Depleted uranium turns earthworms into glowworms

Thursday, March 20, 2008

EARTHWORMS WERE pushed into the firing line last week after a resumption of the testing of depleted uranium shells at Dundrennan.

Significant levels of radioactive uranium isotopes were found in the flesh of worms at the Ministry of Defence's Dumfries weapons range last year. Despite concerns from environmentalists and the international community, the MoD last week started a series of tests of depleted uranium (DU) shells, supposed "safety checks".

A report published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring found that worms in the Dumfries testing ground had significant traces of poisonous uranium isotopes in their bodies.

Worms are a crucial part of the ecosystem, aerating the soil and aiding the nutrient uptake of plants. If they are contaminated, it suggests the wider environment is tainted.

The report said: "Many of the soil samples from the Dundrennan Firing Range had uranium concentrations and isotopic signatures indicative of contamination with DU. Furthermore, plants and earthworms collected from above and within contaminated soils respectively also had uranium isotopic signatures strongly influenced by DU, indicating that DU was indeed assimilated into biological tissues."

More than 6000 DU shells have been fired into the Solway Firth at Dundrennan, amounting to more than 20 tons of nuclear waste. The tests have been linked to increased rates of cancer and leukaemia in the area.

Opposition to their use is hardening, after a vote at the United Nations General Assembly, won by 136 states to five, required states to submit files on the health implications of DU. Britain was one of the states to vote against it.

The Scottish government criticised the new tests. An SNP spokeswoman said: "We want to ask the secretary of state for defence about the UK's position with regard to these international developments. Although we don't have any powers over defence policy, we are responsible for the health and wellbeing of the people and service personnel of Scotland."

Depleted uranium is used to make hard tips for armour-piercing rounds. When they explode, the uranium turns into a fine powder which is carried on the wind for miles around. In Iraq and Kosovo, the use of the shells has been blamed for horrific birth defects as well as being implicated in causing Gulf war syndrome.

Robin Harper, Scottish Green Party MSP, said: "There is no safe place to test these shells, and there is no appropriate battlefield to use them on either. The MoD should commit to the ban requested by the European parliament."

The MoD insisted the tests would be safe. It said: "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 DU does not pose a significant risk to the environment or to members of the public or site

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