Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Bomb 'soon to be thing of the past'

By Angus Crawford
BBC News, Germany

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Angus Crawford shows how the cluster munitions are disposed of

On 3 December, more than 100 countries, including the UK, will sign a treaty banning cluster bombs.

As a result Britain, by law, will have to destroy more than 30 million explosives.

The UK does not have the facilities, so they are being exported to Germany for disposal.

"I feel good to work for a good thing in the world and for peace," says Jorg Fiegert, production manager for Nammo Demil.

It runs a site in Pinnow in Germany which destroys munitions.

Over the next five years its work will include taking apart bomblets from British cluster munitions.

"It can punch through armour," Jorg explains as he holds up a British bomblet.

It is only the size of an egg cup, and came from the MLRS, the Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Each one has six rockets, and within each rocket are 644 bomblets. They are designed to split open in the air and spread small bomblets over a wide area.

How cluster bomb warheads can be recycled

Cluster bombs have been used in countries including Cambodia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and were used in the conflict in Lebanon in 2006.

Those who ratify the convention in December will then have eight years to get rid of their stockpiles of the weapons.

The UK government had already begun getting rid of its stocks by shipping them to Germany and elsewhere.

Nammo has a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence to destroy 28 million of these bomblets, and there are another 3.5 million in other systems to be disposed of.

"In principle everything except the explosive can be recycled," explains Ola Pikner, Nammo's vice president of marketing.

Whole weapons enter the factory, but raw materials for civilian use leave it.

He shows me how the MLRS rocket is split open.

The bomblets are extracted, the fuses are cut off and the copper inners are removed.

The explosive is then burnt off using red hot plasma.

MLRS
The bombs have been used in Cambodia, Lebanon and Kosovo

The copper, aluminium and other metals are sold for scrap. The packaging for the bomblets is burnt for heating.

This will take up to 40% of their work for the next five years.

"There is huge potential", says Ola Pikner, "but the number of cluster munitions from each country is not known."

Campaigners believe there may be as many as a billion of them across Europe.

But the world's biggest users - Israel and the USA - will not sign this treaty.

Nor, it's thought, will China, Russia, India and Pakistan.

But Thomas Nash from the Cluster Munition Coalition remains undaunted by this.

"What you are going to see is a comprehensive stigmatisation of the weapon," he says.

"Countries that don't sign up won't be able to use this weapon on operations with those that do.

"You're going to see this weapon becoming a thing of the past."



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