Oahu Plant Pest Irradiator Located Safely

HONOLULU, Hawaii, July 11, 2012 (ENS) – A facility that will use nuclear radiation to kill insects found on agricultural produce has broken ground at a location selected to minimize danger to local citizens.

The irradiator will treat fruits and vegetables for fruit flies. It now is being built at an agricultural research center in Kunia, a central Oahu location that is considered safe from earthquakes and is far from Honolulu, its airport and the ocean.

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing the community group Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, challenged the site originally proposed for Honolulu International Airport less than eight feet above sea level.

Potential threats included tsunami, storm surge, hurricanes, earthquakes, airplane accidents, deliberate airplane strikes, and the proximity of the site to highly populated downtown Honolulu and to tempting terrorist targets, such as the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

These events could cause significant releases of radioactive material from the irradiator, threatening public health and safety and the environment, Concerned Citizens alleged.

Hawaiian papayas, mangoes and pineapple (Photo by Janice Pearson)

Pa’ina Hawaii, LLC, a fruit company, plans to irradiate produce for export using the radioactive material cobalt-60.

Pa’ina is building its food irradiator far from Honolulu because Earthjustice attorney David Henkin convinced the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the site originally proposed violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires examination of reasonable alternatives.

“When Pa’ina first proposed its irradiator, it claimed that the airport site was the only place for this facility,” said Henkin. “We’re fortunate to have strong laws like the National Environmental Policy Act that require consideration of alternate locations where risks to the public and environment are at a minimum.”

The case began in October 2005 when Concerned Citizens of Honolulu challenged the nuclear agency’s plan to approve the irradiator without environmental review.

Henkin argued that the site originally proposed next to active airport runways and in a tsunami evacuation zone, was vulnerable to numerous threats that could jeopardize human and environmental health.

In a settlement of that initial challenge, the NRC staff agreed to prepare an environmental assessment and put it out for public review. When the document was released, Earthjustice successfully challenged it as legally inadequate.

In July of 2010, the NRC issued a ruling requiring the irradiator company to disclose to Oahu residents more information about the controversial facility proposed for the airport site.

The nuclear agency agreed with Concerned Citizens of Honolulu that its own staff violated the National Environmental Policy Act in failing to consider alternate locations that are not subject to the same threats as the airport location Pa’ina Hawaii had orignally proposed.

The revised assessment revealed that the site in Kunia that Pa’ina ultimately selected could get the job done with much less risk to the public.

The Kunia site is on an agricultural plain once used for sugarcane and pineapple and now occupied by the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation and an agricultural subdivision for small farmers.

“This is a great example of why insisting on environmental review is important and illustrates how federal environmental laws work to protect the public while allowing projects to go forward,” Henkin said.

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