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Unwittingly complicit: Canadian workers and depleted uranium

With the power to slice through tanks and a chemical potency which can poison a landscape for decades, depleted uranium…

By Erin Empey , in Radioactive Blasphemy , on February 5, 2009

With the power to slice through tanks and a chemical potency which can poison a landscape for decades, depleted uranium (DU) weapons are often an afterthought in debates over nuclear technologies.

Like landmines and cluster bombs, DU weapons fit into a class of weapons that continue to maim and kill long after the conflict is over.

Canada has a history of opposition to nuclear weapons, from participating in nuclear sanctions against India (as I mentioned previously, now revoked) to having Vancouver declared a “nuclear weapons free zone”.  Interestingly, UBC’s own recently retired poli-sci professor Michael Wallace was a key figure in bringing the latter campaign to fruition.

Yet while Canada is officially opposed to nuclear weapons and a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, many of us are unwitting beneficiaries from their production.

The Canadian Pension Plan invested millions in military corporations according to 2003 research by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.  Among these General Dynamics, Alliant Techsystems, and BAE Systems produce DU weapons.  BC Provincial government pensions are also invested in General Dynamics.  Lockheed and Boeing, also recipients of our pension investments, manufacture nuclear bombs.

Criticism of the CPP’s management was quietly dismissed way back in 2004.  The head of the CPP’s board, John A. McNaughton, told a critic:

“Pension funds are not vehicles for advocacy groups to advance their aims, however worthy.”

After scouring high and low across the internet I found no evidence to suggest that the situation has changed since then.  This means that by virtue of having a job, most Canadians are making an indirect contribution to nuclear arms production.

Depleted uranium munitions have been used in both Iraq wars, the conflict in former Yugoslavia and allegedly in Afghanistan.  The World Health Organization reports that the negative effects from DU are negligible, yet in 2006 the BBC reported that research proving otherwise has been suppressed.

For the most part, I have been quite impressed with Obama’s record and agenda regarding nuclear weapons.  But if he has an opinion in DU, I can’t seem to find it.

Here’s hoping that the upcoming International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons conference will lead to some productive mainstream dialogue on the issue.