The U.S. Army maintains that it does not need a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to possess depleted uranium at its training ranges in Hawaii.
But in the event that the NRC decides a license is needed, the Army wants to avoid the requirement that radiation monitoring be done, on the grounds that the decades-old material poses no risk to human health.
The NRC has scheduled a meeting Dec. 12 in Maryland to discuss a draft license with the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, which has jurisdiction over the two places where spotting rounds were found in Hawaii — Pohakuloa Training Area and Oahu’s Schofield Barracks.
The draft license was presented by the NRC in July. It places a number of restrictions on the Army, including required consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to taking action that may impact a critical habitat or a threatened or endangered species; the posting of warning signs; and continuous air sampling of sites downwind of the area where depleted uranium has been found.
The Army acknowledged in 2007 the presence of depleted uranium at several remote sites in PTA. Depleted uranium, a dense, weakly radioactive metal alloy left over from the uranium enrichment process, was used in the 1960s as a spotting round to mimic the trajectory of the M101 Davy Crockett nuclear warhead.
While Army officials have repeatedly downplayed the public health threat, opponents of the military have warned of the possibility of it being pulverized by a high explosive impact during a training exercise, then carried downwind into populated areas.
The Army applied for an NRC license to possess depleted uranium at PTA and Schofield in 2008, while maintaining that it did not believe a license is required.
In July 2011, the NRC issued a “notice of violation” for the presence of depleted uranium at PTA and Schofield, but the commission did not enforce a civil penalty on the Army.
The draft license for the Army to possess up to 8.8 tons of depleted uranium — many times the amount known to exist in Hawaii — would run until the end of 2022.
“Alternatively, the Army believes that a license, if deemed required by the NRC, should only address possession and decommissioning,” the Army wrote in September, in a response to the July draft license.
The Dec. 12 meeting with the Army and the NRC will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hawaii time. It is open to the public by teleconference. The toll-free number for the call is (877) 521-2306, pass code 8766359.