Jefferson Proving Ground (Staff photo by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
Jefferson Proving Ground (Staff photo by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted a meeting in Madison on Wednesday to get public input on the Army's request to give up responsibility for monitoring depleted uranium at the former Jefferson Proving Ground.

The discussion was anything but explosive. During a question and answer session following a lengthy - and technical - presentation, area residents asked about the monitoring of the area if the Army's request to discontinue its oversight is approved.

Several speakers cited the area's recreational value, including the Big Oaks Wildlife Refuge and Krueger Lake.

"It's a beautiful area that we need to maintain," said Ken Knouf.

Richard Hill, representing the Save the Valley environmental group, thought it would be prudent to continue some form of monitoring if the Army's request is approved. The public needs to be kept in the loop, he said, asking what kind of mechanism could be set up. He suggested that a community stewardship group might be an idea to consider.

Wednesday's meeting was a required step in the process that would allow the NRC to draft an Environmental Impact Statement for the area.

The entire process could take 24 months, and a decision on the Army's request might not come until late in 2016.

There are three alternatives the NRC will consider:

• No action: The license would remain in effect and the Army would keep its monitoring responsibility;

• Proposed action: The NRC would terminate the license subject to the Army's commitment to keep ownership of the property, or,

• Other alternatives which would be identified through the ongoing study process.

The Army has said it would maintain controls including:

• Physical access restrictions such as perimeter fences and security warning signs;

• Legal controls meaning the Army retains property ownership, and,

• Administrative controls creating restricted and limited public access including hunting guidelines.

The Army's belief is that the depleted uranium and high density of unexploded ordnance make cleanup both hazardous and expensive.

The 2,000-acre site was used to test weaponry from World War II until the mid- 1990s. Between 1984 and 1994, the Army tested armor-piercing depleted uranium rounds for accuracy.

The testing left approximately 162,000 pounds of depleted uranium on and in the ground in the testing area at JPG.

An estimated 1.5 million rounds of unexploded ordnance remain at the site.

Since 1984, the soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment have been monitored for depleted uranium.

JPG was established in 1940 by the U.S. War Department. It operated from 1941 to 1995. JPG's primary mission was to support research, tests, and operations of the U.S. Army.

Since 1977, the Indiana Air National Guard has used about 1,000 acres in JPG for air-to-ground impact training.

A NRC report said JPG activity peaked in 1953 in support of the Korean War with 175,000 pounds per month tested by 1,774 military and civilian workers.

In 1998, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Department of the Army, the Air National Guard, and the Indiana Air National Guard. The agreement states that in exchange for continued use of the bombing range, the Air National Guard would maintain and operate the northern firing range area.  

The 1998 agreement was superseded by a May 2000 agreement signed between the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agreement authorized use by the Fish and Wildlife Service and continued use by the U.S. Air Force of the firing range for 25 years, with 10-year extensions thereafter.

Due to environmental contamination from past activities, the firing range area is not suitable for commercial or residential development.