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69. Dundrennan, Kircudbright. (NX 716 447)

Warning sign at the Kirkcudbright Range at Dundrennan (Scottish CND)

An armament testing range covering 4,500 acres and with a danger zone extending to cover 120 square miles of the Solway Firth. The range at Dundrennan is infamous for testing depleted uranium munitions. Since 1982, more than 6,000 depleted uranium shells, usually in the form of anti-tank munitions, have been fired from the range into the Solway Firth. The majority of the 20-tons of shells remain on the seabed after firing, except one that was dredged up in a trawler's nets. All attempts to recover the shells have so far failed. The MoD claim that the range is subject to a number of strictly controlled conditions and there is a comprehensive monitoring programme to ensure that depleted uranium contamination is kept to a minimum.

Depleted uranium is a chemically toxic substance. It is an extremely dense, hard metal and is often used on the tips of munitions. It can cause chemical poisoning to the body in the same way as can lead or any other heavy metal. However, depleted uranium is also radiologically hazardous, as it spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolised ceramic particles that are small enough to be inhaled. These uranium oxide particles emit all types of radiation, alpha, beta and gamma, and can be carried in the air over long distances. Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, and the presence of depleted uranium ceramic aerosols can pose a long-term threat to human health and the environment. When in a solid form, DU is not very dangerous, the real hazard comes from dust that is produced when shells burn on impact with hard surfaces. At Dundrennan, the DU shells are fired through 'soft' targets - canvas or plastic targets suspended from gantries purpose built on the ranges - into the sea.

However, local residents of the range have complained that there have been misfirings and as a result, parts of the range have been contaminated with radioactive dust. In 1994, a tank containing DU munitions exploded during a `large bomb test' scattering DU and shrapnel over a wide area. Despite advice from the MoD's own scientists that debris and contaminated soil should be cleared, the tank hulk and scattered remnants still remain. The MoD admit 93 misfirings at the range, for example, in 1989 a DU shell hit a wall causing radiation levels up to 24 times the MoD's own safety levels. The MoD's own surveys show that in places radiation levels in soil and grass from the range are "well above acceptable limits".

Prior to the Iraq war, in February 2003, Challenger tanks used the Dundrennan range to test-fire DU shells in order to become battle ready. Almost 200 DU shells were fired on that occasion. Challenger II tanks almost exclusively fire DU munitions.

Dundrennan is also due to be the site for controversial electro-magentic 'super-gun' trials on behalf of the US military. The 'Super-Gun' is intended to be the main armament of the Marine Expeditionary Family of Fighting Vehicles (MEFFV), the replacement of the US Marine Corps' Light Armored Vehicle and the M1A1 Main Battle Tank that will reach their end of service lives in 2015 and 2020 respectively. The experimental electro-magnetic gun (EMG) will be able to launch a shell at 7500-mph, faster than 2,400 meters per second, and destroy a tank more than five miles away.

Under secret development by the US for almost 30 years, with the UK as a junior partner, the gun uses magnetic coils to create a pulse of energy to hurl a projectile at more than five times the top speed of Concorde, or more than two miles per second. The gun will be able to fire projectiles at more than double the speed of shells fired by British and American tanks in the Gulf whose shells travel at around 3000mph. Because of the projectile's speed it will tear through armour and buildings, even though each projectile will be only about a foot long and as narrow as a broom handle. The force at which the projectile hits its target will be so great, shattering ceramic plates, slicing through steel and melting carbon that it is unlikely to require any explosive warhead. Due to its small size, scientists believe tanks will be able to carry three times as many shells.

Roadsigns at Kirkcudbright Ranges, Dundrennan (Scottish CND)

The fact the electro-magnetic gun was to be tested in Scotland only leaked out when it was mentioned by the Pentagon's leading military scientist, Mike Andrews, to delegates at a defence conference in Washington is 2003. He told them the system was ready, but had not yet been used at full power, adding: "Probably the only place in the world we can do that is Kirkcudbright."

Low rate initial production of the MEFFV is expected to start sometime between 2018 and 2020.

Tank hulks on Kirkcudbright range (Scottish CND)

Also in the vicinity of Dundrennan is an Army Training Estate small arms firing range in the Galloway Forest and a factory complex in Dalbeattie which is used for Fighting in Built-up Areas training.

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