Public can comment on depleted uranium environmental assessment
By Mike Estrada , Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs
/ Published June 26, 2006
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
The Air Force is asking the public and federal, state and local agencies for comment on the draft Environmental Assessment for Increased Depleted Uranium Use on Target 63-10, Nevada Test and Training Range.
The document was released to the public June 23. The comment period ends July 24, 2006. The document is available on the Web at www.nellis.af.mil/pa.htm. Written comments should be sent to 99 ABW/PA (Mike Estrada), 4430 Grissom Ave, Ste 107, Nellis AFB NV 89191.
Under the preferred action, the Air Force would increase the number of depleted uranium rounds from 7,900 to 19,000 annually. The rounds are fired at Target 63-10, about 10 miles from Creech Air Force Base, by A-10 aircraft of the Weapons School and the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron.
In addition to the proposed action, the Air Force has analyzed two other alternatives: an increase in the use of depleted uranium rounds to 26,400; and continuing to fire only 7,900 depleted uranium rounds, also called the no-action alternative.
Target 63-10 is the only air-to-ground gunnery range in the United States cleared to employ 30mm depleted uranium rounds from A-10 aircraft. The target area is restricted and is more than 10 miles from any community, facility, or home.
A single depleted uranium penetrator, about the size of an adult's little finger, is capable of penetrating the armor of a tank. As the round penetrates the armor, it burns at extremely high temperatures and sprays hot metal in the interior of the armored target.
Depleted uranium is the by-product of converting natural uranium into enriched uranium. Depleted uranium is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium and is twice as dense as lead. The small depleted uranium penetrator weighs 1.7 pounds.
The environmental assessment notes that steel training rounds are considerably lighter than depleted uranium rounds. "The testing and training provided at Target 63-10 represents a unique and essential activity," according to the environmental assessment.
The document continues, "Because no combat air forces A-10 units fire 30mm depleted uranium rounds during peacetime training, they must rely solely on operational flight program testing and tactics validation from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, and upon the training their weapons officers receive from the Weapons School to impart lessons learned to the unit."
The document notes that the limit of 7,900 depleted uranium rounds has resulted in inconsistent testing and training since 1993. "The current depleted uranium authorizations allow for less than half of the testing and limits training of only 5 to 10 pilots per year.
"Without the proposed increase of depleted uranium rounds, A-10 pilots will not receive critical training in their primary weapon system, and all A-10 pilots in the combat air forces will not fully understand the true capabilities and limitations of the aircraft armament," the document states.
Because of its extreme weight, depleted uranium is not easily transported in the environment by wind or water. Five environmental resource areas are evaluated in detail in the environmental assessment - air quality, soils and water, health and safety, hazardous and radioactive materials and waste, and biological resources.
The draft finding of no significant impact, which accompanies the environmental assessment, finds "no significant impact to human health or the natural environment" from any of the proposed actions.