Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
November/December 2011 Citizen's Watch Newsletter
by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Year End Progress in Reducing the Nuclear Weapons Budget
Fundamentally, since the country is already awash in long-lived nuclear materials like plutonium and highly enriched uranium, it takes only two things to maintain a huge nuclear weapons stockpile and to develop new and modified nuclear bombs - people and money.
Put simply, if the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise gets more and more funding in the coming years there will be no real momentum toward disarmament, notwithstanding any rhetoric that would try to have us believe otherwise.
The Big Picture Costs
A number of non-governmental organizations have come up with overall estimates of what nuclear weapons cost, including Carnegie Endowment, Global Zero, Ploughshares Fund and others. To do so, one must first decide what programs to include in the estimate. For example, should the cost of cleaning up pollution caused by nuclear weapons development be included? (We say yes.) What about the costs of compensating scores of thousands of nuclear weapons workers who were made ill by on the job exposures? (Again, we say yes.)
Then, one must find good numbers. Nuclear weapons spending spans more than one Department, from Energy to Defense and beyond. The Dept. of Energy (DOE) budget is reasonably transparent (if still bloated). However, the Defense Dept. budget is trickier, as it does not clearly delineate nuclear weapons program spending.
It is interesting to consider, and probably not accidental, that neither Congress nor the American people can tell from budget documents precisely how much we spend each year on nuclear weapons. That said, one can derive good faith estimates. Ploughshares estimates the cost of nuclear weapons and related programs over the coming ten years at about $700 billion, including missile defense. Global Zero has suggested that $700 billion might be a low estimate. Others think Ploughshares' number is on the high side.
A small controversy has erupted recently as Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) and a handful of defense hawks have tried to limit the budget debate to "core" nuclear weapons costs, projected at more than $200 billion over the coming decade. However, their estimate includes only the "tip" of the nuclear "iceberg" and leaves out many of the expensive items that enable U.S. nuclear weapons, for example deferred environmental costs and much of the command and control infrastructure (to name but two). This debate over nuclear weapons spending is now being brought into sharp relief by the growing federal deficit.
After the "Super Committee"
The Super Committee failed to reach a deficit agreement, thereby cutting neither the social programs we support nor the nuclear programs we recommended to their attention. By law, their failure is supposed to trigger $1.2 billion in automatic reductions to federal programs over ten years, including from nuclear weapons and other defense programs. A small number of Republican and Democrat decision-makers immediately began lobbying for a special Pentagon exclusion.
To his credit, President Obama vowed to veto any such exclusion. However, because big budget increases had been slated for the Pentagon, independent analysts have determined that the mandatory "cuts" will merely return it to the ample funding it enjoyed in 2007.
DOE and Fiscal Year 2012
In mid-Dec., the House and Senate passed a fiscal year 2012 appropriations "omnibus" bill, which funds the government through Sept. 30th. Here, we have some good news to report.
The "top line" number for DOE nuclear weapons programs was cut by around $355 million, to $7.23 billion. This cut is a step in the right direction, yet it still leaves DOE nuclear weapons activities with more money in 2012 than in 2011.
To delve into a few key details, Congress trimmed $100 million from the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR), the plutonium bomb plant slated for Los Alamos in NM. While this does leave DOE with $200 million for CMRR, the bill's report language explicitly prohibits any of those funds from being used to begin construction of the nuclear facility. This delay will allow a more reasoned debate on the future of CMRR, including its possible cancellation.
Moreover, the final appropriations bill also cut $126 million from the DOE's plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel complex, slated for the Savannah River Site in SC. MOX is a scheme to use plutonium in fuel rods for nuclear reactors. Here, Congress cut the full DOE request of $170 million in fiscal year 2012 for one specific part of the project, called the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility.
However, the final bill also offered $50 million extra to another part of the MOX project in an attempt to keep it on schedule. Still, the overall cut gives us hope that we can achieve deeper funding reductions, and cancellation of MOX altogether, in the coming years.
Additionally, we note that new loan guarantees for nuclear power plants were zeroed out in the final bill. And, locally, the Superfund cleanup at Livermore Lab received its requested amount.
We have reason to celebrate, but not to rest on our laurels. There is an opportunity to achieve deeper cuts, but it will not happen without sustained advocacy. We will be going to Washington in January and then again in March with a team of community members including youth.
Together, we will stop nuclear weapons programs - and move the country and the world toward their abolition!
by Scott Yundt from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Coming Soon: Our Day in Court
In March 2011, Tri-Valley CAREs filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court challenging a bad ruling from the lower court that allowed the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to continue operating a controversial bio-warfare agent facility at Livermore Lab without proper environmental review. The Ninth Circuit has just announced that they will hear oral argument in our suit on January 11, 2012.
Livermore Lab's bio-warfare agent research facility, known as a Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3), houses dangerous experiments with live anthrax, plague, Q fever and dozens of other potentially lethal pathogens. Some of these bio-agents will be aerosolized for use on small animals (up to 100 at a time) to ascertain how effective the agents would be in killing humans.
Further, the Livermore Lab BSL-3 is authorized to conduct experiments with genetically modified bio-agents of potentially novel (and unknown) virulence.
The Livermore Lab BSL-3 is housed in a portable structure very near multiple active earthquake faults. According to DOE, the facility's inventory may include up to 50-liters of deadly bio-agents at any one time. Tri-Valley CAREs has been litigating to halt operations and obtain appropriate environmental review of the facility since 2003.
Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt will present the group's oral argument to the Ninth Circuit Court. He explains, "We are challenging this BSL-3 because the DOE failed to adequately analyze the catastrophic consequences it could have on Lab workers and the surrounding communities."
Yundt continued, "In Tri-Valley CAREs' initial lawsuit against the facility, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered DOE to go back to the drawing board to consider the impacts of a terrorist attack on human and environmental health, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. As I will explain in oral argument to the Court, the DOE did not comply with the Court's prior Order - or the law."
Instead, the DOE offered a warmed-over version of its original analysis that the Ninth Circuit Court had deemed deficient in Tri-Valley CAREs' initial lawsuit - and began operating the facility. Interestingly, the DOE did acknowledge that there could be potentially grave consequences at the Livermore BSL-3 if a terrorist act were to occur, but the agency then failed utterly to analyze those consequences.
According to the group's Executive Director, Marylia Kelley, "The community, including the 7 million people who live within 50 miles of this facility, deserves a thorough analysis of the consequences of a major accident at the Livermore Lab BSL-3, whether caused by a leak, earthquake, sabotage or terrorist attack."
Tri-Valley CAREs sent the Ninth Circuit its final written briefing on the case in June 2011. This Hearing is the Court's next step in resolving the litigation.
Tri-Valley CAREs, in its written briefs and upcoming oral argument, is asking the Ninth Circuit Court to set aside the lower court's bad ruling and compel DOE to undertake an in-depth analysis in a full Environmental Impact Statement with public hearings. (Note that the total number of public hearings DOE has conducted so far is ZERO.)
We are also requesting that the Ninth Circuit Court suspend operation of the BSL-3 until such time as it can demonstrate compliance with the law. ###
by Scott Yundt and Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Victory in Freedom of Information Suit
Hooray! Here is a piece of late-breaking, good news. On December 20, just as we were preparing this newsletter for the printer, Tri-Valley CAREs reached a favorable settlement agreement with the government in our year-long Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.
In December 2010, Tri-Valley CAREs filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Dept. of Energy (DOE) and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for nine failures to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, which requires federal agencies to respond to public requests for information within 20 days.
Specifically, in all nine instances, the DOE and NNSA failed to provide responsive, unclassified documents regarding operations at the Livermore Lab as required by law. Moreover, the agencies were illegally non-responsive for time periods ranging from six months to more than three years.
We are particularly happy to report that prevailing in this lawsuit means that we forced the DOE and NNSA to produce significant documents in response to all nine of our requests. Additionally, we have settled for an agreeable sum to cover the expense of the litigation.
"The DOE and NNSA were egregiously out of compliance with the law," noted Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt. "The information we won is important to the community. Documents we obtained involve the Lab's plutonium transport, bio-warfare experiments, hazardous materials usage (including large amounts of depleted uranium blown up at Site 300), worker exposures (including a recent beryllium accident), financial irregularities (involving Lab management), start up of new operations in the tritium facility - and more."
"As a 'watchdog' organization, we rely on open government laws like FOIA to do our work," stated attorney Nick Chan, a member of Tri-Valley CAREs' Board of Directors who assisted in the litigation. "Keeping this information hidden does nothing to protect the public," Chan added. "Instead, it robs the community of the opportunity to press for changes that would better safeguard worker and public health and the environment."
Tri-Valley CAREs was forced to bring similar FOIA litigation in 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2008. "Our victory in this latest lawsuit strengthens our efforts to hold the DOE and NNSA accountable. Further, it vindicates the public's right to be informed," stated the group's Executive Director, Marylia Kelley. "The information we sought and have now received impacts our lives and our future."
Kelley added, "We hope we will not be forced to sue DOE and NNSA again and again in order to compel them to follow the law. However, if need be, we will do so." ###
by Scott Yundt and Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Print Bites: All the News that Fits to Print
- Fukushima Still Leaking. The New York Times reported on Dec. 5 that "at least 45 tons of highly radioactive water has leaked from a purification facility" at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Some of the water had reached the Pacific Ocean, according to the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO. The leaked water was escaping through a crack in the catchment's concrete structure. Asahi Shimbun then reported that as much as 220 tons of water altogether may have leaked from the facility. The water is believed to have contained strontium at concentrations up to one million times the maximum "safe" level set by the government, and about 300 times the "allowable" concentration for cesium. (And, in another report, airborne cesium from the power plant disaster on March 11 now has been found in every Prefecture in Japan.)
- Undercover Reporter. Journalist Tomohico Suzuki spent more than a month working undercover as a general laborer at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Conditions at the plant are far worse than TEPCO or the government has admitted, Suzuki told fellow reporters on Dec. 15 at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "Absolutely no progress is being made" toward a final resolution, he charged. Suzuki also charged that pressure to achieve "cold shutdown" of the plant by year's end has led to shoddy repairs and an habitual disregard for worker safety. Suzuki quoted an inside expert as saying, "Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die."
- BRAC for DOE? Each year, the DOE Inspector General issues a report on "Management Challenges at the Department of Energy." Unlike prior reports, the latest one identifies cost reduction and efficiency actions for DOE management to consider. Ideas include eliminating duplicative NNSA functions (which could include eliminating NNSA altogether) and establishing a commission to analyze the DOE weapons complex for sites to close or consolidate (similar to the 2005 Defense Department Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC). Check our website for the Inspector General's full report.
- Plutonium Fire Safety. A Dec. 13 report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board cites severe deficiencies in the fire safety system at Livermore Lab's plutonium facility. The DNFSB also found serious safety problems with gloveboxes, which are workstations for handling and machining radioactive material. The DNFSB report, transmitted to NNSA Administrator Tom D'Agostino, establishes a 60-day reporting requirement on "actions the NNSA has taken or plans to take to ensure the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Plutonium Facility's glovebox system and Fire Detection and Alarm System can perform their safety functions." Check our website for the DNFSB's full report.
- Superfund Update. Tri-Valley CAREs sponsored a neighborhood meeting in Nov. on the toxic groundwater plume emanating from Livermore Lab. A major focus involved the pipeline extension that the Lab is planning to construct through neighborhoods to Big Trees Park. The pipeline will carry contaminated water back on-site, where it will be treated. However, the construction will take place in soils known to be contaminated with plutonium. The community is requesting that the construction site include continuous air monitoring for radionuclides. The DOE contends this is not necessary. Since the meeting, Tri-Valley CAREs has spoken to the City of Livermore Environment & Energy Committee, which agreed to consider the issue. Then, the Committee was told by a high-level City official they were not allowed to discuss it. Tri-Valley CAREs then addressed the City Council and sent a letter to the City Attorney detailing why it was inappropriate to squelch the Committee's legitimate inquiry. For a copy of our letter to the City Attorney, or to receive an information packet on the cleanup, please contact our office. ###
Alerts 4 U
Thursday, January 5
Letter to the Editor (writing party)
5:30 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details
Our first LTE party of 2012 will offer 2 subjects to choose from: One, dangers of bio-warfare research at Livermore Lab; and, Two, Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday and the meaning of nonviolence. We will offer a short briefing and handouts for each topic. And, if you prefer to write a letter on a different topic, that's great, too. (Also, circle your calendar for our Feb. 2 LTE party.)
Thursday, January 19
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM - 9 PM
2582 Old First St., Livermore
RSVP (925) 443-7148
Our meetings are a great place to get active, get energized and get informed. We will have info on nuclear weapons and other topics. Our January meeting will feature a report from our Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt, on the important bio-suit Hearing before the 9th Circuit Court - and more!
Thursday, February 23
Community Meeting in Tracy
"Nuclear Weapons, Pollution & YOU" 7:30 PM - 9 PM, Tracy Transit Center, Room 105, on 6th St. & Central Ave., located near the Grand Theater
(925) 443-7148 for details
Tri-Valley CAREs is sponsoring this special meeting to explore polluting activities at the Livermore Lab's "Site 300" high explosives testing range in Tracy. Hear from Tracy business owner, Bob Sarvey, about how residents can work with local and State agencies to protect the community from radioactive and toxic contamination. Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, Marylia Kelley, and Environmental Scientist, Peter Strauss, will explain the ongoing Superfund cleanup of poisoned groundwater at Site 300 - and discuss how the public can get involved. ###