Earth Foundation

Stewards of the Land, Sea and Native Cultures

EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Questioned Pentagon’s Burial of Radioactive Nuclear Waste Near HAWAII

The Hawaiian Islands are currently being threatened by radioactive nuclear waste. In late 2002 on Johnston Island the U.S. Air Force completed the burial in a landfill of more than 165,000 cubic yards of Plutonium contaminated debris. Johnston Island (also called “Johnston Atoll”) is in the middle of the Pacific about 800 miles west-southwest of Hawaii.

Plutonium is one of the world’s most carcinogenic elements with incredibly lethal radioactivity and is known to cause cancer, leukemia, and birth defects.

Johnston Island and its Plutonium burial site are vulnerable to hurricanes. This creates the possibility of a health hazard for Hawaii. This potentially could affect the coasts and possibly the fisheries of Hawaii, Micronesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and possibly the west coasts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Oregon through Northern California ending at San Francisco.

NEW YORK TIMES: On January 27, 2003, there was a substantial New York Times article about Johnston Island Nuclear Waste Burial. The article was due to Earth Foundation’s efforts & work for months with a reporter from that newspaper. The article was entitled, “Radioactive Dump on Pacific Wildlife Refuge Raises Liability Concerns,” by Katharine Q. Seelye.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Ray Saracino, the San Francisco-based EPA project manager reviewing the U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Air Force’s Johnston Island nuclear waste burial plan, does not think the plan makes sense and feels it is potentially highly dangerous to public health. You can read about his comments in a Honolulu Star-Bulletin (May 1, 2002, pg. A3) article by Diana Leone entitled “Nuke waste landfill plan assailed”. Here is an Internet link to the story:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which became the sole caretaker of Johnston Island after the military left in 2004, did not want the liability of the radioactive dump. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that “land-filling of Plutonium contaminated material on Johnston Island is not appropriate, and that it should be shipped off-island to a radioactive waste facility,” Regional Director Anne Badgley wrote in a July 25, 2002 letter to the DTRA/Defense Threat Reduction Agency. At that time, Fish and Wildlife officials were still waiting to hear from DTRA about how to resolve the impasse. You can read about this story in a Honolulu Star-Bulletin (October 19, 2002) article by Diana Leone entitled, “Liability concerns loom over Johnston dump”. Here is an Internet link to the story:

The Air Force said it will monitor and watch over buried Plutonium & other nuclear waste “for as long as 5 years.” (The Maui News, March 11, 2002, pg. A3). The problem is Plutonium (Pu239) has a half life of 24,000 years and is life-threatening for that entire time. Five years of “monitoring” the Plutonium on Johnston Atoll does not protect against 24,000 years of life-threatening danger. There are places on the mainland that are better equipped to contain radioactive nuclear waste than an atoll vulnerable to hurricanes and erosion from the ocean.

There is concern about the possibility of radioactive materials getting from the Johnston Atoll local ecosystem into the pelagic (i.e., open ocean) ecosystem and perhaps showing up in fish, possibly more so in tuna and billfish.

Fact: Johnston Atoll was the location of 12 nuclear test missile launches in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Two missile detonations left the island badly contaminated with radioactive Plutonium Oxide and Americium. Then after 40 years the Air Force “permanently” buried the nuclear waste in the missile launch crater.

Fact: The DTRA/Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Feasibility Study of the Johnston Island nuclear waste burial did NOT address ocean currents. The ocean currents traveling from Johnston Atoll potentially could affect the coasts and possibly the fisheries of Hawaii and the Western Pacific and possibly parts of the west coasts of the United States and Central America.

Earth Foundation is asking everyone to please consider sending an EMAIL or FAX to HAWAII’S TWO U.S. SENATORS & U.S. REPRESENTATIVES, HAWAII & NATIONAL POLITICIANS AND HEALTH OFFICIALS, AND HAWAII & NATIONAL MEDIA. Please ASK THEM TO HOLD AND PUBLICIZE HEARINGS SOON ABOUT JOHNSTON ISLAND NUCLEAR WASTE. Please request of them that this nuclear material be shipped to a secure facility on the U.S. Mainland.