Proper monitoring for depleted uranium absolutely essential
Recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license for the U.S. Army to possess and control depleted uranium at U.S. military bases including Pohakuloa Training Area and Schofield Barracks.
One of the most interesting things is that for the Big Island, no one knows exactly where the 500 pounds, more or less, of the radioactive material is. The Army searched about 1,000 acres of the 100,000 acres (1968 size) of PTA and found about three fragments weighing less than 10 ounces. So where is the rest? If it is not where you look, prudent action would be to look somewhere else.
Another possibility is that with 40 years of bombing and shelling the rocks at PTA to pieces since DU was last reportedly used, DU exists now only as small dust fragments some of which become dispersed aerosols when there are more live-fire training exercises and even by the grinding of tracked vehicles. The aerosols travel islandwide on the winds to be inhaled by troops garrisoned at PTA, contract workers, residents, visitors and people staying at the civilian camps near PTA.
The Army says it monitored air samples for years and found nothing, but even NRC states the method used was inappropriate for identifying DU.
Is DU dangerous? The results are now coming in as we approach a 40-year latency period of exposure to this manmade toxic material. The state wants to transfer lands of the Mauna Kea Park to the County and presumably any liability of radiation exposure will be attached to the transfer. The Marines want to build a training facility at PTA and want it to be far away from the suspected DU radiation areas. The NRC license requires air and plant monitoring at Schofield but not at PTA. Of course, the greater population and the State Capitol have more influence to get it done than the County of Hawaii with only 180,000 residents.
This is where the Hawaii Department of Health should step in and provide proper monitoring but they have not. The people have a right to know, and a do-not-seek-and-ye-shall-not-find attitude is entirely inappropriate. Perhaps the monitoring will show nothing, but until it is done, all residents and PTA workers should consider that the NRC, Army, and DOH have placed them at increased risk.
No one should be considered expendable from the collateral damage of exposure. Call, write or email your state representative and DOH and demand proper monitoring for DU on the Big Island.
Michael Reimer, Ph.D., retired geologist