Hearing on airport irradiator draws dozens
Supporters and opponents of a proposed facility that would use radioactive cobalt-60 to kill pests on fruit and other produce turned out in force last night to tell the Nuclear Regulatory Commission what they think of it.
Proponents included several dozen farmers, many from the Big Island; representatives of the state Department of Agriculture and University of Hawaii agriculture programs; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research arm.
Many wore badges that read "I support Paina Hawaii" that were provided at the door of the meeting by the company seeking to build the $3 million operation.
John Kaneko of Kaneohe said he agrees with the NRC's draft environmental assessment that the irradiator proposed for the grounds of Honolulu Airport would not be an environmental or health hazard. But, he said, "I disagree that if licensed, the irradiator would provide only small economic benefits to Hawaii."
Being able to treat fruits for shipment to the mainland would "strengthen local agriculture," he said.
But opponents were vocal, as well.
Maryrose McClelland questioned why the NRC's draft environmental assessment of the facility contained no cost-benefit analysis. Although the assessment says the likelihood of an accidental crash of a plane into the building is unlikely, she noted that it does not examine the possibility of a student from a nearby flight school using a small aircraft for "the intentional act of crashing into the facility."
McClelland pointed out that the site is an "excellent target, next to an international airport," and recalled that the likelihood of someone crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center was probably considered small as well, but the result was the terrorist act of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I urge decision-makers not to play Russian roulette," McClelland said to hearty applause.
Health food store owner Damian Paul, who described himself as a "father of eight, grandfather of eight and spokesman for the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association," warned that no food that is irradiated can be sold as organic.
Paul noted that the NRC's microphones malfunctioned at the beginning of the meeting and that human error at a facility with radiation could have significant consequences.
The NRC will post testimony from yesterday's meeting on its Web site, an NRC spokesman said.
The agency will finalize its environmental review of Paina Hawaii and will make a decision on whether to grant a license based in part on testimony gathered at the hearing, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said. The agency also has to complete a safety assessment of proposed equipment and designs.
Paina Hawaii proposes a "pool type" irradiator, where produce in a steel container is exposed to a short dose of radiation in an underwater pool. The exposure, sometimes called "cold pasteurization," kills bacteria and insects but does not leave radioactivity in the produce.