A new ruling by the UK government that depleted uranium (DU) weapons are acceptable under international humanitarian law may be challenged in court by campaigners angry that ministers are clinging to a “toxic Cold War relic”.
The ruling means that DU tank shells could again be tested at the Dundrennan military firing range near Kirkcudbright on the Solway coast. Past tests, which have contaminated the site, have brought cross-party condemnation from Scottish politicians.
DU is a radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal produced as waste by the nuclear industry. It has been widely used by UK and US military forces to harden armour-piercing shells fired in the Gulf, Balkans and Iraq wars.
When DU weapons burn, they release a hazardous dust that can contaminate wide areas. Civilians and soldiers exposed to the contamination claim to have suffered from cancers, birth defects and other illnesses as a result.
A review of the legality and dangers of DU weapons under the Geneva conventions was launched last November by the UK armed forces minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey. This came after he was forced to apologise for misleading MPs by saying that the weapons had already been cleared by such a review, when in fact they hadn’t.