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We the undersigned have significant concerns about depleted uranium (DU) present at Schofield Barracks on O‘ahu and Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawai‘i Island and its effects on troops and the surrounding communities. We believe additional unbiased studies are warranted to understand the exposure hazard and resulting health risks from DU present on active training ranges.
The information below has been consolidated and summarized primarily from publicly available documents on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s web-based “Agencywide Documents Access and Management System” (ADAMS). A comprehensive listing of the original documents related to U.S. Army depleted uranium licensing in Hawai‘i can be found by going to http://adams.nrc.gov/wba/ and doing a search of “Docket Number 04009083.” The date and “accession” reference number for each document is provided in the filename of each downloadable document.
DEPLETED URANIUM BACKGROUND:
Depleted Uranium (DU) (external link) is a byproduct of the nuclear energy and atomic weapon industries. Because it has been altered, DU is less radioactive than natural uranium, which occurs naturally in the environment. DU is forty percent more dense than lead, yet lighter than other comparable materials, and has civilian uses such as in medical applications, as well as for ballast in aircraft and boats. DU is used in military applications as ballast for spotting rounds and as armor and weaponry because it has the ability to pierce other kinds of armor, self-sharpen, and ignite on impact at very high temperatures.
DEPLETED URANIUM AND THE ARMY IN HAWAI‘I:
According to Army documents, between 1962 and 1968, the Army used DU in M101 spotting rounds for the Davy Crockett Weapon system, a low-yield battlefield nuclear device. The body of the M101 spotting round contained 6.2 ounces of DU that allowed soldiers to simulate the flight path of the munitions fired from the Davy Crockett Weapon system. Although not an atomic explosive, M101 spotting rounds contained a small amount of explosive charge that created a puff of smoke to allow training soldiers to locate the point of impact for a round. Remnants of the M101 rounds were rediscovered during unexploded ordnance clearance at the Schofield Barracks impact area in August 2005, and again following prescribed burns in September 2006.
In November 2008, the U.S. Army submitted an application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a materials license to possess depleted uranium at military installations where the Davy Crockett M101 spotting round was used in training activities. In Hawai‘i, the U.S. Army application covered impact areas (where access is restricted due to the presence of in-field hazards, including unexploded ordnance) within training ranges located at Schofield Barracks on O‘ahu and the Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawai‘i Island. The license was requested to cover the possession and maintenance of depleted uranium remaining in the field from the 1960s training. Due to sparse training records (full document with appendices can be found here (external link)), the amount of DU and the distribution of rounds within each training range could not be determined, so the Army sought to license the 125 kilograms of DU from 714 spotting rounds that the Army believed it had fired at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Area.
In response to a request filed by a Hawai‘i Island resident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission initiated an enforcement investigation against the U.S. Army for its possession of DU without a materials license, following the expiration of its previously held license in April 1978. On August 1, 2011, the NRC issued a notice of violation to the Army for its possession of DU at training ranges located at Schofield Barracks and the Pohakuloa Training Area from spotting round fragments of the M101 Davy Crockett weapon system, fired at Army training ranges during the 1960s. The NRC considered the violation to be significant, but did not impose a civil penalty due to the corrective actions proposed by the Army to control access into areas suspected of containing DU.
LICENSE EXEMPTION REQUEST:
During its extended negotiations with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the conditions of a DU possession license, the U.S. Army formally applied for an exemption for its in-field DU at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Ranges, by letter dated September 10, 2012. Through information provided in its original request and a later February 6, 2013 response, the Army argued that it had met its burden of showing that the exemption would not “endanger life or property, or the common defense and security and [would be] otherwise in the public interest.” The NRC denied the Army’s request for a license exemption.
DU POSSESSION LICENSE ISSUED:
On October 23, 2013, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued to the U.S. Army a materials license for DU located at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Area. In addition to the conditions contained in the license, the NRC incorporated the commitments, representations, and statements contained in the Army’s original license application, the Physical Security Plan, and the Radiation Safety Plan. The materials license also requires the Army to provide the NRC with an air sampling plan and a plant sampling plan for its review and approval. In accordance with its materials license and air sampling plan, the Army conducted training that included high-explosive fire into the radiological control area at Schofield Barracks in February 2014, with an NRC inspector present.