Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
Summer 2012 Citizen's Watch Newsletter
by Marylia Kelley and Scott Yundt from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2012 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Mixing plutonium and politics makes for a dangerous cocktail. This is particularly true at Livermore Lab where the security forces are shrinking, major earthquake faults abound, a huge Interstate clogs up to resemble a parking lot and 7 million people live within a 50-mile radius. Yet, these are the very ingredients that the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration is vigorously mixing to create an insane and deadly new plutonium strategy
Let us start with the basic plan: It involves the DOE putting whole fission bomb cores on U.S. highways about six times per year. Specifically, these plutonium cores, often called "pits," will travel from the Los Alamos Lab in NM to Livermore Lab, located in the San Francisco Bay Area's Alameda County.
Next, a few words about Livermore Lab security: As many readers know, Livermore Lab failed a security test in which mock terrorists were able to access the Lab's plutonium and detonate a "radiological device" on site. Meanwhile another team of mock terrorists stole the bomb making material and left the site. The DOE, under pressure from Tri-Valley CAREs and others, agreed to de-inventory nuclear bomb-usable quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium by the close of Fiscal Year 2012, which ends on September 30.
Indeed, in announcing its Fiscal Year 2013 budget request to Congress, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a major reduction in Livermore's security force and touted the millions in savings that this irrevocable force reduction was enabling.
Now, a bit about the plutonium pits: Following years of advocacy by Tri-Valley CAREs and colleagues across the country, President Obama recently proposed a 5-year delay for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement - Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), slated for construction at the Los Alamos Lab. That facility was intended to begin operation in 2022 and produce up to 80 plutonium bomb cores each year, which would be a four-fold increase in U.S. pit production.
To be clear, we are pleased that the de-inventory of weapons usable quantities of plutonium at Livermore Lab will constrain its operation as a full-service nuclear weapons development site. And, the delay of the CMRR-NF for five years will allow for a fundamental re-thinking of the perceived "need" to increase bomb production four-fold. But, unfortunately, the story does not end here. Instead, this is where plutonium runs headlong into politics and a deadly cocktail is resulting.
The DOE is devising its aforementioned plan, called a "revised plutonium strategy," ostensibly to deal with the proposed CMRR-NF delay.
But, the DOE plan puts plutonium pits on the highway from Los Alamos to Livermore later this year, even though the CMRR-NF would not have been operational until 2022 at the earliest - without the delay. So, clearly, neither the CMRR-NF nor its delay is the real driver behind the new plutonium strategy. For starters, the DOE needs to be honest about that fact.
Second, the Livermore Lab, whose full-fledged security force failed to prevent a mock attack, will have a much lesser security force from October 1, 2012 onward based on a security designation called "category III," which means the site will no longer have authorization to handle bomb-usable quantities of fissile material. By definition, whole bomb cores are bomb-usable amounts of plutonium! The DOE needs to be honest about this inconvenient truth as well.
Third, when confronted with these inconsistencies, some officials have proposed obtaining a "variance" from nuclear safety and security regulations every time that plutonium pits arrive at Livermore Lab - about six times each year according to one official. In this context the term "variance" means merely waving a magic wand over the law and hoping nothing bad happens while you are repeatedly violating it. DOE's plan does not openly discuss what it will mean for plutonium safety to enact regular "variances." Moreover, it is not clear that DOE has the legal authority to do so in the absence of any analysis done pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.
And, finally, there is no real need to put plutonium pits on a tour of the southwest. Tri-Valley CAREs inquired repeatedly about the purpose behind the plan. DOE Headquarters handed out a 2-pager. It said the revised plutonium strategy would use Building 332 at Livermore Lab. This turns out not to be the case.
Rather, it turns out that Livermore Lab has a diagnostic in one bay in Building 334 (a much smaller facility than B-332) that Los Alamos Lab does not possess, although the Los Alamos site is much larger than Livermore. According to the Building 334 Safety Analysis Report, this particular diagnostic is used to physically simulate the conditions that a nuclear weapon core might undergo in a storage, transportation or "use" environment.
If DOE were basing its plan on ensuring the safety of existing nuclear weapons while they await dismantlement, we would see a vastly different proposal. For example, the DOE could move its diagnostic one time rather than putting nuclear bomb cores repeatedly on the road. In fact, it appears that the "revised plutonium strategy" is actually a scheme to keep Livermore Lab operating as a full-service bomb design site, and damn the security and safety risks.
Moreover, Los Alamos can ensure the safety of the existing stockpile without building the CMRR-NF. The CMRR-NF was always about producing new-design plutonium pits for the stockpile.
As we have brought these issues to the attention of Congress, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the Government Accountability Office and others, we have made significant progress. Many who have oversight or decision-making roles recognize the serious dangers and inconsistencies posed by the DOE's initial "revised plutonium strategy."
As a next step, Tri-Valley CAREs will return to Washington, DC in August to help members of Congress and others understand that more rational alternatives exist and should be pursued. The solution we propose would end new nuclear weapons development, limit bomb work at Los Alamos to "curatorship" of the stockpile, cancel the CMRR-NF, and keep the plutonium pits from taking unnecessary excursions to Livermore on our crowded highways.
by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2012 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Print Bites: All the News that Fits to Print
- Peace Float Wins. Tri-Valley CAREs' entry in the 2012 Livermore Rodeo Parade took home the 1st Place trophy in its class this summer. Thanks are due to all the marvelous, talented and enthusiastic volunteers who made the win possible, and, of course, to Fred's atomic orange pick-up truck. Our entry, and the thousand fliers handed out along the route, asked: Which future for Livermore Lab: 88% of the Budget for Nuclear Weapons or Green Jobs for All?
- Plutonium Fuel Cut. In June, a floor amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Thornberry (R-NE) to shift $17 million from the DOE's plutonium mixed oxide fuel (MOX) program to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to secure loose nuclear material passed overwhelmingly, 328 to 89. This amendment came on the heels of a $152 million cut to MOX in the House Appropriations Committee. Stay tuned, however, as the Fiscal Year 2013 budget process is not over.
- Authorizers Go Nuts. First, the House Armed Services Committee passed a Fiscal Year 2013 defense bill that is completely out of step with 21st century political and economic realities. One set of troubling provisions in the bill guts safety standards at nuclear weapons facilities, including Livermore Lab. Another provision authorizes funds for the plutonium bomb plant at Los Alamos Lab that the Obama Administration is wisely seeking to delay a minimum of 5 years. Next, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the defense act. The Senate remained silent on the safety questions. Sadly, that bill also contained provisions to authorize some funding for the new plutonium bomb plant, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. On the safety questions, there will be one final opportunity to uphold current standards when the defense bill goes to conference committee. Moreover, the fact that the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bills have not funded the CMRR-NF offers hope of zero funding for that particular project at the end of the full congressional process. We will have further alerts as the budget process continues to unfold.
- U.S. Nuke Costs. This summer, the Stimson Center issued a report on the annual cost of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, coming in with a $31 billion per year estimate. The Stimson Center estimate comes in lower than some others because they did not include items like missile defense spending or monies to clean up leaking wastes at nuclear facilities. To put $31 billion per year in perspective, it tops the combined annual municipal budgets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle. In related news, it is no wonder that the U.S. Conference of Mayors again this summer passed a strong resolution calling for downsized nuclear spending to meet human needs.
- 13 Minutes to Doomsday. A July 8 editorial in the Washington Post shines light on the need to de-alert strategic nuclear forces. The editorial, which represents the paper's entire board, states, "Every President of the missile age was briefed... the decision to launch would have to be made in 13 minutes or less... Today, the United States and Russia have as many as 1,800 warheads on alert at any given time. This is overkill and unnecessary... We think that both countries should ease off the alert status for strategic forces."
- Fukushima Report. This month, the Japanese government's "Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission" released its report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdowns in March 2011. The 88-page summary has been translated into English. The commission held more than 900 hours of hearings and interviewed 1,167 people. The commission concluded that the causes were attributable to human error, government-industry collusion, and the earthquake that preceded the tsunami - all of which were foreseeable - in addition to the tsunami itself. This report's findings contradict the nuclear industry-touted "narrative" that the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns was solely the tsunami. In fact, the events that caused the Fukushima meltdowns are likely to happen again, including in the U.S., unless we move away from nuclear energy as a power source.
- A-Bomb Doctor Speaks Out. The July 12 Japan Times profiled a 95-year-old retired doctor from Hiroshima who ministered to atomic bomb survivors. Dr. Shuntara Hida has now begun speaking out on the exposures to people around Fukushima because he has been overwhelmed by unexpected numbers of calls from residents suffering from unexplained fatigue, diarrhea and hair loss. He suspects internal exposures to radiation as the cause.
by Marylia Kelley in Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2012 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Tri-Valley CAREs Undertakes Community-based Radiation Monitoring
Recently, Livermore Lab and its parent agency, the Dept. of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration, began digging a pipeline through soils in our community known to contain elevated levels of plutonium, the radioactive core element in nuclear bombs. Microscopic particles of plutonium, if inhaled, are enough to cause cancer and other deadly diseases. So, Tri-Valley CAREs swung into immediate action to protect the health and safety of the workers and the community. Here is the story...
Livermore Lab is a Superfund site, listed by the federal EPA as one of the most polluted locations in the nation. Contaminated groundwater emanating from Livermore Lab underlies local homes, apartments, city streets, a community pool and city park to the west of the nuclear weapons lab.
To reach the pollution in the "leading edge" of the plume and bring the toxic water back on-site for treatment, the Livermore Lab must construct a pipeline, moving westward along Susan Lane, turning north at Charlotte Way and then crossing to the edge of Big Trees Park.
But the toxic contamination in the aquifer is not the only problem. The soils in Big Trees Park and along the pipeline route have been previously tested and found to contain elevated levels of plutonium-239, which has a radioactive half-life of more than 24,000 years.
Tri-Valley CAREs, joined by about 150 residents in the immediate vicinity, asked Livermore Lab to conduct air monitoring for radiation during the month-long construction phase of the project, which is scheduled to conclude near the end of July. The concern is that plutonium particles may become re-suspended in the dust kicked up by digging a trench to lay the pipeline and then cover it over.
The Lab has agreed to monitor for wind speed and dust concentrations, but not radioactivity. We believe this current monitoring is necessary but not sufficient. Thus, at the request of our members, we have begun doing our own community-based monitoring.
Tri-Valley CAREs has a Radalert 50 radiation detection device. It has gamma detection capability and a special window that permits monitoring for alpha and beta emitters (plutonium-239 is an alpha-emitter). It is a well-made instrument, but is not as sophisticated or sensitive as the air monitors that Livermore Lab could and should employ.
Our citizen-watchdogs are keeping a daily log to monitor the construction project, reporting the radiation readings in counts per minute (note: the "average" for that area is about 8-16 cpm). They are also taking photos and reporting on visible dust, unattended open gates, and other sightings. To read the daily logs, and our latest technical memorandum, go to www.trivalleycares.org and scroll down.
While the construction and our community-based monitoring are ongoing as we write, there are significant victories to report. On the first day of construction, Tri-Valley CAREs' members saw visible dust and noted that the dust monitors were placed far away from the actual construction activity.
Because of our reporting, Livermore Lab officials held a special meeting the next day with the construction crew management. The dust monitors were pulled in toward the actual trenching activity. Dust suppression was enhanced. For example, we were able to see more frequent and vigilant watering-down of all dirt in the area. Moreover, clean dirt was brought in to fill the trenches after each section of pipe was laid, preventing a potential widespread dispersion of plutonium-contaminated dust particles.
We will never know how many lives our community-based monitoring effort has saved, but we can visibly see that we are having a positive impact on the pipeline construction and how it is being carried out.
Alerts 4 U
Wednesday, August 1
Film debut: "In My Lifetime"
7 PM, Humanist Hall
390 27th Street, Oakland
(925) 443-7148 for details
Directed by a former ABC network news executive producer, Robert Frye, In My Lifetime provides a comprehensive look at the scope and impact of the nuclear age from its beginnings to the present day, including the international efforts by citizens, scientists and political leaders to reduce or eliminate the nuclear threat. The film is winning accolades from movie reviewers and activists alike. This showing will be hosted by the Aug. 5th Livermore action planning committee, including Tri-Valley CAREs, and you will have the opportunity to meet Dr. Natalia Mironova and others. $5-$10 donation requested.
Sunday, August 5
"Foreclose on the Bomb,
not the People"
4 PM - 6 PM, Wm. Payne Park, Vasco Rd & Patterson Pass Rd
Then a march to Livermore Lab to symbolically foreclose on the bomb
(925) 443-7148 for details
The Sunday Hiroshima/Nagasaki program will feature internationally renowned activist, engineer and former legislator Dr. Natalia Mironova from the Chelyabinsk region, home to two Russian nuclear weapons facilities. She will offer fresh insight into Putin and the mirroring-effect of nuclear policies in the U.S. and Russia. There will be other brilliant speakers and talented performers - including Emma's Revolution, back by popular demand. (See enclosed flier for details.)
Thursday, August 16
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM - 9 PM
Livermore main library
Community Room A
1188 So. Livermore Ave
RSVP (925) 443-7148
Our meetings are a great place to get the latest information on nuclear weapons, waste and cleanup. Join us and be part of the solution. Together we are changing nuclear policy to safeguard our health and move toward a nuclear-free future globally. New members and old-timers alike are welcome. (Note: We meet on the third Thursday of the month, except for December when we have a party instead.)
Saturday, August 18
Annual Strategic Planning Retreat
10 AM - 4 PM, UCC
1886 College Ave., Livermore
RSVP is required: space is limited
(925) 443-7148 for details
The Tri-Valley CAREs Board of Directors organizes the annual planning retreat to hone the group's internal and external priorities for the coming year. Active members, and those who want to become more active, are invited to apply. Call today, as space is limited. (See enclosed flier for details.)
Thursday, September 6
Letter to the Editor writing party
5:30 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details
Write a letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. We will offer a short briefing and handouts on recent events to get your creative juices flowing.
by Marylia Kelley in Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2012 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
We Are Appeling
Dear friend of Tri-Valley CAREs,
I want to thank you for your generous support, which has helped stop nuclear weapons where they start... at the Livermore Lab.
Together, you and I and the team at Tri-Valley CAREs have accomplished a lot. Recently, we persuaded Congress and the Administration to cut funds for dangerous nuclear programs, won a federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, exposed financial abuses by Livermore Lab management, initiated a community radiation monitoring project - and more!
But, we are not resting on our laurels. Let me share what we have planned, and ask you for the continued financial support that is so vital to our success right now.
Tri-Valley CAREs is acting today to prevent further nuclear weapons development. As I write this, I am facilitating the planning group for a major demonstration on August 5. We will commemorate the 67th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by gathering at the Livermore Lab - where the government is spending billions to create new and modified nuclear weapons. At this event, we will connect the dots between militarism and unmet human needs and "Foreclose on the Bomb, Not the People."
The commemoration will feature brilliant speakers like Dr. Natalia Mironova from Chelyabinsk, Russia, Mr. Takashi Tanemori, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, and Tri-Valley CAREs' board member, Tara Dorabji. There will be amazing performers, including Emma's Revolution, as well as local artists and Taiko drummers. I have included the latest version of the flier with this letter. And, I invite your participation.
Your donation now will enable me to carry our message from the gates of Livermore to the halls of Congress. At the end of August, I will go to Washington, DC to meet with key committees and Administration officials on the nuclear weapons budget.
I am going to DC to cement the progress we made to delay a new bomb plant. As you may have read in your summer Citizen's Watch newsletter, the armed services committees are intent on resuscitating the plutonium bomb plant while the appropriations committees are holding firm (so far) with its delay for 5 or more years. The budget process is not over, and, because of the contacts we at Tri-Valley CAREs have developed, I am called to go and speak out now.
Further, I will meet with decision-makers to forestall an insane proposal to put plutonium bomb cores on the road to Livermore Lab, which will not have the security required to handle them. Our watchdog efforts uncovered the key details in the plan and a safer alternative!
Tri-Valley CAREs efforts are pivotal to creating social and political change. Our research, analysis and advocacy influence the nation's nuclear policy. Our litigation unearths truths the government would rather keep secret. Our outreach keeps you and others informed.
With these facts in mind, I ask you to support our crucial work with a generous gift.
Your donation of $5,000 will help us initiate fresh litigation to uphold the public's right to know. Your gift of $1,000 will support needed new facts sheets, reports and advocacy materials. Your $500 gift will send me to Washington to speak truth to power about nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose to all life. $100 now will help us publicize the August 5th demonstration and stand in solidarity with the Japanese hibakusha (survivors) to declare, "Never Again."
You can also count on us to "keep on keeping on" with our all-important watchdog and outreach activities. If 100 supporters give $30 apiece, it will put our next newsletter, Citizen's Watch, into the hands of all of our members, like you, plus state and federal regulatory agencies, journalists, UN diplomats, and political movers and shakers.
Your donation in any amount is tax-deductible. Please know, too, that it will be gratefully appreciated and put to immediate good use!
Together, we are opposing new nukes and moving the nation, and the world, toward the nuclear-free future that you and I both seek. This May, I had the honor of representing all of our members at a statewide meeting of "Nuclear Free California," a coalition Tri-Valley CAREs helped form to permanently close our state's two operating nuclear power plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.
In June, we arranged a special tour of Site 300, the Livermore Lab's high explosives testing range. In July, we facilitated a meeting for an evacuee of the Fukushima disaster and co-sponsored public meetings with a second Fukushima activist. Later this year, we will organize a "town hall" meeting in Livermore on the toxic and radioactive consequences of nuclear weapons development at the Livermore Lab. And, more!
You are a valued supporter and I thank you for your partnership. As you know, Tri-Valley CAREs truly makes a difference in the world. And, with our low overhead, small staff and fabulously motivated volunteers, we are able to make each and every dollar we receive count.
For peace, justice and a healthy environment,
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director
Send your tax-deductible gift today by check, or donate on-line at www.trivalleycares.org, where we have set up a secure portal for credit card contributions through Network for Good. I pledge to use your donation wisely - just as I do my own (yes, I am also a happy donor) and those of the staff and board (100% of whom are also enthusiastic donors). I THANK YOU!