Honolulu Advertiser story on DU

Posted on: Monday, January 21, 2008

Army focuses on Makua, Strykers, depleted uranium
By William Cole
Advertiser Columnist

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There are few subjects involving greater sensitivity — and for that matter, time, money and effort — for the Army in Hawai'i than Makua Military Reservation, Stryker vehicles and depleted uranium.

All three have come up in recent weeks, and all represent the challenge of keeping up a strategically important military presence in a relatively small island chain.

Hawai'i's stock and trade is natural beauty and tourism, but its second greatest economic driver — which is not acknowledged nearly enough — is the military.

The challenge is to reconcile the two.

Lt. Gen. John M. Brown III, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific, with headquarters at Fort Shafter, recently said at a Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i meeting that both an environmental impact statement for the Stryker brigade and a long-stalled study of military training in Makua Valley have been completed.

Both studies are under review at the Pentagon.

The Stryker brigade is a $1.5 billion effort, and millions have been spent in court to try to regain use of Makua Valley for live-fire training.

Army officials, meanwhile, recently briefed the state Legislature on efforts to assess the effects of an old training remnant — depleted uranium.

The heavy metal was used in aiming, or "spotting," rounds for a 1960s weapon system called the Davy Crockett.

In January 2006, the Army confirmed it had found 15 projectile tailfin assemblies that contained depleted uranium at a Schofield Barracks munitions impact range.

The depleted uranium was used in XM-101 aiming rounds that simulated the trajectory of the Davy Crockett, a formerly classified recoilless rifle that could fire a 76-pound nuclear bomb.

The Cold War weapon was intended to be used as a last-ditch effort against hordes of Soviet soldiers in the event of war.

Last summer, the Army said it had found more depleted uranium fragments at Schofield, and that the aiming rounds also may have been fired at Makua Valley. Depleted uranium, or DU, also was confirmed at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.

Some Big Island residents were concerned that dust containing depleted uranium might be kicked up, spread on the wind and possibly inhaled.

Russell Takata, program manager for the state Health Department's Noise, Radiation and Indoor Air Quality Branch, previously said he saw no immediate danger to the public.

According to the World Health Organization, a radiation dose from DU would be about 60 percent of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass.

Because of its high density — about twice that of lead — the weakly radioactive material is used for counterweights in aircraft and radiation shields. DU is used in armor-penetrating military ordnance because of its density, and also because DU can ignite on impact if the temperature exceeds 600 degrees Celsius.

A United Nations report on impact sites in Kosovo indicated that environmental contamination by DU was limited to a few dozen yards around the impact sites.

The Army continues to study the impact of the depleted uranium found in Hawai'i. According to records, soldiers fired 714 spotting rounds containing depleted uranium in the 1960s.

Stryker vehicles in Hawai'i do not train with or fire depleted uranium.

"This is a very sensitive issue, and we understand that," Col. Howard Killian, deputy director of the U.S. Army Installation Command for the Pacific, said in a release. "Our intent is to gather the facts in a transparent and collaborative manner and let those facts speak for themselves."

In August, the Army's Joint Munitions Command completed a survey of ranges at Schofield, Makua and Pohakuloa. More than 16,000 air, vegetation and soil samples have been sent to the Mainland for testing and analysis, the Army said.

The Army said collected data will lead to a risk assessment that will be finalized and made public in February.


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