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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Irradiator study needs additional disclosures

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There's nothing gained by either side in an environmental dispute when laws aimed at providing a full analysis of the facts are marginally observed.

That appears to be the case with the preparation of the environmental assessment about a plant irradiation facility proposed by the company Pa'ina Hawai'i, adjacent to Honolulu International Airport near Lagoon Drive. This plant would help in the eradication of pests in tropical fruits and other exotics, using cobalt-60, a radioactive compound. This is distinct from the X-ray technology used at the existing irradiator on the Big Island.

There are, to be sure, substantial potential benefits for the state's agricultural economy. Cobalt-60 has certain environmental advantages over some of the alternatives, including fumigation with methyl bromide, which has been cited for potential damage to the Earth's ozone layer.

But nowhere in the slim 16 pages of text in the environmental assessment are alternative sites considered. Do the advantages to locating the irradiation facility at the airport outweigh risks? We'll never really know if the alternatives aren't examined.

Secondly, the risk analysis does a quick survey of how the facility could be endangered through aviation accidents and certain natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.

But even if one accepts these risk assessments, with a project proposed near heavy aviation traffic and military installations, the threat of terroristic attack also must be considered. The description of the facility's design details how radioactive contamination is unlikely to pierce through the built-in safeguards, but the risk of intentional breaches is not addressed.

In this era of raised consciousness about homeland security, silence on this issue is inexcusable.

It now falls to the concerned public to press for a more thorough analysis of all the risks and benefits so that a responsible decision can be made and, if the project is approved, essential conditions can be set.