Depleted uranium at Big Isle army installation to be topic of meeting


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Management of depleted uranium at Pohakuloa Training Area and other Army installations will be discussed at a meeting before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next week.

Army and NRC staff will discuss a draft license for the possession of depleted uranium, confirmed at PTA in 2007.

The meeting will be held from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, May 30, in Maryland.

The public can participate by phoning 877-521-2306 with the passcode, 9744768.

An earlier meeting was held in December.

The Army has maintained that a license is not required for depleted uranium, but filed for one in 2008 in anticipation of further regulation.

The NRC issued its draft license last July.

About a year earlier, it issued a “notice of violation” for the presence of depleted uranium at PTA and Oahu’s Schofield Barracks. It did not enforce a civil penalty.

Depleted uranium is a dense, weakly radioactive metal alloy that’s left over from the uranium enrichment process. The Army used it at PTA in the 1960s as a spotting round to mimic the trajectory of the M101 Davy Crockett nuclear warhead.

That project was secret at the time, leaving the public unaware of its use on the Big Island.

The Army has downplayed any public health risk. Critics warn that it could be carried downwind after being disrupted by training munitions.

Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo, PTA garrison commander, said six studies have been conducted at PTA that found only background levels for radioactivity.

Shwedo said a training ban for the use of depleted uranium will keep it from being used in the future.

The remote sites where depleted uranium was used before are not active for training, he said.

The license would cover 16 installations and allow the Army to possess up to 8.8 tons of depleted uranium.

The draft license proposes the posting of caution signs and continuous air sampling of at least four sites downwind of the area where depleted uranium was used, among other restrictions.

Last September, the Army wrote that it believes a license should only address possession and decommission.

 

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