently 91 cubic metres at Eskmeals
is estimated to rise to 468 cubic metres by 2030.
At Kirkcudbright there is considered to be no nuclear waste as DU shells
are fired into the Solway Firth. All MoD efforts to retrieve them have
At Kirkcudbright a misfiring on 13th November 1989 involved a DU shell
exploding into fragments on impact with a stone bank. This resulted in
a local concentration of 1,692 mg/kg well exceeding the MoD's normal
limit of 72 mg/kg and upper limit of 300 mg/kg. Presumably, in investigating
this incident, military personnel inspected the site of impact and were
exposed to this concentration. Depending on wind and weather conditions,
local populations in Britain may be exposed to unknown concentrations
over prolonged periods.
So what is the present situation in Scotland? For SEPA's last statement
on the issue you have to go back to 12th January 2001, which simply noted
public concern and the MoD's inability to retrieve the shells. The
MoD's monitoring has not shown elevated levels of uranium, nor has
it found the specific DU 'signature'. However, if shells cannot
be retrieved it is impossible to demonstrate that the DU has dispersed
and been absorbed into the normal background radiation.
In his statement to the House of Commons, the Minister for the Armed Forces,
John Spellar MP, said: "The Environment Agency in England and Wales,
and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency in Scotland also have
oversight of the firing programme." In fact according to SEPA: "MoD
activities are not subject to the Radioactive Substances Act so SEPA does
not have control over these activities, nor do we undertake monitoring
for depleted uranium. We are aware of the firing programme and, along
with the local Council, see the results of the MoD's own monitoring.
We also provide advice to the MoD."
It would be difficult to imagine how SEPA could be more discredited. With
the politicians disinterested, and the statutory body dissolute, the public
are left powerless, ignorant and contaminated. Drawing on the Vieques
Libre movement in Puerto Rico and the American people's legal opposition
to their own military, we need to build a national body which monitors
military operations throughout Scotland, and a movement against the occupying
Depleted Uranium is not just another weapon in the terrorist state's
arsenal; it defies all the protocol of international law. The fact that
Britain and America have used DU weapons in the present and past conflicts
shows them to be beyond redemption, and exposes the contempt they have
for their own civilian population as well as those abroad.
Every opportunity should be raised to move to shut down the Dundrennan
range and halt DU tests. As in Vieques, local fishermen can play a key
role and unity should be made with the people of Northern England, Ireland
and Dumfries and Galloway. It's degrading to remain quiescent in
the face of such assault.
For an update on the campaign against military abuses in Scotland contact
1 Ross B. Mirkarimi, The Environmental and Human Health Impacts of the
Gulf Region with Special Reference to Iraq. May 1992
3 From the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) report,
included as Appendix D of AMMCOM's Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long
Term Strategy Study, Danesi, July 1990.