I spent most of today on the phone, and here is the latest info I have on the projected schedule for the subcritical nuclear test "Bagpipe." This morning, Livermore Lab said that the projected "shot" date for "Bagpipe" was September 17. HOWEVER, in the afternoon, the Dept. of Energy's Nevada Operations Office said that the LIKELY "shot" date would be "the latter part of September", not mid-September. The reason given was, "The Lab still hasn't put the 'package' together properly yet for the experiment."
The Nevada DOE staffer went on to say that the "experimental packages" were in the Device Assembly Facility (DAF) at the Nevada Test Site and that there were "technical difficulties," the details of which he did not know.
Phone calls back to Livermore Lab revealed that while "the advertised date is still September 17, there could be a week's slip, though." That staffer then confirmed that, yes, there are "assembly problems in the DAF."
According to the Livermore Lab, the two "specimens" (that is, the two plutonium parts) machined at the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico were shipped to Livermore Lab, and, then, along with the two plutonium parts machined at Livermore, all of the parts went to the Nevada Test Site. (If true, this means that Livermore Lab managed to finish its plutonium work on "Bagpipe" and get it out the door to Nevada before the flack from the latest Livermore plutonium safety violation could "hit the fan".)
Regarding the "shot" date, I would not totally rule out that it could happen on or around September 17, as previously planned. However, as of now, Thursday afternoon, Sept. 4, it is more likely to happen about a week later.
When everything is set, DOE's Nevada Operations Office will release a media advisory. This is typically done about 48 hours in advance. (For those who don't follow this sort of thing all the time -- the Defense Programs head honcho, Vic Reis, at DOE Headquarters in DC has not yet given the order to Nevada for the shot on a particular date certain. Additionally, exactly what Headquarters is planning is, at least technically speaking, still classified.)
Of importance is the fact that fiscal year 1999 begins on October 1, 1998. If DOE does not get the subcritical detonated before that date, the agency will have collected money from Congress for four subcritical tests in fiscal year 1998, and only detonated one. That is why DOE is trying so hard to at least "up" its total for the fiscal year to two. DOE is fearful that Congress will ask them what they are doing with all the money. (Last year they got paid for four tests and delivered two. The year before that DOE took the money, but delivered zero tests.)
DOE is also faced with a new GAO Report that says Congress can save up to 20 million by cutting the subcritical test budget. Moreover, the report says that limitations in the underground facility at the test site mean DOE can only conduct 2 subcritical tests per year. While I would advocate much deeper cuts, like the whole darn program!!!, the prospect of losing even $20 million is probably not very appealing to DOE.
I plan to write up something more extensive for our newsletter, but thought you'd like the bare bones right away. And, if any of the reporters with whom I spoke today write anything particularly new and exciting, I'll try and post it.
Another important note: Regarding fiscal year 1999, Los Alamos Lab staffers told Greg Mello recently that they plan to detonate "Cimarron" (a Los Alamos-designed subcritical) near the middle or at the end of October 1998. So, there may not be much time elapse between the Livermore Lab-designed "Bagpipe" test and LANL's "Cimarron" test. Stay alert.
Protest early and often!!!!!!!!!!
Here in Northern California, we will have a vigil at Livermore Lab from 4 PM to 6 PM the eve before the "Bagpipe" test, and we will demonstrate at Bechtel Headquarters in San Francisco at NOON on the day of the test.
We, along with numerous other groups, have been demonstrating at Bechtel at NOON on the date of any subcritical test - so, unless plans change, count on us all being there for "Cimarron" too. Bechtel manages the test site for DOE. The Bechtel Headquarters is located at 50 Beale Street in San Francisco, near the Embarcadero BART station. JOIN US!!!!
Activists have been posting news via these electronic networks of upcoming protests in Nevada and New York and elsewhere. Hooray! Let's KEEP UP THE PRESSURE. There have also been sign-on letters, and lots of folks have called into DOE Headquarters - 1-202- 586-6210 for the Secretary's office, and 1-202-586-5806 for the press office. Don't forget to ask whoever answers the phone to pass your message on to the Secretary. And, the President, for those who wish to call Bill's comment line, is 1-202-456-1111.
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