Hawaii residents challenge Army bid to possess depleted uranium
By Peter Sur
HILO — Four Hawaii residents, including three from the Big Island, are challenging the U.S. Army's application to possess depleted uranium.
A videoconference hearing tomorrow in Hilo will determine whether the petitioners — peace activist Jim Albertini, the Sierra Club's Cory Harden, plus Isaac Harp of Waimea and Luwella Leonardi of Waianae — have standing to challenge the Army.
The hearing will also determine whether the petitioners' arguments have merit.
They will be arguing by videoconference to the three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which was formed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Army in 2009 said that it found three spotting rounds containing the toxic heavy metal at its training site in Pohakuloa. The Army is also seeking a license to possess DU at Schofield Barracks and seven other sites on the mainland.
The decision on whether the Army can possess depleted uranium at Pohakuloa and Schofield will not be made this week.
Albertini wants the NRC to deny the PTA license, shut down and clean up the 133,000-acre military installation and return the ceded lands to the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Because the NRC, an independent federal agency, has never denied a license, Albertini said, he concedes that scenario is unlikely. Assuming a license is granted, he wants to see stringent restrictions to the military's actions, including a halt to live-fire exercises and an independent, comprehensive assessment and monitoring program.
Depleted uranium is the weak radioactive waste material that remains after enriched uranium is removed. Because of its density, it has found use as a tail counterweight in first-generation Boeing 747 jets and in armor-piercing rounds.
Those concerned with the health effects of DU say that it poses a health hazard for anybody who might inhale atomized particles. Some Kona residents in the past have expressed concern that they are at high risk for cancer because they are downwind of Pohakuloa.
Army officials disagree. They have said that DU is unlikely to contaminate groundwater in the arid saddle region between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and that it generally does not pose a health risk where it is located.
Attorneys for the U.S. Army Installation Command will argue that the petitioners lack standing and that they have "not stated an admissible contention."
The Army has filed a brief indicating it will argue that the proximity to the facility alone is not enough to establish standing, and that the other requirements — actual harm, cause and redress — have not been met.
"They're putting the burden on the citizen to prove that we've been harmed, and that's not the way it should work," Albertini said yesterday.
He also said it was "appalling" to see the number of requirements that citizens have to pass through before they could challenge the government. While the Army's lawyers and the board will be participating in the conference from Rockville, Md., the petitioners will be speaking for themselves in a small room on the third floor of the University of Hawaii-Hilo's main library. The petitioners are not allowed to bring in any expert witnesses.
The room where they will be arguing is too small to accommodate a large number of people, but the hearing will be streamed live on the Internet beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday at http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=65044