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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

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

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 . 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.