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Thursday, March 08, 2007  
David stuns Goliath

By: Niko Kyriakou
Published In: Tracy Press

Shoe store owner Bob Sarvey won an appeal when regulators revoked a permit for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to test bigger bombs in Site 300. By Niko Kyriakou

Press file photo - VICTORIOUS:Local activist and shoe store owner Bob Sarvey shows a map of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory?s Site 300 to the Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond committee in October during discussions about a proposed bio-lab. Sarvey?s work against increased outdoor bomb testing at Site 300 has resulted in the lab?s air pollution permit to be rescinded.

Local activist Robert Sarvey has convinced air pollution regulators to pull the permit allowing Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory?s to increase the size of outdoor test explosions conducted at Site 300 southwest of Tracy.

Anti-nuclear weapons groups applauded the news.

?Those explosions were a very credible threat to the people and the environment,? said Loulena Miles, staff attorney for Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment. ?This is a major victory for the community because there will be opportunity for public comment and even a hearing.?

Last November, the lab obtained permits to detonate up to 350 pounds of TNT per day and up to 8,000 pounds per year at Site 300 ? exceeding a previous limit of 100 pounds per day and 1,000 pounds per year.

Tracy?s City Council also voted 3-1 in February to support the lab?s plan to increase the size of its outdoor explosions, with Councilwoman Irene Sundberg in dissent. Mayor Brent Ives did not vote because he works at the lab.

But the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District revoked the new permit Tuesday after reviewing an appeal filed by Sarvey, owner of a local shoe store.

Sarvey?s appeal tipped off the district that the lab?s tests sometimes involve radioactive materials like depleted uranium and tritium ? something the lab had not reported.

?(The lab) did not quantify the emissions or describe the radioactive emissions on their application,? said Seyed Sadredin, director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. ?Out of caution, we are rescinding the permit.?

But the lab argues radioactive materials were absent from its permit application because those substances fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and not the county?s air pollution control district. The lab insists that its explosives tests abide by all state and federal laws.

Sadredin said he was not sure whether California?s Environmental Quality Act had jurisdiction over the radioactive pollution produced by Site 300.

?It?s a question whether CEQA would apply, or federal requirements,? he said.

But Sarvey says the state?s environmental quality act does cover Site 300. The act mandates the lead regulator agency, in this case the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, to investigate all health-related pollutants, including radioactive ones, he said.

Once the air pollution district finds out just how much radioactive material is exploded at Site 300 ? information the lab said it would gladly provide ? the district will do a health study.

The district will seek outside help to do the analysis as it rarely deals with radioactive materials, Sadredin said.

Initially, the air district only looked into the health impacts of nonradioactive toxic materials and fine dust released in the test blasts, which it deemed were within legal limits.

If regulators find in their new study that the radioactive pollutants pose a human health risk, the lab may decide to ?scale down how much (radioactive) material they want to burn or use in explosions,? Sadredin said.

Tri-Valley CAREs believes the radioactive tests pose health risks to the local community, especially people who will live in Tracy Hills, a 5,500-home development planned to be built about a mile from the Site 300 boundary. Houses may not be built there until 2012.

AKT Development, which is building Tracy Hills, also appealed the lab?s permit allowing bigger blasts but later dropped that appeal. Representatives from AKT could not be reached for comment.

Tri-Valley CAREs claims the radioactive blasts also threaten endangered species living in Site 300, including the California tiger salamander, the alameda whipsnake and California red-legged frog.

Lawrence Livermore spokeswoman Linda Seaver said the lab ?is confident that when all is said and done, we will get the permit.?

But activists like Sarvey want the federal government to move its radioactive materials tests far away from Tracy, something that may be a serious problem for the lab.

Last week, the lab announced it had won an ongoing competition with Los Alamos Laboratories in New Mexico to design a submarine nuclear warhead for the Department of Energy ? the first new nuke the U.S. will have built in more than 10 years.

Sarvey and other activists hypothesize that the lab?s request to enlarge explosives testing is tied to its recently won federal contract.

?I haven?t seen any concrete evidence to say that, but it really does seem to make sense that their request to increase the size of outdoor bomb testing is linked to the new-age bomb,? said Loulena Miles, staff attorney for Tri-Valley CAREs.

Seaver said there was no connection between the two projects.

Activists worry that the new nuclear development is not only a danger locally but could damage efforts to persuade Iran and North Korea to scale down their nuclear technologies.

Congress has approved $88 million to research the new ballistic nuclear weapon, but money to pay for its development has yet to be approved.

Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, says the lab?s new contract is part of a wider plan put forth by the DOE to rebuild the entire federal arsenal of 10,000 nuclear warheads at a rate of 125 a year.

To contact reporter Niko Kyriakou, call 830-4274, or e-mail

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