Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

10:30 am

Photo of Tom ClonanTom Clonan (Independent)

In the last couple of days I have been reflecting after the visit of my great friend and colleague, Senator Ward, and Senator Ahearn to Ukraine. There is particular risk for Members of the Oireachtas participating in these visits. I am concerned about depleted uranium, which is a by-product of nuclear enrichment after uranium-235 is extracted. The remnant uranium is widely used as armour and on the tips of projectiles, missiles and bullets by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. I am conscious of that when I look at the pictures from Ukraine.

Wherever one sees a burnt-out vehicle or a building that has been destroyed, there will be massive amounts of depleted uranium present in the environment. It is a highly toxic contaminant. It is used as a hardened projectile or a penetrating tip but when it hits the target with the kinetic energy that is provided it oxidises and generates millions of microscopic particles of depleted uranium that are invisible to the human eye. They are very persistent, because they are heavy, and they will remain in the location of the strike for years. If a person were to pose next to a vehicle and brush off it or accidentally touch it or even go into a building or inside a burnt-out vehicle to have a look, there is a possibility that the person may inhale one or two of these particles or even ingest them. One particle inhaled would be the equivalent of having a chest X-ray every day for the rest of one's life. It is associated with multiple tumours in the lungs, oesophagus and the digestive tract. These weapons have proliferated and the calibres have gone down so it is very commonplace in the environment.

I advise all Members of the Oireachtas, and I do not know who is travelling out there, to seek health and safety advice about how to prepare for a visit. There are certain things one should and should not do. The United Nations Training School Ireland in the Curragh used to provide such training days, and I used to contribute to those. If anybody is travelling and has a concern, I would be delighted to meet him or her, have a cup of coffee and give a few very useful tips for travelling to a hostile environment, particularly one that is contaminated in this way. Is there any way of communicating this to our colleagues in the Dáil who may not be listening to this or hear it? It is a very pressing concern.

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