Red Alert

I can smell the (depleted) uranium on your breath

Posted by on November 18th, 2009

I am putting a new member’s bill into the ballot this morning tomorrow: the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill.

Depleted uranium is nuclear waste. It is the by-product from processing uranium for nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors.  It is very hard and heavy and is inserted into ammunition for its armour-piercing properties. It ignites on impact, burning at a very high temperature, dispersing a cloud of radioactive dust which can pass through gas masks and into the human body.

This stuff has been used in the First Gulf War, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.  There is growing international concern that exposure to radiation from DU may be the cause of high incidence of cancer and birth deformations experienced by veterans of these recent wars. The fear is that DU may be shaping up as the Agent Orange of the twenty first century.

In line with the development of international law that regulates or restricts aspects of war that are deemed to be unacceptable (Geneva Conventions, biological and chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, landmines, cluster munitions)  it is time that depleted uranium was banned.  There is not yet incontrovertible evidence on the negative effects of DU in the battlefield, but there is enough concern and evidence to warrant taking this step on the basis of the precautionary principle.

Our defence forces don’t use depleted uranium but that is not the point. They may well be exposed to it in the battlefield in future conflicts. And by passing this bill into law, New Zealand could take a small but significant step towards making war less barbaric, and give other countries encouragement to follow suit. Belgium is the only country so far that has legislated a ban on depleted uranium.


22 Responses to “I can smell the (depleted) uranium on your breath”

  1. Spud says:

    I think banning it is a good idea, goodluck getting this done. :-)

  2. Phil Twyford says:

    Thanks Spud. Always good to see you get the first comment.

  3. Spud says:

    Thanks, :-D

  4. ghostwhowalksnz says:

    DU is also used as counter weights in aircraft. As radiation shields in medical imaging and for transportation of radioactive isotopes.
    Will your bill effect the status of these uses. In fact every time you fly by air the plane you are in could be carrying DU

  5. millsy says:

    GWW, I think the aim here is to ban it in the use of weapons.

  6. Phil Twyford says:

    ghostwhowalksnz – The bill would prohibit use of depleted uranium in munitions and armour, not if it is used as counter weights in aircraft or medical imaging etc. Just as our nuclear free legislation doesnt outlaw the use of nuclear material in science labs or medical purposes.

  7. ghostwhowalksnz says:

    Thanks I just wanted to be clear that some materials have beneficial uses s well

  8. Jeremy Harris says:

    Will it contain a clause whereby NZers cannot be instructed to take part in conflicts where there is reasonable cause to suspect such ammunition will be used..?

  9. Idiot/Savant says:

    Once again I am amazed by the number of people who can’t be bothered following the link to the bill at the top of the post…

  10. Phil Twyford says:

    Jeremy – The bill doesnt prohibit NZers from taking part in conflicts where there is reasonable cause to suspect such ammunition will be used. But I would hope at select committee it will have provision inserted on “interoperability” – which means the ability for our armed forces to operate alongside other forces who might for instance use DU. Useful wording on this has been developed for the landmines prohibition legislation, and currently for the cluster munitions prohibition bill. There is a balance to be struck. You want to protect the intent of our bill (that NZ forces dont use these things) but you dont want to inadvertantly prevent our forces from operating alongside other nations’ forces.

  11. Seti says:

    Would NZ agents acting under the “Extraterritorial” clause be committing an offence should they be transiting inside in a DU-protected vehicle operated by a foreign power, for training purposes or otherwise? In other words would our squaddies have to get out and walk through the maelstrom?

  12. geek says:

    “Once again I am amazed by the number of people who can’t be bothered following the link to the bill at the top of the post…”

    Once again I am amazed by the number of people who assume that everyone should have a lawyers understanding of contractual language and use a lack of such knowledge as a means to deride others.

  13. Just as our nuclear free legislation doesn’t outlaw the use of nuclear material in science labs or medical purposes.

    Our nuclear-free legislation doesn’t even ban nuclear power plants! I can see the RMA application process for resource consent to construct a nuclear power plant being rather contentious (perhaps tortuous), but the RMA is the only law standing in the way!

  14. Jeremy Harris says:

    @Idiot/Savant, didn’t realise it was a link to the bill, I don’t make a habit of clicking on every link I see but I take your point…

    @Phil, thanks for the info, it sounds like an excellent idea for a bill good luck getting it pulled (hope it comes out as fast as your last one..!)

  15. Idiot/Savant says:

    Geek: if people wish to be intellectually lazy, then that’s their problem. But the information is there in the explanatory note if they wish to read it.

    And I am not now, nor have I ever been, a lawyer.

  16. Seti says:

    Or the most likely operational scenario, and one that has and probably is occurring at present is where our special forces contingent calls in air strikes on enemy targets, knowing DU munitions will be used. How does that compromise their effectiveness, considering the bill’s intent -
    …(e)Assists, encourages, or induces, in any way, any person to engage in (a) to (d) (use, transfer, etc)
    and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine not exceeding $500,000.

    Your suggestion of an “interoperabiltiy” provision renders the whole bill somewhat meaningless as the material in question is only ever used on foreign battlefields. Unless of course the US decide to drop their opposition to our nuclear ship policy. Oh but then their conventional ships would also be banned as they use DU in anti-missle ammo. Another inadvertent reason to keep them out I spose.

  17. Mac1 says:

    @ Idiot/Savant, I hope also that you never smoked a lawyer, and if you did, never inhaled. Ah, the joys of English as fun for punsters.

    Interesting to see that Belgium is against DU munitions since I guess they saw quite a bit of armoured warfare in the last century, along with the use of others of the now banned weapons.

    According to a submission to our Foreign Affairs select committee from Commander Green, RN (Rtd), the ” Belgian legislative body made in the end a political appreciation of the matter which took account of the absence of scientific consensus on the effects of depleted uranium, while at the same time applying the precautionary principle, which demands a prudent attitude for as long as scientific certainties have not been established.”

    Also interesting to see that the Belgian decision was by unanimous vote to ban DU munitions with a bill put forward by Dirk Van der Maelen MP.

  18. Idiot/Savant says:

    Seti: the wording of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill could be stolen here:

    s11(1) criminalises use, development, production, assistance etc of cluster munitions.

    s11(2) says

    A member of the Armed Forces also commits an offence if he or she expressly requests the use of cluster munitions when—
    (a) he or she is engaged in operations, exercises, or other military activities with the armed forces of a State that is not a party to the Convention; and
    (b) the choice of munitions used is within the exclusive control of the Armed Forces.

    But s12(5) says

    A member of the Armed Forces does not commit an offence against section 11(1) merely by engaging, in the course of his or her duties, in operations, exercises, or other military activities with the armed forces of a State that is not a party to the Convention and that engage in conduct prohibited by section 11(1).

    So they can cooperate, but they can’t e.g. call in airstrikes.

    It would need to be modified, as there is not yet a convention banning DU. But its generally pillageable.

  19. jarbury says:

    @Graeme, interestingly in quite a few District Plans you see that anything to do with radioactive materials is a Prohibited Activity (ie. you can’t even think about it).

    However, in most they’re not even mentioned, which means an automatic reversion to Discretionary Activity status (unless the District Plan specifically says that if something is not specified it becomes Non-Complying). It would be an interesting environment court case I imagine!

  20. The Gnat Exterminator says:

    While I’m suspicous of DU, I’m not sure that the link between health problems and DU has been firmly established (yet). There are some statistical links from those exposed in Southern Iraq during the first Gulf War, but given the thousands of chemicals that were spilled delibrately by Iraqi troops DU is only one of the suspects.

  21. geek says:

    Deleted personal Clare

  22. [...] agree. I have a member’s bill in the ballot that would prohibit the use of depleted uranium weapons in the same way that we ban [...]