2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 11 Feb 2003 20:41:51 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Army's plan to leave uranium in place at JPG
I have finally had the chance to review the June, 2002 "Decommissioning
Plan for License Sub-1435 - Jefferson Proving Ground [JPG], Madison,
Indiana. Submitted by the U.S. Army's Soldier and Biological and
Chemical Command to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), this
document is available from JPG's cleanup website,  
http://jpg.sbccom.army.mil/community/public_part.htm. The document, in
essence, is an argument that there is no need for the Army to clean up
depleted uranium (DU) left over from the test firing of projectiles in
1983 and 1984.

The Army established JPG, located in southern Indiana, in 1941 primarily
to test ordnance containing conventional explosives. Though the Army
installation closed in 1994, the Army retains ownership. Today the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service operates the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
on most of the property, and the Air National Guard uses two separate
bombing target areas near the center of the facility.

An estimated 1.5 million ammunition rounds, out of more than 24 million
fired there, lie unexploded on or beneath the surface of the 51,000
impact area. Though the Army is remediating ordnance and other
contamination in the 4,000-acre cantonment area south of the impact
area, it is conducting virtually no cleanup in the impact area. In fact,
Army officials cite an administrative decision at Army headquarters, but
I have never been able to obtain a specific reference, let along a copy
of that document.

The Army confined depleted uranium weapon testing to a 2,080-acre impact
area. It calculates that it fired munitions containing 100,000 kilograms
of uranium, and that it removed about 30,000 kilograms in semiannual
recovery operations, leaving about 70,000 kilograms on site as either
fragments or dust, on or just beneath the surface.

Because the Army conducted the tests under a license from the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, the Army was required to file an Decommissioning
Plan. The NRC is reviewing the plan, and Save the Valley, a local
environmental organization, has requested a public hearing before the
NRC accepts the Plan.

In the plan the Army uses As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA)
analysis to argue that it should not be required to remediate the
depleted uranium target area. I'm not qualified to judge whether the
Army analysis meets the requirements of statute, but it fails miserably
in the court of common sense.

The ALARA study is essentially a cost-benefit analysis. That is, it
compares remediation to a level allowing unrestricted use with a
response based upon institutional controls restricting access and use.
It concludes (p. 6-2), "The cost of detecting and removing UXO
[unexploded ordnance] and DU from the DU Impact Area to meet
unrestricted release requirements is greater than the benefit that would
accrue from detection and removal actions."

I find shortcomings in the calculation of the costs of cleanup, in the
assessment of the benefits, and in the nature of the analysis.


The Army calculates the cost of cleaning up JPG's DU Impact Area to
unrestricted use to be anywhere between $45 million and $1.613 billion.
The high range assumes clearance of unexploded ordnance from the DU area
to a depth of ten feet at a cost of more than $100,000 per acre. Even
more significant, it projects the identification and removal of a half
million cubic feet of DU-contaminated soil at as much as $1.365 billion.
On top of that, off-site disposal could cost $111 million.

The upper bounds of the cost estimates are indeed scary, particularly
for those of us who normally use the National Contingency Plan (NCP) to
develop cleanup remedies. The Army is using these astronomic costs to
argue that cleanup is impossible, rather than - as the NCP requires - to
develop a cost-effective cleanup plan. The NCP encourages
decision-makers to maximize cleanup efficiencies by weighing the costs
of alternatives for each step in the eventual remedy. 

If UXO clearance at JPG, with today's technology, were really to cost
$100,000 an acre, it's likely that the Army or any other responsible
party following the NCP would propose clearance to a shallower depth.
The Army says DU contaminated the ground to a depth of two feet, so
clearance might be to that level. Perhaps analysis of the freeze-thaw
cycle would suggest a deeper clearance in areas likely to see public
use, or other factors, such as the concentration of contamination near
the surface, might lead to a shallower goal. In any case, ten feet is extreme.

Second, to evaluate usefully the cost of soil removal, the Army should
offer estimates of the cost of various mass removals. It knows roughly
how much uranium is in the ground, and it known that most of it is
concentrated along the line of fire. How much would it cost to remove
10%? 90%? 99%? It is likely that most of the uranium - thus most of the
environmental and human risk - could be removed for a small fraction of
the estimated cost.

Third, disposal cost could be cut dramatically by constructing an
on-site disposal cell, as the Energy Department did at Fernald, Ohio
with public support. I don't know all of the implications of such an
approach at JPG, but a competent NCP analysis should raise all the right questions.

By targeting resources to the reduction of risk, careful planning, and
using innovative technologies, the Army could keep down the costs of
remediating the DU impact area. No doubt the total would be in the tens
of millions of dollars, or maybe even a couple of hundred million, but
it would be on a scale with remediation on other former military ranges.


The Army's summary of the benefits of cleanup are similarly
shortsighted. It fragments the benefits and only addresses radioactive hazards.

Though it counts UXO clearance as a cost, it calculates no benefit from
that activity. As far as I know, it does not consider the benefits of
eliminating the sources of energetic compounds such as RDX and
perchlorate, even though such contaminants are frequently found on
ranges. In fact, to my knowledge, the Army hasn't even sampled for such
constituents at JPG.

The Army for years has claimed that depleted uranium, a heavy metal, is
more of a toxic risk than a radioactive risk, but it assesses no benefit
to the removal of the toxic substance. Sampling for DU has been very
limited, and the Army's decommissioning plan proposes no additional tests.


One of the problems with a straight cost-benefit analysis is that the
people who bear the risks - that it, who would benefit from cleanup -
are not the institution responsible for the costs. The cost of cleanup
is a concern, but it would set a frightening precedent for hazardous
waste cleanup if polluters such as the Army were simply allowed to put
people at risk just to save themselves some money.

The Army's vision for JPG is a permanent national sacrifice zone, on the
theory that if a risk exists in the forest, and no one is there to
measure it, it doesn't make a sound. It's likely that any final remedy
for the JPG DU impact area, as well as other parts of the Proving
Ground, will require continuing monitoring and institutional controls,
but cost effective action to reduce risk should be required.

In regulatory terms, NRC oversight of risks within its normal
jurisdiction - that is, ionizing radiation - is useful only if it uses a
process similar to the National Contingency Plan. Otherwise the Army
should also proceed under CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund law) and the
National Contingency Plan. The state of Indiana, the principal
regulator, needs to assure that site characterization will take place
and that risks will be addressed according to the NCP. Alternatively,
U.S. EPA could assessed and qualify JPG for the National Priorities
[Superfund] List. That would make EPA the lead regulator.

New Army Strategy

Finally, on February 4, 2003, the Army proposed to withdraw its
Decommissioning Plan and instead negotiate a "5-year renewable
possession-only license for an indefinite time period." It claims that
sending people into the DU impact area to collect data for the NRC
technical review would create an unacceptable safety hazard, even though
it has already removed 30,000 kg of DU from that area. It appears,
however, that the Army noticed the growing public opposition to its
Decommissioning Plan, so it is proffering an alternative, a license to
do nothing.

The Army's approach to the entire 51,000-acre JPG impact area is
unacceptable. It has administratively determined that it will not spend
funds on cleanup there, and no regulatory agency has yet challenged that
position. I have attended innumerable meetings where U.S. military
representatives brag about the Defense Department's current
environmental performance. They argue that today there is too much
regulatory oversight. The proposed sacrifice of JPG's DU impact area,
however, demonstrates how easy it is for the military to revert to
irresponsible practices when no one holds its feet to the fire of
environmental protection.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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