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Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Responding to Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg’s early June request to investigate the use of depleted uranium weapons on Vieques by the U.S. Marines, the director of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency said there was no immediate safety concern for people on the island or the surrounding environment.
According to NRC Director Shirley Ann Jackson, because depleted uranium is comparable to naturally occurring uranium, the contamination doesn’t pose a threat.
"Because the radioactivity is relatively low, occasional direct exposure to DU does not pose a significant radiological hazard," Jackson said. "The NRC staff believes that the public health is not endangered by the DU remaining on the firing range…"
She did add, however, that the NRC will conduct an independent inspection of the Navy’s ongoing efforts to recover ammunition containing depleted uranium. The Navy is scheduled to complete its own report in September, and following the NRC’s review, she said her agency will provide Donastorg with both sets of results.
Donastorg, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection, asked the NRC to investigate the March 19 incident where two Marine aircraft fired 263 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition at the island firing range just off the coast of Puerto Rico. St. Croix is less than 40 miles from Vieques and is home to many people who have relatives on the island of 9,000 people.
In his letter to Jackson, Donastorg not only expressed concern for the residents of Vieques, but he said he was worried that the depleted uranium could contaminate the area’s fishery, thus affecting the Virgin Islands.
Jackson’s response, dated June 29, said that depleted uranium ammunition is to be used only during combat or approved tests and not for training. She said that in March, the Navy removed 57 expended rounds of the ammunition and an undetermined amount of contaminated soil.
Jackson said that the Navy plans to resume recovery efforts in August, or sooner, depending on whether or not Puerto Rican protesters occupying the firing range leave.
"Although the investigation is ongoing, the Navy has taken several corrective actions to prevent reoccurrence and has planned additional action," Jackson wrote. "The NRC has been evaluating the safety and environmental significance of the event and is continuing to review the effectiveness of corrective actions."
The depleted uranium issue isn’t the only problem the U.S. military is having on Vieques. There is a growing chorus in Puerto Rico for the ouster of the Navy, which has used the island as a firing range since 1941. In April a Puerto Rican security guard at the range was killed by an errant bomb.
Following the two incidents, and at the behest of Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Rossello, President Bill Clinton ordered a study by the Navy to assess the need for Vieques. The report is scheduled to be finished in August.

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