Pohakuloa, HI (Pontiac) – Islanders are pushing against nearby US military training exercises near depleted uranium contamination zones. Residents monitoring the various weapons tests have recorded large spikes in radiation more than once. Now, officials are dismissing the group by denying requests for a hearing.
The Pohakuloa military training base often hosts munitions tests including artillery and mortars. Such exercises have earned the ire of locals, decrying numerous health and environmental concerns. Namely, that frequent explosive tests will disturb depleted uranium already present at the site.
Depleted uranium (DU) is the radioactive waste product of manufacturing nuclear material. Thus, DU has an extremely lengthy half-life essentially contaminating areas “forever”. DU is quite volatile to humans, and has been linked to shocking cancers and birth defects. The US military, however, values DU for it’s effectiveness as an armor buster. Tank and artillery shells often have DU tips which augment the round’s destructive potential.
One of the clearest examples of DU damage is Iraq, and the reports of horrific defects plaguing the population. These reports are particularly punctuated in and around cities most razed during the 2003 US invasion. In Fallujah, for example, defects only appear to become more profound with each year. DU has also been linked to “Gulf War Syndrome”, which crippled and deteriorated veterans of the Gulf War 1, or Desert Storm. That’s why Pohakuloa locals have tried to get their case heard to control nearby tests using DU, and disturbing containment zones.
Protests targeting the facility in recent months, have unaffected officials. Military spokespeople, West Hawaii Today reports, dismissed complaints regarding disturbances created by loud explosions. “The sounds of training”, said spokeswoman Kayla Overton, “represent how the military ensures the nation’s service members are ready to accomplish the mission and return home safely.”
But islanders are worried about more than just the shrieking cracks and booms of test firing. Rather, they highlight the danger of depleted uranium being knocked into the air by the bombs. Thousands of US military personnel utilize the facility, as well as other federal agencies. For locals, however, what the military insists is “routine” has only escalated.
“It got to where I was surfing the other day”, said Hawaiian Koa Paulo, “and I could hear it in the ocean.” Although the military counters by saying it doesn’t directly fire into DU containment area’s, the immense energy of the exercises may still disperse fine dust. Material which, depending on prevailing climatic conditions, might get swept up and dispersed elsewhere. If residents throughout the island–and out in the ocean– feel vibrations, then nearby DU sites aren’t much better off.
Jim Alberti, one of four petitioners pushing for hearings says,““Citizen radiation monitors, on numerous occasions have detected radiation levels three to four times background levels in public areas” around the facility. Exactly what’s causing these spikes is unknown, though there’s two possibilities. DU could be getting knocked up and spiking localized radiation, or the devices might be detecting radiation from the munitions themselves.
Activists also highlighted how military-conducted DU surveys only covered 1000 acres of the 51,000 test area. Despite all this, Big Island Video News Reports, three judges of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board blocked islander requests for a hearing. It’s clear officials are reluctant to grant transparency in the case of Pohakuloa DU contamination. Although the reason is up to speculation, the dangers of unchecked depleted uranium are clear.
Volatile molecules aren’t static, and can be carried by strong winds and weather patterns. With various parts of the planet, including tropical areas, experiencing climate change-related destruction, DU containment will further falter. For now, islanders will continue fighting to spare themselves from what Iraqi’s know all too well.