Q: I hear there are weapons made of Canada's old nuclear waste. Is this really a sound way to divert our radioactive trash?
A: Edwin Starr once asked (between pelvic thrusts), "War, what is it good for?" The answer? Well, beyond destroying lives and public infrastructure and wreaking havoc on the planet, absolutely nothing.
Pillaging and plundering your enemy's turf has always been a prized military tactic. But now that flattening a country with nuclear bombs and defoliating its forests with Agent Orange is passé, we try to be a bit more subtle about these things.
Even blowing up oil pipelines leaves behind a big PR mess. If you want to be discreet about how you irradiate a population - use depleted uranium.
What the hell are we talking about? Well, once uranium is mined and refined for use in nuke plants, what's left is called depleted uranium. It's a relatively mildly radioactive heavy metal residue that, as a solid, is used in things like medical radiation therapy shields. Since it's twice as dense as lead, the army long ago discovered that depleted uranium shells can penetrate armour better than anything else around.
Our own Department of National Defence (DND) has a factoid on its site claiming "10 per cent of Iraqi vehicles destroyed during the Gulf War were hit by DU rounds." Marvellous.
Interestingly, while the DND insists that Canada stopped using DU weapons in 98 - it's unclear where DU was used in its arsenal - it nonetheless expends a lot of energy on its site assuring us of DU's safety. It says the radiation emitted by the stuff can't even go through a piece of paper, and that's correct in a half-truth kind of way.
When DU ammo hits its target, it's pulverized, and radioactive dust can penetrate wounds and lungs and stay there for years. That's the kind of info that has a lot of people pissed off, including U.S. veterans' coalitions like the National Gulf War Resource Center, which suspects DU played a role in Gulf War Syndrome, which affects hundreds of thousands of troops.
The World Health Organization warns of small children receiving greater exposure to DU when playing near old DU impact sites. In fact, Iraqi doctors blame depleted uranium for the spike in cancers and weird birth defects since the Gulf War. And Iraqi researchers are still looking into the effects of depleted uranium on animals, waterways, plant life and the food chain in general.
So what's Canada's role in all this? While the connections are murky and not well advertised, to say the least, activists charge that Canada is in non-compliance with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's statutes barring the use of DU in weapons.
Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility says the Canadian nuclear industry would rather market and sell the stuff than pay to have DU stored.
And while no nation on earth admits to supplying DU for wartime purposes, Canada exports more uranium than any other country in the world. Says Edwards, "There's no way Canada's depleted uranium is not finding it's way into these depleted uranium weapons.''
Q: Do bullets have lead in them? If so, what does this mean for the environment?
A: Worrying about lead in your pipes is plain bourgeois compared to stressing about bullets coming through your walls. If it doesn't kill you outright, lead shrapnel can keep leaching serious quantities of lead after the smoke has cleared. And speaking of smoke, lead dust or vapour from a freshly fired gun can build to hazardous levels indoors. That's why one community was so freaked out when it learned that one shooting range was piping its exhaust into a preschool yard.
Let's not forget the lead-laced shells hunters so generously bring to the wilds. According to research from the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, water-loving birds like loons are poisoned when spent lead shot is mistaken for the small stones they swallow to aid digestion (not to mention the nibbling on lead fishing sinkers that kills 20 to 30 per cent of loons). And loons aren't the only ones losing: pelicans, geese, ducks, cormorants, cranes and herons are frequent victims of lead poisoning, according to the Tufts researchers.
Canada banned lead bullets for waterfowl hunting in 99, but that hasn't entirely stopped the problem. Two years after the ban, BCers found hundreds of dead trumpeter swans that had feasted on lead shot in feeding grounds. Also, predatory birds like the California condor have become the poster children of lead bullet activists, since these majestic creatures feed on the bullet-ridden carcasses left behind by hunters and end up dying, too.
The good news is that California has approved a total ban on lead ammo in hunting. So far, no word from Canada on this. Nature's only defence? Duck.
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