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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 8, 2002

Group criticizes plan to bury radioactive waste

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The American Friends Service Committee says a military plan to bury radioactive waste on Johnston Atoll is irresponsible.

Kyle Kajihiro, Hawai'i area program director for the organization, said the environmental assessment for the project says that the ocean will likely erode the island before the plutonium in the dump site loses its radioactivity.

"We'd like them to go with the remedy that is the longest lasting," he said.

Johnston Atoll, also known as Kalama, was the site of atmospheric nuclear tests during the early 1960s, and two failed missile launches during that period left part of the island contaminated with plutonium and related compounds.

Most of the highly radioactive materials have been removed from the island, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency proposes to bury the remaining coral soil, metal and concrete, which emits radiation, in a landfill on the island.

The military argues that the plutonium remaining on the atoll is of low risk. It is relatively insoluble in the Johnston Atoll environment and does not accumulate significantly in living tissue, said John Cuellar, plutonium project manager with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

"The selected remedy is protective of human health and the environment, attains federal requirements that are applicable or relevant and appropriate to this remedial action and is cost effective," says the agency's Decision Document. The document can be downloaded from the Web.

"Burying plutonium in an unlined landfill on a low coral atoll is unacceptable," Kajihiro said.

The American Friends Service Committee said that is the cheapest option, not the best. One form of plutonium has a half-life of more than 24,000 years. The committee said this means the material on Johnston will not be safe for 100,000 years.

"Plutonium is hazardous for a long time. It requires a long-term remedy," the group said in a press release.