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Dundrennan Range

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A range access road, 2007
A range access road
© Phil Catterall

The Dundrennan Range is a weapons testing range on the Solway Firth near Kirkcudbright, southwest Scotland.

Dating back to 1942, it is part of the Kirkcudbright Training Area, 4,700 acres of farming land acquired by the army during World War II to train forces in preparation for the invasion of Europe. It includes a 15 x 19 mile sea danger area, where projectiles are fired into the Solway.

The range is the site of the Electro-Magnetic Launch Facility where, since 1993, the MoD and the United States Army have been working on a research project aimed at developing an electro-magnetic launcher, or rail gun, which will last until at least 2009. Projectiles from the gun can travel at up to 7,500 mph, are the thickness of a broom handle and about a foot long. The projectiles carry no payload as the kinetic energy of their speed is enough to destroy a tank at a range of five miles, and render any armour ineffective.

It has been claimed that environmental damage could be or has been done by the testing of shells containing depleted uranium (DU) at this site. Over 6,500 are said to have been fired in the period up to 1999.

On March 10, 2008, five days of testing DU shells (tank ammunition) began at the range, reported to be the first firing of DU ammunition there for five years. The MoD stated that the testing was needed to carry out safety checks for military operations. The occasion was used by Mike Russell MSP, to state that he was disappointed at the lack of consultation regarding the exercise, stating "The Scottish Government has not been consulted on this issue and it is clearly disappointing that the MoD has not taken local opinion into account". South of Scotland SNP MSP Alasdair Morgan said he was also concerned at the decision. Local campaigners staged a protest in nearby Kirkcudbright against the test firing.

The MoD said comprehensive environmental monitoring had been in place around the military range for several years, and findings were that the DU shells did not pose a significant risk to the environment or people in the area.

2013 protest revival

In 2013, the BBC reported that campaigners were renewing their effort to stop the testing of DU shells on the range, even though this was not being carried out, and had not taken place there since 2008, and there were no known plans to resume such testing. This time, they were attempting to raise concerns over the legality of such weapons testing with regard to EU legislation intended to protect the marine environment, and which bans the dumping of waste at sea. Minutes from an internal Ministry of Defence committee - released as part of a Freedom of Information request - note a discussion on the interpretation of the European waste ban treaty, where members concluded that they could avoid breaching the legislation by saying that DU projectiles were "placed" rather "dumped" in the sea.

Campaigners claim that the projectiles are nuclear waste, and argue that by exploiting a loophole, the MoD is able to continue firing nuclear waste into the Solway with impunity.[1]

A few weeks after this attempt to resurrect the issue, Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown said the MoD had assured him it had no plans for further DU weapons tests, repeating a confirmation made earlier in the year that it had no plans to resume testing.

Mr Brown said he had been "surprised" that the issue had re-emerged:

"Indications from about three or four years ago that I received when I visited Dundrennan were that it was highly, highly unlikely that anything else would be test-fired there in respect of DU. This is just confirmation of that. The further reassuring thing that I see is that there is ongoing soil sampling and testing in the air and water, so everything at this current time is okay as far as I can see. There is very, very little likelihood of any further testing for the foreseeable future, if ever at all."

- Dundrennan weapon test fears allayed.[2]

References

1 Dundrennan weapon test legality questioned Retrieved March 12, 2013.

2 Dundrennan weapon test fears allayed Retrieved May 01, 2013.

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