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Tri-Valley CAREs
Communities Against a Radioactive Environment

Citizens Watch Newsletter December 1999

Megalaser's Technical Problems are Coming to Light

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

"I look forward to... advice on how to put this project back on track," declared Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in a Nov. 10, 1999 press release announcing the formation of a task force charged with reviewing the National Ignition Facility. The group will report directly to Richardson.

The problem? For starters, NIF is a train wreck. All the hoists and pulleys at DOE's disposal cannot put it "back on track."

Following a late August shake up in NIF management, Tri-Valley CAREs conducted interviews with scientists and others at the three key nuclear weapons labs, Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia. As we reported in the September 1999 Citizen's Watch, NIF is not merely off-track, it is beset by serious, unresolved technical difficulties, particularly in the areas of optics (glass), target fabrication (radioactive pellets) and diagnostics.

As it became public that NIF is at least $300 million over budget and over a year behind schedule, three official investigations were launched into NIF problems. The General Accounting Office is conducting an investigation, likely to be the most comprehensive of the three, and expected to conclude around March. The University of California, which manages the Lab for DOE, published a cursory look at NIF's management issues (copies available on request), and, most recently, Richardson appointed a NIF task force.

NIF Limited to Half-Energy

Unresolved problems in the final optics mean that NIF will be able to run at only half its design energy, Edward Moses, the newly appointed NIF manager, admitted to the NIF task force. "We can run 4 to 5 joules per square centimeter," he told the DOE panel. "This is 50% of NIF's rating."

In essence, as each of the laser's beams travels toward the radioactive fuel pellet -- at the key point where it must be converted to ultraviolet (called the third harmonic) -- the beam will cause damage spots on the optics to grow. This, in turn, will cause the lenses to shatter on very short order.

Called "damage propagation," employees have been telling us of this problem for some time. This is the first time, however, that NIF management has openly acknowledged it.

NIF Glass Fails to Meet Specs

Another serious hurdle is with the manufacture of NIF's laser glass. The Lab has already spent an undisclosed amount of money building full-scale production facilities at 2 companies, Hoya and Schott. The NIF plan calls for them to make the glass via a "continuous pour" method, unlike the technique used for earlier lasers, wherein glass was produced in small batches.

Scientists and vendors have said privately that NIF laser glass was supposed to have been delivered in January and June. To date, only a small portion of the order has been delivered, and it did not meet specifications. The glass slabs, intended for NIF's amplifiers, contain unacceptable stresses which make them "pop." The underlying problems are twofold: too much water in the finished product and a lack of "homogeneity," meaning there are serious imperfections at random locations inside the glass.

The NIF's design calls for over 3,000 glass slabs with a combined weight of around 150 tons. Therefore, the Lab cannot resolve the problem by going back to the "tried and true" method used in the past to produce small quantities of laser glass. The simple truth is that no one knows how to make enough glass for NIF, and do it in a way that will meet the purity and other necessary specs.

Our investigations have turned up many additional problems, from anti-reflection coatings to beam alignment inadequacies, to silver coating failures on the flashlamp mirrors, to target manufacture and loading uncertainties -- and the list goes on.

NIF is Costly Aid Program for Weaponeers

In essence, the key parts needed to make NIF run are still in a research and development mode, long after that phase was to have been completed. The NIF project has gobbled up close to $1 billion dollars so far. Researchers tell us that the acknowledged $300 million cost overrun is only the tip of the iceberg. NIF's costs could ultimately double, from $5 billion to ten, they say. And, the schedule delay may stretch from two to five years (to more).

The Lab refuses to release its new "baseline" report for NIF, but it is believed to contain a proposal to cut NIF in half, reducing it from 192 to 96 beams. Such a move will not resolve the serious technical difficulties. It will, however, forego any pretense at reaching ignition, even if all other problems can be solved.

Bigger than a football stadium, NIF is designed to train multiple laser beams on a radioactive fuel target sitting inside a reactor vessel. The scientific goal is to compress the target and initiate a thermonuclear, or fusion, explosion. The weaponeers' goal is to use it as a tool to advance nuclear weapons physics. This latter aim does not require ignition, and is the only purpose that will be served by building NIF.

Like the Livermore Lab's "Star Wars" project before it, NIF runs counter to disarmament goals, is being over-hyped to Congress in order to obtain funding -- and won't work, to boot.

National "Back From the Brink" Campaign Debuts

by Arjun Makhijani, with additional text by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On January 25, 1995, millions of people were minutes away from being incinerated by a mistaken nuclear weapons launch. Russian radar had detected a U.S.-Norwegian rocket that looked like a U.S. Trident nuclear missile. The routine notice that it was a weather rocket had been lost. The black suitcase containing Russian nuclear launch codes was already with President Yeltsin when he was informed that it was a mistaken alert.

There have been many false alerts on the U.S. side as well, including one in which a nuclear warfare training tape being run on the command center computer was mistaken for the real thing.

The Cold War officially ended after the Soviet Union fell apart eight years ago. Yet, today, we still face the risk of being evaporated in an accidental nuclear war. That risk is increasing because of deteriorating infrastructure and the poor state of the Russian economy.

The risk of accidental nuclear war is with us every day. However, the hazard is exacerbated by the possibility that the Y2K "millennium bug" will infest the complicated launch on warning systems operated by both the U.S. and Russia, either providing wrong information about an incoming attack or going blank altogether.

There is something that can be done to greatly reduce this risk: take nuclear weapons off of hair trigger alert. De-alerting nuclear weapons does not require a change in the size of the U.S. or Russian arsenals. Nor are lengthy arms reduction negotiations or legislative debates needed. De-alerting simply requires a determination by national leaders to increase the margin of safety and abandon confrontational nuclear postures.

On Dec. 9, a major national effort to de-alert nuclear weapons, the "Back from the Brink" campaign will be launched. On that morning, an important new video discussing nuclear dangers, and how de-alerting can reduce them, will be released at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Speakers will include: Bruce Blair, one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject and a MacArthur Fellow; former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, now head of the Center for Defense Information; U.S. Representative Ed Markey; Beatrice Brailsford, Program Director of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho-based peace group, and Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Maryland.

The heart of the campaign will be outside Washington, DC. That's the place from which the pressure to persuade President Clinton as well as the House and Senate to de-alert nuclear weapons must come. And, we Californians can become a particularly potent force for de-alerting as the various political parties vie for our votes in the coming election year.

You can participate in the "Back from the Brink" campaign by showing the video at a house party or on your local cable access channel. Free copies of the "Back from the Brink" campaign video are available. To obtain one, contact either Tri-Valley CAREs or the Snake River Alliance. Send an email to or write to the temporary campaign office at 310 E. Center, Suite 205, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. After Dec. 1, you can call our toll free number at 1-877-55-Be Safe. The website of the campaign is at (starting Dec. 9, 1999).

You can also arrange a news briefing in your community around the showing of the video. We can send you sample press materials and other information in a packet that you can use and distribute to local media.

Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

by Marylia Kelley and Sally Light
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Citizen's Alerts: The calendar section from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Wednesday, December 8
National Ignition Facility -- Public Hearing on the "Supplemental Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement"
3 - 5 PM & 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Livermore Lab, south cafeteria, open area, enter off East Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details
(877) 388-4930 to sign up to speak

Do you believe the U.S. should move toward nuclear disarmament instead of building new nuclear weapons facilities? Do you think that construction and operation of the NIF in an area contaminated by hazardous wastes poses an environmental risk? If so, this is your golden opportunity to object to the NIF project. Comments may be offered at the hearing or in writing any time before Dec. 20, 1999. Send written comments to DOE Oakland Operations Office, Attn. Richard Scott, c/o LLNL, P.O. Box 808, Livermore, CA 94550. Email to:

This public hearing is mandated by a court order issued in the "Stockpile Stewardship" environmental lawsuit brought by Tri-Valley CAREs, the Natural Resources Defense Council and 37 additional plaintiff groups. Make it count by your participation. See the NIF article from this edition of Citizen's Watch and the event flier for more information.

Thursday, December 9
"Back From the Brink: A Campaign to Take Nuclear Weapons Off Alert"
National campaign kick-off event
Press conference, video, more
(925) 443-7148 for details, or toll-free
1-877-55-Be Safe

"Back From the Brink" is a major national effort to de-alert nuclear weapons, and you are invited to participate. It can be as simple as volunteering to show a video at a house party, or to put it on your local cable access channel. Tri-Valley CAREs and California Communities Against Toxics are also initiating a state-wide sign on letter and other California-specific actions. Call us for details.

December 30 - January 2
"Millennium 2000: Walking the Ways of Peace"
Religious action for disarmament
Las Vegas and Nevada Test Site
(702) 646-4814 for details

Nevada Desert Experience is sponsoring this multi-day event, which will feature speakers, workshops and a midnight, Dec. 31, candlelight procession to the test site.

Thursday, January 6
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CARE's office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

If Y2K snarls allow, we cordially invite you to our first mailing party of the new year. Come and swap stories, munch snacks and help us make the new millennium a peaceful one.

Thursday, January 20
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 So. Livermore Ave. (at Pacific)
(925) 443-7148 for details

As we stand at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, join Tri-Valley CAREs in its endeavors to make this a nuclear weapons-free era, a time when peace & justice prevail and we citizens of the world gather together to honor the Earth.

We Thank You!

A special message of appreciation to our donors, members and friends from the Tri-Valley CAREs' December 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

As we look back at 1999, we at Tri-Valley CAREs are encouraged by the gains we have made in promoting peace, justice and a healthy environment. We researched and broke the story of the National Ignition Facility's technical woes in local, national and international media. We discovered and publicized the Energy Department's previously secret plan (called the "megastrategy") to bring more plutonium to Livermore, and we authored a letter challenging the plan that was signed by over 100 groups around the world.

Also this year, we helped launch the "U.S. Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons," and our program analyst, Sally Light, sits on its coordinating committee. We are partners in the "Back From the Brink" campaign to take nuclear weapons off alert, with executive director Marylia Kelley on its national management board. During 1999, we played a key role ensuring attention was paid to various contamination problems, with our community organizer, Rene' Steinhauer, heading up the group's work on the GE Vallecitos nuclear fuel rods controversy and the nuclear laundry's radioactive sludge, dumped in Pleasanton.

Our members turned out in force in 1999, participating in public meetings, demonstrations and other events. Because of our collective efforts, the public has become better informed about the health hazards of radiation, improvements have been made in the cleanup plan for Livermore Lab and the whole nuclear weapons enterprise has been challenged in a host of creative and important ways. We wish to take this opportunity to thank you, our readers and members, one and all!

Special thanks for our success this past year goes to the individuals and public-interest foundations that have supported our work. Without funding, we could not have been so effective! Thank you to the W. Alton Jones Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, John Merck Fund, Town Creek Foundation, the Judith Stronach Fund at Vanguard Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation and the nearly 300 folks who have sent in donations large and small.

We appreciate each one of you!

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