- Fifty tonnes of depleted uranium is lying unmonitored
in scrap heaps across Britain, posing a growing risk of environmental contamination
and to workers, according to US government documents.
- The uranium was used as components in aircraft and hospital
radiotherapy units and increasingly is left unregulated as the equipment
- A US company has told British and American authorities
that the uranium components have been accumulating in Britain "in
a multitude of dispersed locations, where they pose a growing risk of loss
of control, personnel exposure and contamination of the environment".
- The information was released under the US freedom of
information laws but has been declared confidential by the environment
agency and by the Department of Trade and Industry in Britain.
- The US firm, Philotechnics Ltd, has applied to salvage
the uranium and recycle it where possible. It would not specify the use
to which the recycled material would be put, but the Guardian has learnt
that the company intends to pass it to another firm, which has produced
equipment for the US department of defence. The unusable uranium would
be buried at a licensed site in Texas.
- The most well-known military use of recycled depleted
uranium is in tank-piercing ammunition.
- This is the first proposed shipment of the material out
of Britain. There is no recycling or disposal route available in the UK,
and airlines and hospitals are said to be increasingly concerned as the
extent of the scrap emerges. Philotechnics said the scrap would mainly
come from older British aircraft that use depleted uranium as counterweights
to aid flight.
- The company said that while the aircraft were in service
the depleted uranium in use was primed, plated and painted to prevent corrosion,
but Donald Barbour, Philotechnics' aviation programmes manager, warned
that after decommissioning it was "highly probable" the counterweights
would release uranium oxides. These are toxic, and residual radioactivity
- British Airways said it had 11 Boeing 747s in service
carrying these counterweights, but a spokesman said it had sold on all
its decommissioned aircraft that carried them.
- Miles Warren, director of Active Collection Bureau, in
Sittingbourne, Kent - where the first 20-tonne shipment will be gathered
within weeks if the application is approved - said there would be many
sources of scrapped uranium components.
- "A typical scenario would be where a company has
gone bust and the auctioneers clear it out and find an old source container
on a pallet and shove it to the back of their garage," he said. "Some
hospitals didn't known they had depleted uranium in their radiotherapy
heads. The equipment is often made so long ago that a lot of it has long
- Under Philotechnics' proposals the usable material would
be transferred to the recycling specialists Manufacturing Sciences Corporation
"for inclusion in its production inventory".
- Since 1985 MSC, bought by British Nuclear Fuels in 1997,
has recycled 2,700 tonnes of depleted uranium into more than 70,000 products,
including aircraft and machinery counterweights, flywheels, radiation shielding
for x-ray machines and spent fuel casks.
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