The National Academy of Sciences published a report that highlights the feasibility of new technologies to deactivate ammunition, which could reduce risks to public health and the environment compared to the frequently used method of outdoor detonation in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The report—Alternatives for the Demilitarization of Conventional Munitions—notes that funds from the United States Congress would be needed for the implementation of this technology. As a summary of the report states, “the US Department of Defense and Navy has not elaborated detailed plans for the implementation of these methods, which have not been prioritized by either of the two military entities. Stopping the open burn and open detonation (OB/OD) of ammunitions is a key step to reduce the impacts on public health and environment in Vieques, in compliance with the obligations of the Department of Defense as well as the US Navy.” El Nuevo Día reports:
In the report “Alternatives for the demilitarization of conventional munitions,” sent to Congress at the beginning of the year, a committee of experts highlights the process of contained burning or contained detonation, which allows for capturing gas emissions and treating them before letting them reach the environment. The committee of experts also points out the possibility of recycling ammunition.
The report says, “Alternative technologies, by their very nature, release fewer emissions to the environment and, therefore, are generally perceived by the public as more respectful of and acceptable to the environment.”
For years, Viequenses [the people of Vieques] have denounced the open-air explosion of munitions that the Navy left in many areas of the island of Vieques.
La Academia Nacional de las Ciencias publicó un informe que apunta a alternativas menos contaminantes que las que utiliza la Marina de Guerra estadounidense para explotar al aire libre municiones en Vieques.
“This report is a validation of the efforts of the people who have been defending Vieques and condemning open detonation. It shows a consensus about the idea that this technology (open air detonation)—although it must be used on some occasions—affects the environment and people’s health,” said biologist Arturo Massol Deyá, associate director of the environmental organization Casa Pueblo and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus [or Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (RUM)].
From 2011 to 2017, surplus, obsolete or unusable ammunition from the US Army went from “just under 600,000 tons to about 400,000 tons,” the report added. Each year about 60,000 additional tons are added. “In Vieques alone, in the first 10 years, the removal of 40,000 tons was claimed,” Massol said.
The committee of experts responsible for the report was chaired by Todd Kimmell of the Argonne National Laboratory, which is linked to the US Department of Energy. The group had consultant Douglas Medville as vice-president, and it relied on experts from universities, the government, and private companies.
Although environmental benefits are attributed to contained detonation, experts acknowledge that it presupposes higher operational costs. While open air detonation of ammunition is estimated to cost $750 per ton, explosion in containers may cost around $2,000 per ton, the report said.
Kimmell said that the fact that the report was ordered by Congress gives greater visibility to an issue that has been controversial “for many years.”
“Open burning or open detonation of excess, obsolete or unserviceable ammunition has been a common elimination practice for decades, even centuries. It is fast, relatively simple and relatively cheap. Although there have been security incidents, it can also be done safely,” Kimmell said.
However, he maintained that the drawback is that it “releases pollutants into the environment.” In the introduction to the report, Kimmell added, “In my observations of open burning or open detonation operations in many places, large plumes of smoke and particles are quite visible.”
Translation by Ivette Romero. For the original article (in Spanish), see https://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/expertoscuestionanlatecnologiamilitarutilizadaenvieques-2477078/
To purchase the original report (in English), see https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25140/alternatives-for-the-demilitarization-of-conventional-munitions?