STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
A radiation measuring machine is used on a depleted uranium shell at the Army's Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island. The military told the Hawaii County Council that no radiation from depleted uranium extends outside the base.
Army says no risk to Big Isle public from uranium
HILO » Forty-year-old depleted uranium devices at the Army's Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island are a hazard on base, but not a hazard to the public, Army Col. Howard Killian told the Hawaii County Council yesterday.
Measurements show no radiation from depleted uranium is extending outside the nearly 109,000-acre base, and radiation inside is so low that devices made with uranium are hard to find, Killian said.
Killian was responding to a Council resolution that calls on the Army to establish monitoring for radiation at the training area. A vote on the resolution was deferred yesterday.
Killian said the Army has spent $2.4 million studying the situation, and a monitoring system is being set up. When more information is available, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission "license" will be sought to remove the uranium or take other corrective action.
Depleted uranium is primarily U-238, a waste form of the metal with low radioactivity produced while extracting much more dangerous U-235 for bombs.
The heavy waste metal was used in the Davy Crockett weapon system during the 1960s in dummy "spotting rounds" to see where nuclear artillery warheads would land.
The Davy Crockett system was designed to destroy tanks in case of a major war with the Soviet Union. The system has not been used at Pohakuloa since 1968, Killian said.
Opponents object to depleted uranium because of the unrelated contemporary use of the metal in bullets designed to penetrate tanks and create fires inside.
Such bullets create dangerous uranium dust. Spotting rounds are not designed to burn and create dust, Killian said.
Councilman Bob Jacobson accused the Army of getting "caught" last year falsely denying there was uranium at Pohakuloa.
Killian denied that the Army lied about 40-year-old facts. He told the Star-Bulletin that the Army researched shipments to Pohakuloa and found references to "M-101 spotting rounds." Nothing in the documents indicated the rounds contained uranium and nothing initially connected the shipments to the Davy Crockett system, he said.
Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, head of the Hawaii National Guard, asked the Council to remove a provision in the resolution calling for an end to the dropping of 2,000-pound dummy bombs at Pohakuloa from high-level aircraft. Lee said high-level bombing practice is needed in training for Afghanistan because bad weather there makes low-level flights too dangerous.
Critics of depleted uranium say the dummy bombs stir up dust with uranium in it, but Killian said the dummy bombs are dropped in an area where the Davy Crockett system was never used.