Suppression of the Truth: Depleted Uranium – The Deadly Killer

DU tank

IT all began in September 1992, when as a newly ensconced chief reporter at the Galloway Gazette – a weekly newspaper in South West Scotland – I began investigating a report into high levels of radiation in the local waters of the Solway Firth.

At the time, the worrying measurements of Caesium 137 and Americium 241 – a decay product of Plutonium – were ascribed to radioactive waste from the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant across the Firth in Cumbria.

Over the winter of 1992-93 I ran a small campaign in our newspaper to investigate these high levels of radioactivity in our sea water.

Then in February 1993 I stumbled across a report to Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council which claimed that the radiation from Sellafield could be responsible for “excess” incidences of leukaemia in our local area.

The report by medical consultant Dr James Chalmers said radiation exposure was of ‘particular concern’ to people in the region, because of the proximity of Sellafield and a nuclear power station at Chapelcross, near Dumfries.

“The main conclusion is that there appears to be a higher than expected incidence of acute leukaemia in Dumfries and Galloway,” he said.

“And some areas have markedly higher than expected incidences. These include areas where there is concern about high exposure to radiation – Kirkcudbright and Chapelcross. In some areas recorded incidences are twice the expected level for those areas.”

While the local Conservative MP Ian Lang gave public assurances that the “levels of radiation on the Galloway coast pose no threat to public health”, both the regional council and the four district councils demanded a closer investigation.

Like a terrier with a bone my journalistic mind kicked in, and I could scent an ongoing newspaper campaign.

By the end of the month, nuclear experts and spokespeople for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace claimed that both BNFL (the operators of Sellafield) and the Government were “covering up” the true levels of local radiation and the risks to public health.

Dr Patrick Green – who had conducted detailed research for Friends of the Earth – said the Government testing of critical groups of local fish eaters had underplayed the levels of radiation uptake by more than half.

By April 1993, Alex Smith, the Labour Euro MP for South West Scotland was calling on Ian Lang (who was also the Secretary of State for Scotland) to speak out on the contamination from Sellafield.

My campaign into shedding light on the radiation threat to the Galloway coast ran and rumbled throughout the spring and summer of 1993 and by August it was receiving attention from local radio and Scottish national newspapers.

But nothing prepared me for what was to happen next.

Local resident Teresa Spurling, who was worried about the radiation levels in her local sands at Cumstoun, near Kirkcudbright, was one of many who contacted me.

Teresa, who lost her four-year-old daughter Alix with a rare combination of cancers 16 months earlier, was campaigning vigorously for more attention to be paid to the high levels of radiation in the area where her daughter once played.

She pointed accusingly at the contamination from Sellafield but also at the test firing of depleted uranium (DU) artillery shells into the sea from the MoD base at Dundrennan – some eight miles from her home.

“I have come to know so many children who have cancer along this stretch of coast,” she said, before showing me a list of local children who had died from cancer within the previous eight years.

My senses were heightened. Not only did I not realise that there was at MoD base at Dundrennan, but what the hell were they doing firing radioactive shells into the local coastal waters?

Quickly my campaign into a link between radioactive contamination of our coastline and cancer clusters took on a new dimension as we gradually managed to expose years of test firing of these DU shells into the Solway Firth and their link to local cancer clusters – particularly childhood leukaemia.

Public anger over what was perceived as a Government cover-up of the test firing grew by the week and fuelled dozens of questions in the House of Commons plus reports by the national press and BBC’s Panorama TV programme.

By late October the MoD had invited me and other journalists to visit the Dundrennan firing range. In an effort to placate the feral press we were briefed by smartly uniformed senior ranks that the DU shells posed no threat to health and everything was “above board”.

But this sugar-coated PR attempt was ruined in the afternoon when at a public briefing by Secretary of State for Defence Jonathan Aitken and his PPS Stephen Milligan, the public concern and blame was wholly turned on the “local press” (ie me). Mr Aitken said we were spinning lies and “No-one should believe the reports from this backwoods gutter press”.

In 1999, the same Jonathan Aitken was jailed for 18 months for perjury and lying about his arms dealing with Saudi Arabia. Stephen Milligan was found dead in his London flat in 1994. He was naked except for a pair of stockings and suspenders, with an electrical flex tied around his neck and a black bin liner over his head, with an orange in his mouth.

You couldn’t make it up!

My newspaper campaign accelerated in the New Year when a report for the magazine Red Act revealed that 10 per cent of US servicemen who served in the Gulf War had qualified for disability compensation after suffering medical symptoms attributed to exposure to depleted uranium (DU) tank and artillery shells. More than 1,600 American Gulf veterans had also died from similar symptoms.

The report stated: “Of 600,000 American soldiers sent to the Middle East to confront Saddam Hussein, more than 54,000 have qualified for disability compensation.”

Their symptoms included chronic fatigue, rashes, eye and ear infections, bleeding gums, facial paralysis, headaches, memory loss, muscle and joint pains, liver problems and cancer.

The report also referred to the MoD base at Dundrennan, where it said an estimated 4,000 DU shells had been fired into the Solway Firth.

It concluded: “The MoD plans to develop and fire new DU shells there, which will increase local toxic and radioactive contamination.”

The report “Depleted Uranium, Sick Soldiers and Dead Children” came just two weeks after a parliamentary statement by Defence Minister Jeremy Hanley confirmed that sizeable stocks of DU shells were held at the Dundrennan firing range.

“On 15th December 1993, 111 DU rounds were held at the Dundrennan range in anticipation of a number of trials,” he said.

His statement completely contradicted an earlier parliamentary answer by Mr Aitken, who in June 1993 said there were no stocks of Depleted Uranium shells at Dundrennan, “nor any future arisings expected”.

But, I was in for another shock.

Suddenly, and without any warning, I was given two major press awards for my work into the DU shell firings – the first was a Judges’ Special Award for Investigative Journalism.

Then I was informed that 41 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons praising my investigation (and that of a dear and late colleague at the Sunday Mail) into the link between DU shell firing and the serious risks to health – including cancer.

The EDM read: “That this House congratulates Nic Outterside, chief reporter of the Galloway Gazette, for his special award of the year ‘for his investigative journalism and individual tenacity’, and Angus Macleod of the Sunday Mail, for his ‘talent for disclosing stories in an aggressive and attacking writing style’ in winning the journalist and reporter of the year award in the Scottish Press Awards made on 26th April; notes that both reporters revealed the hidden dangers of depleted uranium shell tests at Ministry of Defence test ranges, and unveiled the links between vapourised depleted uranium dust and the Gulf War or Desert Storm syndrome; believes these Scottish reporters have properly publicised a problem of national and international importance as recognised by investigations in the United States Congress and the United Nations Compensation Committee; and reiterates its call for an urgent public inquiry.”

Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Tony Benn, Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. These names next to mine were like a personal shield of honour, and a vindication of 18 months of sometimes painstaking investigation.

In June 1994 I moved to Edinburgh and left my investigations into the Dundrennan cover-up behind.

But the story did not die.

Studies since 1994 showed that exposure to depleted uranium leads to cancers, birth defects, memory loss, damage to the immune system and neuro-psychotic disorders.

Yet the MoD still steadfastly claimed sine the first Gulf war that “DU does not pose a risk to health or the environment”.

This claim was undone when in 2004 it was revealed that the British Army told soldiers in Iraq that DU can cause ill-health.

An MoD card handed to troops on active service in the second Gulf War, in 2003-2005, read: “You have been deployed to a theatre where depleted uranium (DU) munitions have been used. DU is a weakly radioactive heavy metal which has the potential to cause ill-health. You may have been exposed to dust containing DU during your deployment.

“You are eligible for a urine test to measure uranium. If you wish to know more about having this test, you should consult your unit medical officer on return to your home base. Your medical officer can provide information about the health effects of DU.”

A UN sub-commission ruled that the use of DU breaches the Geneva Convention and the Genocide Convention. DU has also been blamed for the effects of Gulf War Syndrome among some 200,000 US troops.

It has led to birth defects in the children of veterans and Iraqis and is believed to be the cause of the “worrying number” of anophthalmos cases – babies born without eyes – in Iraq. A study of veterans showed 67% had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.

Professor Doug Rokke, the ex-director of the Pentagon’s DU project and a former US Army colonel who was tasked by the US defence department to deal with DU after the first Gulf War, said: “The MoD card acknowledges the risks. It contradicts the position it has taken publicly – that there was no risk – in order to sustain the use of DU rounds and avoid liability.”

Dr Rokke attacked the US and UK for “contaminating the world” with DU munitions and said the issuing of the card meant that they had “a moral obligation to provide care for all those affected” and to clean up the environment in Iraq.

“DU is in residential areas in Iraq, troops are going by sites contaminated with it with no protective clothing or respiratory protection, and kids are playing in the same areas.”

He added: “What right does anyone have to throw radioactive poison around and then not clean it up or offer people medical care?” Dr Rokke said that the use of DU in Iraq should be deemed a war crime.

“This war was about weapons of mass destruction, but the US and UK were the only people using WMD – in the form of DU shells.”

Ray Bristow, trustee of the UK’s National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said the MoD card “confirms what independent scientists have said for years”. Mr Bristow, 45, suffers from chromosomal abnormalities and conditions similar to those who survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.

A former warrant officer in the medical corps in the first Gulf war, he is now only able to walk short distances with a walking frame and often has to use a wheelchair.

“While the card may have been issued to British troops we have to ask, ‘what about the Iraqi people?’ They are living among DU contamination. And what about the people in Dundrennan?

“The MoD line has always been that DU is safe – it has been caught out in a lie.”

Mr Bristow said some 29,000 British troops could be contaminated. He was found to have uranium in his system more than 100 times the safety limit. “I put on a uniform because I believe in democracy and freedom,” he said. “Now I can’t believe a word my government says.”

He also believed the discovery of the DU card will help affected troops sue for compensation. “Globally, this discovery is of huge significance.”

Chris Ballance, the Green MSP for the area, added: “DU is a weapon of mass destruction that must be banned.”

He said the MoD must remove the shells that had been fired into the Solway Firth and tell the people of Dundrennan about the risks.

Malcolm Hooper, emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University and an expert on DU, said it was “administrative deception” for the MoD to claim DU was not a risk to health while issuing warnings to troops.

Dr Hooper, a Government adviser on DU, described the government’s behaviour as “a dreadful experiment … an obscenity … and a war crime against our own troops”.

 

Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters

During the past month I have republished seven of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. The first looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation, a third was a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft, the fourth looked at big cats at large in the UK and the fifth was an investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist leader Willie McRae. Another looked at the extent of 40-year cover-up on exposure of British servicemen to A-bomb tests and the last was a piece about secret dumps of deadly Sarin gas in the sea waters off Scotland.
Today I reload a piece I wrote in 1995 about some very strange links between BNFL at Sellafield and genetic research into babies.

SCOTTISH babies could become involved in new genetic research by an experimental institute run by directors of British Nuclear Fuels.
The Labour Party has condemned the so-called independent DNA bank at a scientific site close to the Sellafield nuclear plant, which is funded by BNFL and backed by an English university linked to applications to conduct experiments on dead children without their parents’ consent.
An institute spokesman said fears of vested interest were groundless and any DNA experiments would be carried out independently of BNFL.
The disclosures come soon after a public outcry over revelations that more than 2000 dead Scots babies and 126 pregnant mothers were involved in secret nuclear experiments in the early 1960s.
The experiments were conducted by the UK Atomic Energy Authority in a bid to find out if fallout from atomic bomb tests had affected the youngsters.
MPs fear that that scenario could be recreated by studies at the Westlakes Research Institute, five miles from Sellafield.
The institute was formed with BNFL funding on the back of widespread concerns that the incidence of childhood leukemia in the village of Seascale, a mile-and-a-half from Sellafield, was 10 times the national average.
Despite proclamations of independence, records at Companies House reveal that 11 BNFL personnel form the board of Westlakes Research Trading Ltd, while five BNFL employees run the research institute.
It is widely believed that BNFL’s own genetics group will also become part of the DNA research establishment, which it will help fund with #1m over six years.
The institute proposes to collect, store, and analyse samples of genetic material and blood from 8000 babies born in Cumbria over the next five years at Westlakes and the Department of Child Health at Newcastle University.
It plans to use DNA samples to investigate evidence of genetic diseases, genetic damage related to radiation exposure, and possible radiation-linked diseases such as childhood leukemia.
A recent BNFL newsletter stated: ”While it could also help research into the effects of radiation, BNFL believes the study will prove there is no difference between the genetic make-up of children born to Sellafield fathers and those from the rest of the region.”
The environmental group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (Core) is fighting the nuclear company’s interest in the research and expresses concern about the so-called impartial involvement of Newcastle University child health department.
According to confidential letters handed to The Herald, Dr Alan Craft, a Newcastle consultant paediatrician who works closely with the department, applied for permission in 1984 to dissect and experiment on placentas and organs from dead children for a nuclear industry-backed study of ”radionuclides in tissues from children” without consulting or reporting back to the deceased’s parents.
The proposals received ethical criticism from West Cumbria Health Authority which also warned of public concern over ”the BNFL connection”. But Dr Craft’s scheme helped provide impetus for the Westlakes initiative.
Core has welcomed genetic research to establish the causes of leukemia in children but questions the impartiality of BNFL and Newcastle University.
”We feel that this particular project, to be sited at a BNFL laboratory with research carried out by BNFL scientists and funded by BNFL money, sets a dangerous precedent for the future,” said a spokesman.
”Some parents involved in the Sellafield High Court leukemia cases, who believe radioactive contamination caused leukemia in their children, said that research carried out jointly by Westlakes and Newcastle University on behalf of BNFL had been used in evidence against them in the High Court.
”It is not surprising that the ‘independent’ label attributed to Westlakes is called into question.”
Dr David King, editor of GenEthics News, an independent newsletter on ethical issues, said it was ”not desirable” that a DNA bank should be run by a private organisation not directly accountable to the public or to those who have made donations.
He also expressed concern about the system of coding and confidentiality of the DNA samples. He cited possible abuses that could result in an individual with chromosonal abnormalities being denied employment at nuclear installations or experience genetic discrimination with insurance companies.
Although the Westlakes institute plans to experiment on DNA from Cumbrian-born babies, it is also proposed to take samples from Carlisle hospitals, which care for Scottish mothers, and to extend the project to an international scale.
MP John McAllion, Labour’s Scottish health spokesman, said he was extremely concerned about BNFL’s involvement in the DNA studies.
”It appears obvious that with their control over the study they will be able to release scientific reports into aspects of radiation under the guise of ‘independence’,” he said.
Mr Alex Smith, South of Scotland Euro-MP, said he found the involvement of BNFL in the DNA experiments ”disgraceful” and called for an inquiry into any pecuniary interest and complete transparency in all genetic research.
”It worries me greatly about what use the results from these experiments may be put to,” he said.
However, a spokesman for Westlakes told The Herald that only the medical and child health departments at Newcastle University would have access to the DNA sample details and these would be kept at ”arms length” from BNFL.
He said the institute had received ethical approval — including that of West Cumbria Health Authority ethics committee — to begin its research and had started anonymous trials to test ”statistical and technical correctness”. The full programme, which will last for at least 20 years, should be in operation by the end of this year.
”We are aware of public concerns and therefore aim to demonstrate independence from BNFL who have a general interest, but are only involved as funders,” he added.

A hard rain’s a gonna fall

During the past three weeks I have republished five of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. The first looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation, a third was a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft, the fourth looked at big cats at large in the UK and the last was an investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist leader Willie McRae.
Today I reload a piece I wrote in early 1995 about the extent of 40-year cover-up on exposure of British servicemen to A-bomb tests

THE extent of a 40-year cover-up of the radiation exposure suffered by 22,000 servicemen who witnessed Britain’s atom bomb tests in the 1950s has been revealed in a file of de-classified and secret Government documents.
They demonstrate a willingness to ignore or conceal the impact of 21 British nuclear tests between 1952 and 1958 on the part of then Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
When asked to consider the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Mr Eden says, in a memo dated November 16, 1955: ”A pity, but we cannot help it.”
The documents were passed to The Herald just two days after an English nuclear test victim won his 25-year battle with defence chiefs for a pension following intervention by the High Court, two months after three Scottish victims won a legal breakthrough in the European courts.
Last Friday, the Rev Laurence Deverall, 60 — who was exposed to radiation in the 1956 Maralinga tests in South Australia — won his case for a disability war pension.
Mr Deverall developed cancer in his right leg as a result of the radiation exposure. His leg was amputated in 1970.
Mr Ken McGinley, chairman of the Johnstone-based British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association, said the case was the first major breakthrough on Government liability.
On January 27, Scots-born US advocate, Mr Ian Anderson, won the first stage regarding admissibility of evidence in a test case before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of two nuclear test veterans and the 27-year-old daughter of a third Glaswegian victim — all members of the veterans’ association.
Now the file of more than 40 secret and de-classified memorandums passed to The Herald could add weight to hundreds of compensation cases being fought by the veterans’ association on behalf of its 3500 members.

CONSPIRACY theories are easy to wrap around any secret Government activity, and easier for those adversely affected to accept.
But for a Government to conspire knowingly to cause physical harm to 22,000 of its own citizens in the name of science is a more difficult scenario to believe.

The extent of a 40-year cover-up of the radiation exposure suffered by 22,000 servicemen who witnessed Britain’s atom bomb tests between 1952 and 1958, is now being revealed.
A file of secret and declassified official documents has been passed to me just two days after an English nuclear test victim won a 25-year pension battle with defence chiefs, and two months since three Scottish victims won a legal breakthrough in the European courts.
Mr Ken McGinley, the chairman of Johnstone-based British Nuclear Tests Veterans’ Association is damning: ”There has been a cover-up on a massive scale — it is more to do with personal sensitivity than anything else, as many of the Government scientists involved in the tests are still alive, while many of our members who served their country loyally have died or are dying from incurable cancers and other life-threatening diseases.”
The documents speak for themselves:
”We think it likely that the Australians will ask us for filters which have been flown at Mosaic and Buffalo,” said British Government scientist Sir William Penney in a secret memo to Sir Frederick Brundrett at the MoD on December 22, 1955 — five months before the first of the code-named A-Bomb tests took place in the Monte Bello Islands and Maralinga Desert.
”While I am not very keen on giving them samples, I do not see how we can refuse,” continued Sir William. ”I am recommending that, if they ask us, we give them a little piece of the filters, but we wait a few days so that some of the short-lived isotopes have decayed a good deal.”
The extent of the cover-up becomes more apparent in a wired memo from Admiral Brooking at the British Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston to the Australian Government in May 1957.
”May we please have your authority to include the following sentence about Buffalo in the openly published report 1956/57 of the UKAEA: The Australian Safety Committee made a careful check of conditions before and after the firing of every round, and was satisfied that no hazard to the people or stock of Australia was caused by any of the explosions at Monte Bello or Maralinga.”
In 1993, the British Government finally agreed to pay the Australian Government #20m as the first instalment to clean up the radioactive pollution at Maralinga.
A letter from Sir William Penney to Sir Edwin Plowden, of October 1, 1955, refers to the planned tests at Monte Bello the following summer, and says health and safety precautions were fixed for a 25 kiloton blast for ”the first shot” and 80 kilotons at the second.
He adds: ”We do not know exactly what the yield is going to be because the assembly is very different from anything we have tried before.”
As it turned out, the ”first shot” on May 16, 1956, gave a yield of just 15 kilotons, but the second a massive 98 kilotons and, with the winds drifting the fall-out cloud, it was virtually uncontrolled.
Another top-secret memo to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, dated May 20 — seven months after the first atom bomb test at Monte Bello and five months before the second at Emu Field, South Australia — gives evidence of the official intention.
It says: ”The Army must discover the detailed effects of the various types of explosion on equipment, stores, and men with and without various types of protection.”
The complicity is pivotal in one memo dated November 16, 1955, from British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
Asked to consider the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Mr Eden says: ”A pity, but we cannot help it.”
Yet the risks to health from radiation exposure were known at the highest level.
In minutes from the Government’s Advisory Council in 1947 on Scientific Policy, Sir Ernest Rock Carling said that resulting injuries from exposure to radiation ”were frequently not traced to radiation since there might be a lag of months or years before the effects were manifest.
”Carelessness might also have serious genetic effects on the population, resulting in sterility or mutations.”
In 1951, the Government warned that: ”Casualties may not become apparent at once. There are at present only two forms of protection against radiation, viz distance and/or some form of shielding.”
The first British nuclear test at Monte Bello took place a year later. For that and 20 further tests, British service personnel stood part-naked or wearing flimsy cotton overalls on beaches and ship decks between five and 11 miles from each blast.