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Saturday, October 28, 2006  
Watchdog group wants to turn weapons lab green

By: Alex Breitler
Published In: Stockton Record

Subheading: Environmental group bids to run Livermore site

LIVERMORE - It has filed more than 20 lawsuits, testified at dozens of hearings and hosted at least 200 community meetings.

Now a group of environmentalists that has long focused its fury on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is taking that watchdog role to a new level by filing a bid Friday to take over the lab entirely.

Lawrence Livermore, which employs about 2,000 San Joaquin County residents, has been managed for the past 50-plus years by the University of California. But for the first time ever, a competitive bidding process is under way to determine who manages the national security-oriented lab in the future.

Even the environmental group, Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, admits its bid is a long shot.

"We don't expect they will choose us," said Executive Director Marylia Kelley. "But we're extremely happy with our proposal. We believe it's technically feasible and fiscally sound."

The group's goal is to convert the lab from nuclear weapons work to more "socially beneficial" science: the study of sustainable energy, global warming and other environmental issues. Tri-Valley CAREs in its proposal has partnered with another nuclear watchdog group, a small wind energy company and the San Francisco-based New College of California.

Congress three years ago voted to require competitive bidding for the management of laboratories whose previous contracts had spanned at least a half-century. UC has already won its bid to continue running the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The university and one of its partners, San Francisco-based engineering company Bechtel, filed a bid for Lawrence Livermore earlier this week, said Mike Kidder, a Bechtel spokesman. The old contract ends in September.

"We are officially in," Kidder said. "We'll await the process."

Under its watch, UC officials say Lawrence Livermore has become one of the world's "premiere scientific centers," examining not only national security but making other technological contributions, such as a laser that can break up blood clots before they cause a stroke. The lab employs 8,500 people and receives an annual budget of $1.6 billion from the federal government.

Tri-Valley CAREs says the lab dedicates too much time to nuclear weapons study and does so behind a veil of secrecy that does not encourage accountability.

The group also questions laboratory safety; Lawrence Livermore officials were scolded by the federal Department of Energy earlier this year for violations that occurred in 2004 and 2005.

If awarded the bid, Tri-Valley CAREs would open an office for whistle-blower protection and promises more transparency for an inquiring public.

"We're challenging the other bidders to show how they would handle these same goals," Kelley said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration - an office within the Department of Energy - is expected to pick a lab manager by spring 2007, said spokesman Al Stotts. He did not know Friday how many bids have been filed.

But all of them will be considered, Stotts said.

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or

Livermore lab

? The 1-square-mile lab opened in 1952 and is managed by the University of California.

? The lab has a $1.6 billion budget and employs 8,500 people.

? UC's contract to manage the lab expires in September; Friday was the deadline for groups to submit new contract proposals.

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