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Army to assess levels of uranium on Big Isle


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 04, 2009
                       
This story has been corrected. See below.

HILO » Airborne uranium levels will be measured by an Army contractor at three monitoring stations at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island over the next 12 months, Col. Howard Killian told the Public Works Committee of the Hawaii County Council yesterday.

               

     

 

On the Net:

        » www.imcom.pac.army.mil/du

The $150,000 testing is being done because the Army discovered in 2007 that uranium “;spotting rounds”; were used at Pohakuloa in the 1960s.

Radiation monitoring from the Girl Scout camp near Pohakuloa to Konawaena High School nearly 30 miles to the southwest has not found any radiation above background level, Killian said.

In the new study, contractor Dr. Jim Morrow will collect accumulated dust samples once a week and send them to civilian laboratories.

The presence of the uranium has caused concern among critics because they compare the uranium “;spotting rounds”; of the 1960s to uranium “;penetrator”; bullets used against Iraqi tanks by the Army in the first Gulf War in 1991.

In both cases, the metal used was “;depleted uranium,”; meaning nonexplosive, barely-radioactive U-238 left over from refining bomb-grade U-235.

Depleted uranium is much heavier than lead, said Army spokesman Howard Sugai. That makes it excellent for penetrating tank armor, but it creates super-hot uranium dust that can pollute a battlefield.

Army regulations prohibit using the penetrators anywhere in the United States, Sugai said.

The M101 spotting rounds, used with the formerly secret Davy Crockett battlefield nuclear weapon, were lumps of uranium with directional fins, powered by a propellant charge contained inside a metal tube called a piston.

The rounds allowed soldiers to train with the Crockett recoilless rifle without using a nuclear warhead.

They were not designed to penetrate anything and didn't get intensely hot because they didn't blow up, Sugai said. They produce so little radiation that the Army had to develop special techniques with instruments attached to the bottom of a helicopter to find them.

               

     

 

CORRECTION

        » A Page C3 article Wednesday incorrectly reported that spotting rounds of the 1960s Davy Crockett battlefield nuclear weapon were powered by springs. The rounds were powered by a propellant charge contained inside a metal tube called a piston.