2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 2 Jun 2003 15:54:29 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] U.S. Air Force Investigates
U.S. Air Force Investigates
Radiological Waste Burial
June 2, 2003

The U.S. Air Force is investigating whether radioactive waste is buried
at more than 80 former and current air bases across the country,
including the site of a new federal prison in central California.

Air Force health experts believe the radioactive material, generated by
nuclear-weapons maintenance in the 1950s and 1960s, poses "no immediate
public health risk as long as these burial sites are not disturbed,"
according to the Air Force's written responses to questions posed by The
Wall Street Journal. It is far from certain, however, that the sites are
undisturbed: Many of the former bases were decommissioned and cleared
for public use years ago.

For example, the $100 million, maximum-security penitentiary in Atwater,
Calif., east of San Francisco, occupies the former Castle Air Force
Base, once part of the Cold War-era Strategic Air Command. The recently
built prison is on a part of the base near where munitions were kept --
and where investigators from the Air Force Safety Center suspect nuclear
weapons were maintained and stored.

The radiation investigation is one of several lingering environmental
sores afflicting the Pentagon as it unloads dozens of military bases
around the country. Since the radiological sites haven't been monitored
in years, military officials aren't certain where such waste is buried
and whether the dumping areas pose a danger. The matter has gained new
urgency as the Air Force seeks to have more bases converted into parks,
schools and other uses, potentially exposing more civilians to risk.

Burial of radiological waste in shallow trenches or sealed pipes was the
"prescribed" disposal method in the 1950s and '60s, the Air Force says.
It was assumed low levels of radioactivity wouldn't penetrate the soil
cover. The buried materials included wipes, gloves, protective clothing
and tape used to clean and maintain so-called unsealed nuclear weapons
-- early devices in which the nuclear material was kept separate from
the trigger. The Air Force says it lost track of the burial sites
because of poor record keeping and is trying to identify and inspect the
lands for safety concerns.

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