Depleted Uranium at Schofield and Pohakuloa – Army chafes at NRC regulations

In 2005, DMZ-Hawaiʻi / Aloha ʻAina first exposed the fact that, despite Army assurances that depleted uranium was not used in Hawaiʻi, in fact, depleted uranium (DU) had been found at Schofield Barracks on Oʻahu. Since then, the Army has tried to dismiss the problem. In order to not run afoul of nuclear regulatory laws, the Army applied for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to “possess” DU at several ranges, including Schofield and Pohakuloa in Hawaiʻi.   Several activists petitioned to intervene in the proceedings, but were denied standing. However, the regulatory conference calls are open to the public.  It seems that the Army has been trying to skirt the NRC regulations.  After receiving the license to “possess” DU in Schofield, the Army decided to start doing grubbing and construction in a contaminated area.  The NRC told the Army to stop because their permit did not allow for such a “removal” action.   There was recently a conference call on this matter. Thanks to Cory Harden from Sierra Club Moku Loa chapter who shared her unofficial notes from that call, which, by the way, are quite revealing of the Army’s dismissive attitude to the health risks as well as their disrespect to the NRC regulators.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM 7-12-12 TELEPHONE CONFERENCE

ON HAWAIʻI DEPLETED URANIUM (DU)

BETWEEN NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION (NRC) AND ARMY

Caveat—there may be inaccuracies—this is my best understanding of a technical discussion—Cory

Testy exchanges punctuated the conversation.

  • The Army said onerous NRC restrictions put soldiers at “unnecessary and unacceptable risk” by impacting training and NRC has “virtual control of Army training ranges…” NRC countered by asking what specific conditions in the license will impact training and how NRC’s “statuatory mandate [is] harmful to the nation.”
  • The Army said the DU response nationwide has cost $10 million so far, and ongoing costs will be $100,000 a year per Hawai’i base (Pohakuloa and Schofield). There are 15 other known DU sites in the U.S. NRC asked what percentage of the Army’s operational budget $100,000 was. The Army said they’d get back to NRC in writing.
  • NRC told the Army sharply not to “throw reports” at NRC “willy-nilly” but to tie them to relevant conclusions. NRC called for more data to back up several Army conclusions, such as little migration of DU, and no need for sampling of sediments and of ground and surface water. The Army said NRC requirements keep becoming more burdensome. NRC asked if the Army was contesting one of the license conditions. Army staff said they were not authorized to answer.

Issues covered included:

  • For now, no high-explosive munitions will be fired into DU areas. To resume firing, the Army would need to do a risk assessment (requiring another telephone conference) plus environmental monitoring.
  • NRC said there was uranium in some water samples, but the Army did not mention this to NRC. The Army said they will release a study on this soon.
  • Isaac Harp asked that air monitoring be done at Makua, where no ground surveys were done because of unexploded ordnance and thick vegetation. The Army said they have data on Makua which they will share with NRC.
  • NRC will look into whether the 2,000-pound dummy bombs dropped on Pohakuloa from high altitudes may liberate DU dust.
  • Dr. Cherry of the Army said they will do their best to check for DU in exploratory water wells planned for Pohakuloa.
  • The Army agreed it was inappropriate when a DU air sampling study at Schofield included ash and soil in one sample.
  • The Army wishes to delay issuance of the license until the end of August so it can address issues raised by NRC.
  • It is possible to challenge the license after it is issued, but the license would not be changed unless the challenge succeeded.
  • NRC is looking into ways to make information on the license and ongoing reports more easily available to the public.

Dr. Cherry of the Army said:

  • the Atomic Energy Commission (precursor to NRC) and NRC had numerous opportunities, such as license renewals, over the course of 50 years, to offer guidance to the Army on controls for DU spotting rounds, but never offered any guidance.
  • A May 10, 2011 document (I didn’t catch the author) said the spotting rounds were not believed to pose a health hazard and they could be left on the ranges. So the Army may have had no obligation to inform NRC of the 2005 discovery, but did so anyway.
  • All studies indicate no health hazards, low probability of migration, and harmless radiation levels.

Cory Harden

PO Box 10265

Hilo, Occupied Hawai’i 96721

mh@interpac.net

 

2 Comments

Janyce

Is that why they have an army of Environet people all over the big island with metal detectors and colored flags? Looking for lost DU.

kyle

Are seeing these Environet people in the Waimea, Waikoloa and Hapuna areas? I think they are working on a different project called FUDS (formerly used defense sites) under the Army Corps of Engineers. Thereʻs lots of unexploded munitions in those areas that the military is slowly removing.

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