Depleted uranium gets deeper look

HILO — Federal regulators will give parts of Pohakuloa Training Area’s radiation monitoring plan another look in response to a petition from a Hawaii Island resident.

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency review board agreed last month to look at some of the concerns raised by retired geologist Michael Reimer, including frequency of sediment sampling, number of sediment sampling sites, and data evaluation methods for depleted uranium.


Reimer, of Kailua-Kona, also asked for continued air monitoring and soil sampling, though they will not be part of the NRC’s review because those steps were previously considered.

Depleted uranium is a dense, weakly radioactive metal alloy. The Army revealed about a decade ago that it was used to provide weight to spotting rounds used at PTA, Schofield Barracks on Oahu, and other locations in the 1960s.

Reimer said he doesn’t think the plan requiring one sediment sampling site downstream of the U.S. Army training facility off Saddle Road is sufficient to monitor depleted uranium. The NRC approved the plan in February.

Reimer, who said his background is in nuclear geology, said sampling only in an intermittent stream bed is a “rather absurd way to look at migration of DU.”

“There’s not a whole lot of rain up at PTA,” he said.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the review will be done by agency staff, rather than its commission.

“In this case, the staff felt that certain matters he raised would warrant further evaluation,” he said.

Any recommended changes would be presented in a proposed order that would go out for public review, likely early next year, McIntyre said.

The state Department of Health has said the Army’s previous use of depleted uranium, which has 40 percent the radioactivity as naturally occurring uranium, is not considered a “significant health threat.”

Reimer said depleted uranium is most dangerous when ingested or inhaled, which is why he thinks continued air sampling is needed.

In approving the monitoring plan, the NRC said it concurred with the Army’s position that “doses associated with acute events, such as high explosive (HE) activities, were not likely to result in significant risks or necessitating air monitoring.”

Past air sampling was done by a consultant for the Army at three locations along Saddle Road and the state health department in Waikoloa Village. The samples didn’t find elevated radiation levels.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected petitions requesting a hearing from four other residents in June because it determined they didn’t have standing or submitted an admissible contention.


PTA didn’t provide a comment by deadline Friday.

Email Tom Callis at

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