NIMBY but it's fine by me if we use it on foreigners' kids

Reply Fri 12 Nov, 2010 03:24 pm
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Department of Transportation rules against secret shipments of radioactive munitions by the Department of Defense

Contact: Sunny Miller (413) 773-7427 (Deerfield, Massachusetts)
Glen Milner (206) 365-7865 (Seattle, Washington)

The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced its intent to end a special exemption, DOT-E 9649, which allows for the secret shipment of radioactive or “depleted uranium” munitions by the Department of Defense.

The DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (HMS) announced plans to phase out the exemption in the next year for new radioactive munitions and in the next two years for munitions already manufactured before transitioning to full compliance with hazardous materials regulations. The special exemption was created in 1986 and has been renewed every two years since.

The highly toxic, radioactive ammunition, also known as “depleted uranium” or DU, has been used in recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The shipments occur on a daily basis throughout the U.S., on our highways, railways, and waterways.

Depleted uranium munitions are a uniquely hazardous material, consisting of a radioactive penetrator which breaks down into small particles when burned, and an explosive charge or combustible propellant in the shell of the cartridge. A fire involving depleted uranium munitions would spread radioactive material around the area of the accident. Under the terms of DOT-E 9649, first responders would not know they were addressing a fire involving radioactive material.

In a May 18, 2005 Information Memorandum to the Chief of Staff, the DOT noted that over 200 comments had been received against the renewal of the exemption from national and local government offices, first responder organization members, interest groups and citizens.

The comments specifically addressed: 1. the absence of hazard communications that would aid emergency response personnel; 2. Accuracy and completeness of the recent DOD request which falsely stated the exemption had not been used in the previous two years; and 3. the lack of DOD compliance with the terms of the exemption.

Sunny Miller, of Traprock Peace Center, one of the organizations opposed to the renewal of the exemption, said, “The ruling against the Department of Defense shows that political activists in the U.S. can educate themselves and others on important technical issues and organize to petition governmental agencies to enforce the law.” Miller said, “Moms, dads, teachers and ordinary people are speaking up about safety in our communities.” Glen Milner, of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action said, “Activists involved presented overwhelming evidence that depleted uranium shipments, occurring daily throughout the United States, are a hazard and a danger to the public.” Milner added, “The DOT and specifically, Mr. Billings and his staff of the Office of Hazardous Materials, had the honesty and courage to require that the Department of Defense label radioactive munitions accordingly.”

The Department of Transportation concluded the following: 1. Radiation levels allowed by the exemption for depleted uranium munitions are significantly higher than allowed in hazardous materials regulations (HMR) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety regulations; 2. In some cases, transport workers can receive inappropriate radiation exposures by being in the vicinity of the material for just 100 hours per year. 3. The U.S. Navy has not had a required safety plan in place for a number of years for handling radioactive munitions; and 4. The DOD has been using DOT-E 9649 internationally, in violation of a specific requirement that the exemption is for domestic use only, shipments in foreign nations have been in violation of IAEA regulations.

A letter dated May 19, 2005 from Patricia Young, of the Department of the Army, to the DOT stated, “…DOT-E 9649, (governing the shipment of DU ammunition) is one of the few documents on which our two agencies have not been able to reach an agreement.” The letter continued, “We believe that failure to renew the exemption may possibly interrupt the movement of these critical munitions to our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cost of our compliance with the currently exempted standards may reach as high as $50 million; it may be cost prohibitive given our current fiscal restraints.”

A May 20, 2005 e-mail message from the Army to the DOT suggested a mid-July meeting between the Army and “others from the DOT to discuss issues of importance to both groups.”

One of the results of the canceled DOT shipping exemption is that depleted uranium munitions shipments will be required to be labeled with both “Radioactive” and “Explosives” placards.

Organizations involved in ending the exemption for unmarked, unlabeled radioactive ammunition will continue to ask for an immediate end of these secret shipments.

The effort to stop the renewal of DOT-E 9649 had been initiated by four organizations, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Poulsbo, Washington; Traprock Peace Center, Deerfield, Massachusetts; Military Toxics Project, Lewiston, Maine; and Nukewatch, Luck, Wisconsin. Numerous other groups and individuals joined in an 18 month lobbying campaign against the exemption which allowed shipment of radioactive munitions without a “Radioactive” placard. The Depleted Uranium Munitions Action Plan first appeared on the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action website in November 2003.

Documents regarding DOT-E 9649, may be viewed on the Department of Transportation Docket Management System website at http://dms.dot.gov. To access DOT-E 9649 statements, go to the bottom left side of the webpage, then link to Simple Search and
enter 18576 for the Docket Number. 279 documents are currently posted on the website, intended for public viewing. The DOT decision not to renew DOT-E 9649 is document No. 276.

Published by
Traprock Peace Center
June 8, 2005
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