UK, A plan to transport 44 tonnes of radioactive uranium and plutonium by train has run into opposition from councils worried about accidents and terrorist attacks. The UK government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) plans to make about 50 rail shipments over the next five years from the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness to the Sellafield reprocessing complex in Cumbria. It wants to process material left over from Britain’s long-abandoned fast breeder reactor programme – a class of reactors that aim to produce more fuel as they operate – to extract plutonium and uranium for re-use or disposal. But councils say this is dangerous and risks theft of nuclear material by terrorists en route, arguing the material should be treated as waste and “immobilised” at Dounreay. A consultation on the plan is due to end on 31 August, and, if agreed, shipments will begin next year. The NDA argues there is a “clear and compelling strategic case” for moving the material 500km (310 miles) south. The safety record for transporting nuclear flasks is “well proven” and the environmental impact of the shipments will be “minimal”, the NDA says. Sending the material to Sellafield will cost about-
The United States and Britain are the biggest users of drones in Afghanistan with a fleet of unmanned reconnaissance vehicles and hunter-killers. Both air forces have made thousands of sorties. The U.S. has used MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones to attack insurgent homes and training grounds in North Waziristan, Pakistan, where there are reports of a high number of civilian casualties. Recently, the Royal Air Force announced that it was forming a dedicated UAV squadron to pilot a fleet of 10 U.S.-designed Reaper attack drones. The Reaper is capable of carrying up to 14 Hellfire missiles and smart bombs. It can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and climb to more than 7,500 metres.
Both the American and British UAV squads control their Afghanistan missions from a bunker in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The U.K. Reapers have flown 23,400 hours and fired 176 missiles and laser-guided bombs. The United States has reportedly launched more than 250 attacks since 2004 in Pakistan alone.
A rising concern is civilian deaths. On March 24, a U.K. Reaper killed four Afghan civilians and injured two others when it attacked two pickup trucks in Helmand province. The trucks contained explosives but an investigation into the attack revealed they were also carrying civilians. So-called friendly fire, which is always a problem in war, may be increased with drones. In April, a U.S. Predator drone killed a U.S. Marine and a Navy medic in Helmand province with a missile when they were mistaken for insurgents. Several years ago, a fully armed U.S. drone went haywire and started flying toward Tajikistan. The U.S. air force scrambled a manned fighter and shot it down just before it reached the border.
Attack drones have proved effective in following armed insurgents to their hiding places and then killing them with missiles. In one case, a U.S. drone tracked insurgents to a hole in a mud wall from where they fired on coalition forces. The drone destroyed the wall with a missile, killing the insurgents.
Civilian casualties a concern with drones, Vancouver Sun, July 23, 2011