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Friday, December 02, 2005  
Lawrence Lab plans to double stored radioactive plutonium

By: Bob Brownne
Published In: The Tracy Press, San Joaquin News Service

A plan to step up Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's role in research

for nuclear weapons is now official.



The National Nuclear Safety Administration's "record of decision" on the

lab's latest environmental review clears the way for the next 10 years of

research at the lab. The environmental impact report, released in April,

envisions storage of twice as much radioactive plutonium at the lab as was

previously allowed.



Plutonium at the Livermore lab's "Superblock" storage vault will increase

from 700 kilograms to 1,400 kilograms, and the "material-at-risk" amount of

plutonium - the amount that can be handled by researchers at any one time -

will rise from 20 kilograms to 60 kilograms.



The lab plans to step up its research into methods for making the "pits"

that are at the core of nuclear warheads. Lab spokesman John Belluardo said

the lab won't actually manufacture pits, but it will handle the radioactive

material as it designs methods to be used at other Department of Energy

labs where pits are made.



"The reason in increasing the administrative limits is to meet the National

Nuclear Security Administration's goals for stockpile stewardship and

national security," Belluardo said. "It's a critical mission for the

security of the country."



He added that the 1,400-kilogram maximum - about 3,086 pounds - isn't

likely to be the amount of plutonium stored at the lab every day.



"It's a maximum projection," he said. "It does not mean at any one time the

potential total amount of plutonium would be there at any one time."



The Livermore lab watchdog group Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive

Environment claims that the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear

Safety Administration are charging forward with nuclear weapons development

with no concern for public safety.



"This really is the bomb designer's wish list come true," said Marylia

Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs.



Kelley said a severe earthquake is one scenario that could cause trouble,

and just the idea that researchers would handle more plutonium than they

now handle increases the danger.



"There's a history of accidents, leaks and storage problems," she said.



"To double the amount of plutonium at risk increases the risk of a

catastrophic accident."



Belluardo said those fears are unfounded.



"The lab has a long history of handling nuclear material safely and

soundly, and this decision provides for that for the next 10 years," he

said.



The final report also lists the potential for radiation exposure at one of

the firing tables at Site 300, the 7,000-acre test site along Corral Hollow

Road in the hills southwest of Tracy.



The firing table is where non-nuclear high explosives used to trigger a

chain reaction in a warhead are ignited and analyzed. Researchers also use

tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, in those tests.

The report states that radiation from those tests is well below thresholds

set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.



The report also describes ongoing cleanup efforts at Site 300, where

groundwater is contaminated with tritium and solvents.



Contact reporter Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com.




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