‘The Answer My Friend Is Blowing In The Wind’; Depleted Uranium At Pohakuloa And How The U.S. Military Seeks To Further Contaminate The Island
27 Aug 2009
By Megan Magdalene
A meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Kona last night, Aug. 26, 2009, brought out concerned citizens who testified before the Commission. Testimony from the public will be heard tonight, Aug. 27, 2009, at the Hilo High School Cafeteria from 6-8 p.m.
If it isn’t YOUR business what goes on our mountain top, then whose is it? Consider coming to Hilo’s meeting to testify tonight! Mahalo to the excellent work of Big Island Live who will be streaming a live broadcast of the Hilo meeting. To listen in to live streaming audio broadcast from 6pm please go here: http://www.bigislandlive.com/
Written testimony can still be submitted via email at OPA.Resource@nrc.gov to request that the NRC investigate further community concerns regarding the licensing process for nuclear waste on Pohakuloa. Also, call NRC at (301) 415-8200 to air concerns.
“Nobody likes being on a bummer” was the explanation someone gave for the the small but lively meeting between the public and a panel of NRC employees, to discuss the unsavory subject of nuclear waste on the base of Pohakuloa. She was referring of course, to contrast between this meeting and the the much more well-attended meeting earlier this week concerning the closure of the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii Authority (NELHA).
Clearly, it seems that it is easier to get 400 to 500 people out about “beach access,” with various council members, former council members and politicians showing up to be “champions” of this cause. It seems that it is harder for citizens to face up to the now well-established fact of nuclear contamination on the island.
A lively meeting was hosted last night in Kona by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission involving 60 well informed citizens. The task of the NRC was to explain to the public the process they have initiated since receiving an application from Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) for a license to store nuclear waste on the mountain training base.
This license is to be granted to the PTA to manage an area contaminated by Depleted Uranium (DU). The meeting hosts delivered the PR message of the evening: This panel is in charge of taking public comment and showing us that they are “very concerned'” to know the community input. It was made clear that once the license is granted, there are supposedly “experts” that the NRC will be sending in to observe and monitor the licensing and implement the “plan” that is delivered (by the NRC) for the PTA to implement. It was spelled out to the audience that this pretty much is a standard procedure that results in a license being granted.
Through the course of asking questions of the panel, it was established that this Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a very detailed “plan” that they explain to communities about the process they go through before they grant a license to a military base to have nuclear waste on their base. They have never actually refused a military base a license once the licensing process begins.
The basic format was that the entire evening was introduced by a woman who identified herself as Hawaiian and explained that she would be facilitating the meeting. She led a pule, saying she was going to chant to “call in the Ancestors.” The pule was followed by a ‘power-point’ presentation which was around 30 minutes long. The power-point presentation was presented in sections, each presented by a member of the panel and it was interrupted twice with a question. It seemed that the panel went to answer those questions but both times the facilitator stopped them. Basic tenets of the ‘science’ around radiation were put up on the screen. Considering all the facts available about Depleted Uranium, this seemed a glaringly obvious case of ‘glossing over the facts’ and ‘over simplification of the facts’. It was pointed out by several speakers throughout the evening that the people attending seemed to know more about the hazards of DU than the panel did.
Many testifiers who spoke, brought up the fact that DU is known to be a hazardous waste that they cannot possibly contain on the base because it is extremely ‘pyphoric’ (ie it burns spontaneously or at below room temperatures). For this reason any military activity up on Pohakuloa is going to increase the spread of DU because it will disturb DU on the base, causing it to ignite and turn into fine dust that travels on wind currents off base and to populated areas on the island.
Given this key scientific fact concerning DU, the idea that Pohakuloa Training Area will be granted a license to ‘contain DU contamination’ on the base, is of course ridiculous. It means that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is nothing more than a ‘rubber stamp’ that says the military don’t have to clean up the DU and can continue to drop bombs on the area and engage in live-fire training that will continue to spread the contamination of the radioactive dust.
If one were to summarize this meeting, I think that it would be appropriate to say, This panel of NRC representatives seems like it is made up of a bunch of people who feel conflicted and miserable about their job and they cover it over with a lot of repetitive meaningless phrases such as ‘The NRC is an independent organization and is not a part of the Department of Energy of the Department of Defense’. Also we heard a lot ‘We take our job very seriously’ ‘We take your concerns very seriously’. ‘You should know that we consider all of the information you are giving us very seriously.’ etc. The testimony that the public provided was informed by current research, statistics and scientific findings. Testimony ranged from the ironic and humorous to the angered and outraged.
The following is a summary of the key points of testimony given at the meeting:
The Land doesn’t belong to the USA
Several Hawaiian Kupuna spoke and challenged the legality of the NRC hosting such a meeting because of issues never resolved between Hawaiian Kingdom and USA. One was asked if the meeting were ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ in a legal sense and he was told it was ‘informal’ but it was at this point that they identified the attorney present. Several Hawaiians who spoke, brought up issue of liability on the part of the panel for issuing permits in a process that is not legal because of land claim issues. Each time the legal question of whether USA was entitled to be in negotiation over annexed sovereign land, members of panel referred to the ‘political process’ that was outside of their scope. One uncle made fun of the ‘Hawaiian Translator’ hired by the NRC for the evening by making a sexual reference which the young female translator wasn’t able to translate. “See they don’t teach you the real Hawaiian, up at that college you go to”.
There is a Hawaii County Council resolution in place already requiring the Military to “cease and desist” and this has been ignored
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was informed by several testifiers that the council of Hawaii County has passed a resolution that required the military to stop training & live-fire until DU hazard is remediated. They were told that this resolution has been ignored by the US Military and the command personnel that are stationed there and given responsibili\\ty for handling Depleted Uranium contamination issue. Hawaii’s county council has requested that a medical doctor, Dr. Pang and the nuclear physicist Dr Rainer be included in their meetings and procedures, to date, they have not been included and willful obstructions on the part of the military to include them have been noted by Hawaii County Council during hearings on the subject. Public involvement in the process was also requested and to date, this also has been obstructed
The science is poorly presented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
A man who works in the field of medicine says he’s researched the facts about DU. Complained that they didn’t name specific compounds associated with the DU. Specifically they didn’t talk about Alpha radiation and how harmful that is when a particle of DU dust is lodged right next to the cell tissue.
DU is dangerous because it is highly flammable and can easily become airborne
A testifier spoke further to the fact that the science presented in the Powerpoint was lacking substance. “The people out here know more about this than you do”. He raised the issue of the pyphoric nature of DU and the likelihood of Du igniting and spreading off base that was extremely high. He cited an instance where a group of residents had gathered to protest the opening of the new Saddle Road in May 2007. While there, along with a group of dignitaries including U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Mayor Harry Kim, the group of residents observed a spike in radiation readings recorded by a handheld radiation device. An explanation of this has been needed said the speaker but could best be explained by understanding the fact that DU easily burns and once ignited, forms aerosol-ized particles which become airborne. The distinction was made for the public record between large visible chunks of DU in it”s metal form (fragments of weapons) and the microscopic particles of aerosol-ized dust. “These are microscopic, smaller than a virus that can travel a long way from the base. In understanding how easily DU burns, we can understand how easily it causes a hazard for the whole island.”
The Animals on the base are sick and have tumors
A man who identified himself as Hawaiian and speaking for Hawaiian hunters on the island, said that he noticed a number of animals and birds that appeared to have tumors on their bodies. “Sometimes we have to throw aside the carcass because it cannot be used. It’s been too damaged.” He requested an explanation for the kinds of deformities he and other hunters were observing in the animals on and around the Pohakuloa base.
Cancer Clusters in Kona and other illnesses for “down winders” in Kona
Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor, was present at the meeting and raised concern about “cancer clusters” in Kona. Further testimony backed this up. A woman expressed concern that she had been diagnosed with “trigeminal neuralgia,” a rare neurological disorder affecting 1 in 35,000 people. She says she knows of twenty two people in her immediate neighborhood who have reported some kind of condition with symptoms of ‘shocks to the face’ and is still looking for the answer as to why this disease is showing up in a ‘cluster pattern’. Another testifier spoke of the need for the NRC to test residents who live downwind of Pohakuloa for traces of Depleted Uranium. There are tests available and she said one resident returned a positive test for DU in their body but the results couldn’t be conclusive because this was not a lifelong resident. The lab conducting the test has since been shut down so it is not clear where such a test could be obtained. Tests are needed because there are unexplained patterns of illness in the Kona community. “Now purportedly, we have seen a 1992 study of the Hawai’i cancer map, by the State Public Health Dept. that shows Kona to have one of the two, highest cancer rates in the state, the other being Pearl Harbor; a giant ‘Superfund’ site. We have no heavy industry here to account for this high rate and no official wants to talk about it.” This testifier also went on to say:
“The highly reputed study that I read of recently talked of U238 (99.8% of DU) as heavy metal alpha emitter. It will concentrate in bones where it will bombard bone marrow leading to leukemia and can mutate genes and make them cancerous. Alpha particles are 20-30 times more biologically damaging per unit of energy than beta or gamma radiation. ..I know of an inordinate amount of adults and young people in our little town suffering from leukemia and other cancers. Nearly every month lately, it seems I see a couple of ads in our local paper for “benefits” for people with leukemia. I personally know of six people who have died in the past couple of months, three of them, twenty five years old from the same school, along with their principal, who all had leukemia. I’m no expert but I think something is very wrong here.”
Further testimony came from a woman who was also involved in the citizen protest at the Saddle Road. She had witnessed the spike on the radiation monitor and since that time, she says she has had”‘leukemia-like” symptoms and believes that her illness is as a result of the radiation she was exposed to at the Saddle Road in May 2007.
Can you protect us from those crazy maniacs with bombs?
Humor, be it of a dark, ironic sort, was ever-present at the meeting. A man asked the panel who the public should actually contact if a violent fundamentalist group with a distorted world view were to take over the top of the mountain and start setting off bombs and spreading DU. “Will the Nuclear Regulatory Commission come out to save the community if this is the case? I don’t think they will so can you please tell us who we should talk to who can protect us?”
If you aren’t a “rubber stamp,” then what are you?
The panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was asked, was there an instance that they could cite of a military base being denied a license? The “manager” of the NRC panel, Keith, turned to his whole panel and asked if they knew of any because he didn’t. Nobody could think of an instance where that had ever happened. This brought forth lots of laughter from the public attending the meeting because in that moment it was made crystal clear that the NRC would be granting a license to Pohakuloa Training Area no matter what evidence was brought against them. One testifier made a complaint for the record that the format of the evening was to provide a smokescreen to hide from identifying themselves. She objected to what she said was “The fake ‘Aloha’ of a Hawaiian facilitator who has the job of leading a Hawaiian prayer, and cutting people off after 4 minutes.” She noted that it was culturally insensitive to ask a Hawaiian and a translator to make it seem like this was a genuine process when clearly it is a rubber stamp for a “license” that is going to be granted anyway.
“Wake up and realize the truth”
A man in his forties identified himself as a member of the “next generation” … “Since our Kupuna are passing on, I’m stepping up.” He gave the most powerful delivery of the evening and pretty much wrapped up the night. He took the microphone and stood before them, making eye contact with each of the panelists. He spoke to them of their responsibilities to their creator, to their children. “You know this is wrong. But everybody’s got to eat eh?.. You just doing your job, aren’t you?” His tone was sometimes loud and sometimes soft and he covered a range of emotions and fears that were present in the room. He spoke about the fear generated from the lies being told by the government to the people. He spoke clearly and delivered to them this message: “This mountain is not your mountain. It’s the most sacred mountain. It’s not your place to allow it to be contaminated.”
The Qualifications of members of the Panel were in question
Several people attending spoke to the procedural “errors” of the evening. The panel members never introduced themselves and identified their qualifications. Eventually, at the end of the meeting, they did so and it was established that the panelists’ qualifications consisted of either a Bachelor degree or a doctorate in fields of nuclear engineering, environmental science, geology, chemical engineering – plus a bunch of years experience in a government agency and with the NRC. The man in charge of the process is a man named Keith and he said, “I’m no longer a practicing geologist. I’m a manager.” He noted that he had been with the NRC about 20 years. There were no qualified medical doctors represented on the panel. At a certain point in the meeting, a man introduced himself as an attorney who had been employed by NRC for about 10 years.
Summary of Meeting:
A well informed group of citizens turned out for the meeting. They came affiliated loosely with a number of groups, like the Kingdom of Hawaii, or simply as interested citizens representing themselves and their concerns. People who testified were sometimes funny and sometimes had an angry and indignant tone. The fact that many of the testifiers who spoke wanted particular surveys and scientific findings entered onto the record made it clear that this was a well informed citizenry.
Over and over people testified that the proceedings didn’t seem legitimate because it had failed to address legal issues over the US entitlement to use of land at Pohakuloa and that the science they were presenting didn’t seem valid or thorough. The conclusion testifiers made repeatedly was that this process was not a genuine inquiry as to the merits of granting a license, but a routine checklist of procedures that would result in a license being granted.
It was noted that there were no Hawaii County Council representatives present. This truly was a missed opportunity to look out for the interests of the community as this license is about to be issued and the DU matter literally “dispersed to the winds.”
This lack of interest on council members’ part is a little out of character, since last year they passed a resolution stating that there are well-documented health hazards relating to DU requesting that the Military cease all bombing and live-fire training until the DU contamination is thoroughly identified and the DU is cleaned up.
Council members Brenda Ford, Emily Naeole, Dominic Yagong and Pete Hoffman are all on record as showing they were very concerned to know of the DU hazards. Brenda was on record as saying that she wanted a meeting with Pete Hoffman and the military. Unfortunately, when we contacted her about that this week, she didn’t seem to remember this fact and reported that no such meeting had occurred. It seems as though the fear and concerns raised by council members, when they listened to testimony from an informed public and from key witness Dr Lorin Pang, have now been forgotten.
As Bob Dylan would say, “How many times can a man turn his head, pretending that he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind… ” It will take a lot more than just 60 citizens paying attention to see that we are protected. Amazingly, it is still not too late to become involved. You have until October to contact the NRC and let them hear you say “…not in my backyard.”
Megan Magdalene is a resident of Hilo concerned about depleted uranium and a number of other issues our island community faces.