Environment News Service

AmeriScan: June 7, 2000


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, June 7, 2000 (ENS) - Depleted uranium shells left from U.S. Navy bombing practice on the island of Vieques will not all be recovered and removed, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) official said Tuesday. The admission outraged Puerto Rican environmental activists at the news conference held by Luis Reyes, the commission's regional director, who called the risk of leaving some shells on the target range "minimal." The environmentalists are demanding the Navy clean up 263 rounds fired from two Marine Corps Harrier jets in February 1999, in violation of federal law and Navy regulations that limit their use to combat zones. Fifty-seven rounds were cleaned up last year. Reyes said the Navy's equipment penetrates just 10 inches into the ground while the depleted uranium ammunition, intended to wipe out armored tanks, is likely buried more deeply. The Navy would have to excavate a 200-foot by half-mile strip to find all the ammunition, Reyes said. The NRC would do that only if President Bill Clinton orders the Navy out of Vieques, as promised if residents vote to expel the military in a referendum expected next year.

Today, NRC staffers are collecting soil, water and plant samples to see if any radioactive residue reached civilian areas. The island's largest town is 11 miles away from the bombing range, which is closed to the public. But Vieques anti-bombing activists say people have already died due to the Navy's shelling. On June 1, 26 people, mostly women from Vieques, travelled into the restricted area by boat and on foot to Yayi beach, where the ecumenical chapel, part of the civil disobedience camps, was located. There the women placed 13 black crosses in memory of Vieques women who died of cancer or other sicknesses related to the environmental contamination produced by Navy activities. They were arrested. One, Tito Kayak, was charged with resisting arrest and taken to federal prison. Vieques, a 20-mile-long island inhabited by 9,300 people, lies seven miles off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico.

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