Reading Room

Bigger Blasts = More Pollution at Tracy’s Site 300
Site 300 sign

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Posted by Marylia Kelley

The Livermore Lab’s 11-square mile Site 300 high explosives testing range is about to become more dangerous, if the nuclear weapons designers get their way.

This month the government quietly released a shocking proposal to increase the amount of high explosives used in open-air tests at Site 300 from 100 pounds per day to 1,000 pounds per day, a 10-fold increase.

Similarly, the proposal increases the annual amount of high explosives used in open-air detonations from 1,000 pounds per year to 7,500 pounds per year, a more than 7-fold increase.

The detonations would occur on a flat, outdoor “firing table” measuring more than 7,000 square feet. The huge open-air tests employ no air pollution control technology.

The document containing the proposal, called an “Environmental Assessment” or EA for short, is often hyper-technical and runs 117-pages long, including a permit application to begin the tests.

The reason for the tests is nuclear weapons, according to the EA. And, although the large open-air explosions could pose serious threats to workers, the public and the environment, the government plans to cut off public comment on December 7.

More than 120 hazardous poisons will become airborne in these tests, according to the proposal. Many of the listed pollutants are known to damage organs, cause cancer and other diseases and may lead to prompt or premature death, including beryllium, vinyl chloride, phosphine, hydrogen cyanide and dioxin. The proposal does not include radioactive materials, which are currently used in high explosives tests conducted at Site 300’s Contained Firing Facility.

In addition to toxic airborne releases, the open-air detonations will result in extraordinarily sharp, loud noises and other problems. Site 300’s nearby neighbors include Tracy Hills, a new development consisting of 5,500 homes, and a State Park (the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area and Campground). The EA refers to Site 300’s neighbors as “receptors.”

The EA fails to adequately consider that these new tests will occur on a firing table already heavily contaminated by past explosions, including many that involved radioactive material.

This firing table is at the precise location where Site 300 personnel inadvertently discovered 80-pounds of uranium-238. The radioactive metal was found in chunks measuring 3-inches or more in diameter and scattered in the topsoil. Additional soil tests found more areas of elevated radioactivity in the area.

The proposed blasts will complicate cleanup. Indeed, Site 300 policy states that any cleanup will be delayed for as long as the firing table remains active.

The Environmental Protection Agency placed Site 300 on its “Superfund” list of most contaminated locations in the country in 1990. Due to already-extensive contamination of soils, surface waters and springs, and multiple groundwater aquifers the cleanup is expected to be multi-generational, lasting up to 80 more years, i.e., until 2097.

Tri-Valley CAREs is committed to ensuring that Site 300 is cleaned up in a comprehensive and much more timely manner.

We aim to stop these huge, open-air explosions from happening. Indeed, this proposal is similar to the plan for bigger blasts that we did stop ten years ago. (Livermore Lab proposals are like zombies, they often come back from the dead.)

We are confident that vigilance - and an active public opposing this plan - can stop it again now!

Toward that end, we have initiated a petition calling for closure of all open-air firing tables at Site 300. The petition is available to download, below, in English or Spanish. Please sign and circulate it among your friends and family.

Further, we are hosting an informational meeting and strategy session on Monday, November 20 at 6:30 PM. We will meet at 902 N. Central Ave., Suite 201, Tracy. We will have comment forms and other materials to empower your activism. Please click below for a meeting flyer. Bring a friend!

Tri-Valley CAREs submitted a letter to the government requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period and a public hearing on this proposal. December 7 is not sufficient time to review the proposal and submit comments. Moreover, no public hearing is planned. Our letter is below. Just click in.

Further, we invite you to send your own letter or short note asking for an extension of the public comment period. Send your note by email to or send your postal mailed request to NEPA Document Manager, NNSA, Livermore Field Office, PO Box 808, L-293, Livermore, CA 94550-0808.

We thank our members and friends for all you do for peace, justice and a healthy environment.

Click here for the PETITION to close the open-air firing tables at Site 300 in English.
Click here for the PETITION to close the open-air firing tables at Site 300 in Spanish.

Click here to see the FLYER for the November 20, 2017 community meeting in Tracy.

Click here for our LETTER requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period and a public hearing.

Click here for the ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT and Permit Application to conduct the blasts at Site 300.