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Thursday, April 06, 2006  
Lab's plutonium to move by 2014

By: Betsy Mason
Published In: San Jose Mercury News


The federal Department of Energy announced plans Wednesday to move plutonium from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 2014, part of a plan to consolidate all U.S. work involving plutonium at a single facility by 2022.

The move, intended to enhance security and increase efficiency, is part of a larger plan to renovate the nuclear weapons complex by 2030.

"We're looking to make the complex safer and more secure,'' said Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration -- the Energy Department branch that oversees the weapons complex.

Plutonium is now scattered across the country at seven facilities, requiring high-level security tailored to each site. Livermore may be the most problematic because of its proximity to the surrounding community, and to the densely populated Bay Area.

Livermore recently beefed up defense of its plutonium facility with the addition of multiple six-barreled Gatling guns, capable of firing more than 50 shots per second.

Community groups including Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs have long argued that the 7 million people living within a 50-mile radius of the lab make it an inappropriate place to store plutonium.

The Livermore facility officially has 880 pounds of plutonium, although the actual amount is classified. It is allowed to have about 3,080 pounds.

The new plan, outlined during a House Armed Services Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., involves moving plutonium from Livermore to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. A new facility being built there would take over the production of pits -- the explosive cores of nuclear warheads -- and the plutonium work currently being done at both labs. By 2022, the plutonium would be moved again to a new facility whose location has not been determined.

Peter Stockton of the Project on Government Oversight says plutonium needs to be moved from Livermore, but doesn't think it should wait until 2014.

"We totally don't agree with the time frame,'' he said. "I'd say we want it out of there in a year.''

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has opposed removing all plutonium from the lab in the past, is supportive of the new plan.

"My priority has always been to buy down the risk for the community while at the same time assuring there is no diminishment of the lab's role, its pedigree and its opportunities,'' she said.

Among the most sweeping plans NNSA deputy administrator Tom D'Agostino laid out Wednesday are designing a nuclear warhead to replace existing Cold War-era weapons, and consolidation of all special nuclear materials at one site.

The plan also includes shutting down Livermore Lab's Site 300 hydrodynamic facility near Tracy.

Wilkes stressed the plan to move Livermore's plutonium does not mean the NNSA questions the lab's future. "We will always have a need for Livermore Lab,'' he said. "Livermore Lab has a bright future.''

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