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.