Kailua, Hawaii (TFC) – Activists on Hawai’i Island are asking for the end of live-fire bomb training at Pohakuloa Training Area. One primary concern is the use of depleted uranium (DU) in on-going military training is polluting the air and making Hawaiian residents sick. Background levels of radiation are considered safe and range from about 5-20ppm. One activist with a radiation meter saw levels as high as 70ppm while standing near the main gates to the training area. According to activist Lindafaye Kroll, of STOP Bombing Hawaii, the “elevated radiation is from a U.S. military source.” While government and military officials claim that depleted uranium has a low-level radioactivity and is safe, activists are concerned about its toxicity and half-life of 4.5 billion years. Military testing in Hawai’i has been ongoing since the end of World War II; the island of Kaho’olawe was bombed to such a point that locals began to call it “Target Island,” and is uninhabitable thanks to a cracked water table and a proliferation of undetonated explosives.
While Hawai’i is considered the 50th state of the U.S. since 1959, many native Hawaiians claim that the island is under illegal military occupation. International treaties exist that declare Hawaii an independent nation. A military coup in the late nineteenth century, encouraged by American sugar cane farmers, overthrew the existing Hawaiian monarchy and forced an annexation vote, the legality of which is still debated today. To Hawaiians, the land is sacred and no one owns it; they are merely caretakers. The Pohakuloa Training Area is situated right between Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, and Mauna Kea, the Hawaiians most sacred mountain. Other attempts to desecrate these sacred spaces have been slowed or stopped by activism, including the hotly-debated Thirty Meter Telescope. But the Protect Pohakuloa protest isn’t merely a case of culture versus progress; the use of DU weapons has been shown to be a health hazard.
Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear production. According to the Nuclear Policy Research Institute’s paper on the substance, the U.S. has a huge stockpile of the stuff – over 700,000 tons. Due to the ability to ignite and burn upon impact, DU is a particularly appealing substance for the use in weapons of war. The NPRI paper points to a 1993 study conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), which found that “inhaled insoluble oxides stay in the lungs longer and post a potential cancer risk due to radiation. Ingested DU dust can also pose both a radioactive and toxicity risk.” There is some concern that the substance may even concentrate in the food supply. With a half-life nearly as long as the Earth is old, it seems hard to believe that those claiming this substance is safe know what they are talking about.
As the protest wound down, a group of activists gathered in a large circle to discuss future calls-to-action. All the while bombs were dropping, shaking the ground and dispersing toxic dust. Most protestors wore respirator masks and some shed tears over the destruction. In an open letter to the U.S. Army Garrison-Pohakuloa, Emalani Case writes:
“We are expected to forget:
To forget that you seized 84,000 acres of our land at no cost.
To forget that Pōhakuloa is larger than the islands of Kahoʻolawe and Lanaʻi combined.
To forget that bombing any piece of land is unjust, but that bombing land that people live on is an act of war.
To forget that you used Depleted Uranium on our mother, letting it seep into her skin, our skin.
To forget that you destroyed historic sites, attacking the physical and spiritual center of our livelihood.
And to forget that you threatened—and continue to threaten—our health in every imaginable way.”
But those of us who want to protect the land and the people of Hawaii won’t forget. We won’t forgive. Expect us.”