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Depleted uranium burned at Hill

The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Apr 10, 2008 11:41:37 EDT

LAYTON, Utah — Trace amounts of depleted uranium were incinerated during the destruction of classified components at the burn plant near Layton, military officials said Wednesday.

Less than five pounds of depleted uranium were burned over eight months before it was discovered last month that the parts contained the material, according to officials at Hill Air Force Base.

“Based on our calculations, there were no public health, safety or environmental risks,” Col. Linda Medler, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing, said in a statement.

Crews conducting the work were not aware the parts contained depleted uranium because the 40-year-old drawings and other information describing the components weren’t readily available, she said.

Eight batches of the components were incinerated at the Wasatch Integrated Waste Management District — the burn plant — before the depleted uranium was discovered and work was halted, military officials said.

Depleted uranium, a high-density metal left over after processing natural uranium, is 40 percent less radioactive than its natural state.

The amount of radioactive material released into the air after the parts were incinerated was less than the amount found in a typical home smoke detector, Medler said. The material was also in ash that was later taken to a local landfill.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality was notified of the releases last week but disagreed with the military’s calculations of how much radioactive material the public may have been exposed to, said Bill Sinclair, the agency’s deputy director. The military appeared to use a best-case scenario and the DEQ prefers to use worst-case scenarios when calculating that risk, he said.

“I believe a recalculated number still would show little risk, but we need to see it,” Sinclair said.

Hill AFB officials said they also met with health officials, elected leaders and others to discuss the releases. Engineers at the plant are now looking at other ways to destroy the components, Hill AFB officials said.