- The Nuclear Regulator Commission will be holding hearings
tomorrow and Wednesday in Hawaii on an application by the US Army for a
permit to have depleted uranium at its Pohakuloa Training Area, a vast
stretch of flat land in what's called the "saddle" between the
sacred mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island, and
at the Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu.
- In fact, what the Army is asking for is a permit
to leave in place the DU left over from years of test firing of M101 mortar
"spotting rounds," that each contained close to half a pound
of depleted uranium (DU). The Army, which originally denied that any DU
weapons had been used at either location, now says that as many as 2000
rounds of M101 DU mortars might have been fired at Pohakuloa alone.
- But that's only a small part of the story.
- The Army is actually seeking a master permit from the
NRC to cover all the sites where it has fired DU weapons, including penetrator
shells that, unlike the M101, are designed to hit targets and burn on impact,
turning the DU in the warhead into a fine dust of uranium oxide.
- Uranium particles, whether pure uranium or in an oxidized
form, are alpha emitters, and can be highly carcinogenic and mutagenic
if ingested or inhaled, since they can lodge in one part of the body-the
kidney or lung or gonad, for example-and then irradiate surrounding cells
with large, destructive alpha particles (actually helium atoms), until
some gene is compromised and a cell become malignant.
- Among the sites identified by the NRC as being contaminated
with DU are:...
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