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Tuesday, November 29, 2005  
Plan would allow Lawrence Livermore to double plutonium

By: Chris Metinko
Published In: Contra Costa Times

The branch of the Energy Department that oversees the nuclear weapons complex has signed off on a 10-year environmental plan that will allow Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to house twice the plutonium it now handles.Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, signed off Tuesday on a plan issued in April by his agency that concluded the lab should be allowed to increase its plutonium storage from the 1,540-pound standard that has been in place for years to more than 3,080 pounds -- doubling the allowable plutonium storage at the lab.The plan also allows an increase in the amount of tritium to be used, from 30 grams to 35 grams and an increase in experiments conducted at the National Ignition Facility using fissile and fissionable materials.Lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said the plan does not mean the lab will immediately double the amount of plutonium on site, but it gives the facility the ability to do so if it is necessary for development and research.The official approval of the plan -- which has been the subject of public meetings and review -- comes about a month after the lab's Plutonium Facility began slowly resuming operations after more than nine months of inactivity. Concerns about safety at the facility, part of the lab's Superblock, surfaced in October 2004 during a routine visit by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.Inspectors found problems with the ventilation system and glove boxes used to handle plutonium without exposure -- taped-up cracks in the ventilation system and "hot boxes" without adequate seismic restraints.The board also expressed concern about the lack of an adequate "configuration management program" to oversee the 16 safety systems designed to protect workers and the public from exposure to plutonium.In January, the NNSA agreed that the configuration management program for Superblock was inadequate and ineffective and that vulnerabilities existed. These concerns prompted the lab to order a stand down at the Plutonium Facility on Jan. 15.Marylia Kelley, of the lab watchdog group Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, said the lab plan is "unconscionable" and believes there is no chance the lab will not increase its amount of plutonium."They're doubling the plutonium limit to expand their nuclear weapon activity," Kelley said. "It's obvious they are going to be expanding the amount of plutonium on site."Kelley said Tri-Valley CAREs, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations are undertaking a detailed legal analysis of the final plan and may enter a lawsuit to attempt to overturn it. Tri-Valley CAREs is also launching a petition campaign, calling upon the Energy Department to not double the plutonium storage and use at Livermore Lab and asking Congress to not fund DOE's planned increases. Reach Chris Metinko at 925-847-2125 or

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