PTA gets license to possess depleted uranium


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a license for the possession of depleted uranium at the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island and Schofield Barracks on Oahu.

The license, granted Wednesday, is in response to the revelation about six years ago that spotting rounds used as part of the Davy Crockett program were fired at both locations in the 1960s.

The rounds contained depleted uranium, a dense, weakly radioactive metal alloy left over from the uranium enrichment process.

The Cold War program was at least partially classified, and records of its use were guarded, according to the NRC.

The spotting round fragments were first discovered at Schofield Barracks. That prompted a review of Army records and the confirmation of the use of depleted uranium in Hawaii.

The Army had received a license to manufacture and distribute the spotting rounds by the Atomic Energy Commission. That expired in 1978.

In its review of the program, the NRC had determined enough depleted uranium had been used to warrant a license for possession.

The license authorizes the possession of what had been used — up to 275 pounds of depleted uranium — and puts in place regulations to address concerns over radiation contamination.

It does not allow for the further use of depleted uranium.

The license requires the Army to follow a radiation safety plan and “physical security plan” for the installations.

Air and plant sampling plans must also be submitted within 90 days.

The safety plan establishes a “radiation control area” where the spotting rounds had been used and requires the Army to notify the NRC when it plans to use explosives in that area.

Clint German, safety manager for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, said in an email the “affected area” is about 2,190 acres at PTA.

The facility covers 133,000 acres.

The possibility of contaminated dust being spread as a result of training exercises has prompted concern among some Big Island residents.

Jim Albertini, a critic of PTA, said he doesn’t think the license goes far enough.

“The real issue is all live fire needs to be stopped at Pohakuloa and cleanup of all depleted uranium that is present,” he said.

Albertini also suspects depleted uranium had been used to a greater extent than what has been admitted.

The license does allow for contaminated soil cleanup but how much would be done remains unclear.

Any cleanup would have to be approved by the NRC, German said.

It also requires the Army to limit ground-disturbing activities and puts in place procedures for removal of depleted uranium fragments.

Signs warning of radioactive material will be posted around the radiation control area.

Personnel will also receive radiation safety and awareness training, and access to the radiation control areas will be limited to authorized visitors.

The Army intends to expand the license to include sites on the mainland.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.