Reading Room

Summer 2011 Citizen's Watch Newsletter

Download the PDF

Cleaning up a "Firing Table"

By Peter Strauss and Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

"Firing tables" are outdoor, gravel based detonation pads on which Livermore Lab has (and still does) set off bomb blasts to test how well a new or modified design performs.

These blasts often include Uranium-238 (called depleted uranium or DU), which is a triple threat to health, as it is radioactive, a toxic heavy metal and also a chemical health hazard. These open-air blasts contain up to 60 additional hazardous and radioactive materials.

The materials that have been detonated go to three places: the air, nearby springs or streams and into the ground itself, where they percolate down to the groundwater aquifers.

Livermore Lab has been conducting open-air tests since 1955 at Site 300, located in the hills between Livermore and Tracy. In 1990, Site 300 was placed on the EPA Superfund list of most contaminated sites in the nation.

The Superfund cleanup at Site 300 is entering a new and important phase. The Lab is about to tackle cleanup at one of the open-air firing tables often used to detonate DU. This particular firing table was taken out of service in 2009. The area is called Building-812, named for the structure that housed the cameras and other equipment to record the blasts.

The Building-812 cleanup encompasses about 200 acres in the east-central part of Site 300. The firing table is located almost directly over an earthquake fault that appears to intersect with the nearby Elk Ravine Fault.

Some blasts on this firing table were bigger than a house. High explosives were wrapped around a DU core (used as a substitute for fissile materials such as plutonium-239). After the shot, the contaminated firing table gravel was often dumped into the canyons. The hillsides, canyons and groundwater in this area are contaminated, as is a nearby spring.

In soil samples taken 5 feet below the firing table, total uranium has been measured at 22,700 picocuries per gram. In surface soils, total uranium has been measured at 93 picocuries per gram. To offer a comparison, a recent Dept. of Energy (DOE) report lists the proposed soil cleanup standard at Building-812 for Uranium-238 as 3.1 picocuries per gram. The standard for Uranium-235 (also found in the area) is lower, 0.42 picocuries per gram.

In groundwater, total uranium also exceeds regulatory limits as does Uranium-235. Additionally, nickel and copper exceed ecological screening goals. Other potential contaminants of concern in the area are Radium-226 and lithium.

Livermore Lab is presently beginning a gamma radiation survey of soil at Building-812. Its purpose is to better characterize the DU contamination and to determine if there are any areas that do not require cleanup. Tri-Valley CAREs has long supported additional characterization for this and other areas at Site 300.

Our concerns are focused on serious, unresolved issues in the cleanup. First, DOE has issued a report that suggests that cleanup levels at Building-812 should be relaxed. Allowing contamination to stay in place is not cleanup. We will be watching this issue closely.

Second, and related, while there is an overall "background" level for uranium established for Site 300, the plan is to establish a more specific "background" for the Building-812 area. We see this as a crucial point because background measurements are used in determining additional risks - so, if a high background number is chosen, there will be fewer areas cleaned up (and potentially to a lesser standard).

Third, the Building-812 area will only be cleaned up to "industrial" standards, which are more lax than residential standards. This will limit any future, non-weapons uses for this part of Site 300. And, furthermore, it is not yet clear how groundwater and sediments (e.g., not soil) will be characterized. Nor is it clear yet what remediation techniques will be used for the cleanup.

Tri-Valley CAREs' staff are available to come and speak about the Superfund process to your group - or at a house party of your friends and neighbors. Contact us, too, about a community meeting we are planning for this fall. We have also posted a technical memo on the Building-812 cleanup process for you at www.trivalleycares.org.

Invitation: August Actions at Livermore Lab

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On August 6, join Tri-Valley CAREs and other peace, justice and environmental groups for a major event at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab.

Mark the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan at the place where scientists are developing new and "modified" nuclear weapons.

On this important day, we will come together to demonstrate our solidarity with the radiation victims of the nuclear bomb and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Our theme this year is, "From Hiroshima to Fukushima to Livermore: Confronting the Two-Headed Dragon of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power."

The event will be held at Bill Payne Park on Saturday, August 6 from 6 PM - 9 PM, at the corner of Vasco Rd. & Patterson Pass Rd., across the street from the Lab.

Expect great vegetarian food, music from Emma's Revolution and other artists, Taiko drumming, renowned speakers, including Dr. Arjun Makhijani (pictured above), spoken word artist Kaylah Marin, participatory peace activities, and a live video conversation with a nuclear bomb survivor in Japan.

Additionally, on Nagasaki Day, Tuesday, August 9 at 8 AM, there will be a ceremony & nonviolent direct action at the Livermore Lab's West Gate on Vasco Road at Westgate Drive. Those who choose may peaceably risk arrest as a form of nonviolent protest against nuclear weapons, while others will provide witness and support.

These events are sponsored by dozens of local and regional groups, including Tri-Valley CAREs. We believe that public involvement at this historic time can concretely move us closer to the more safe, secure, environmentally friendly and peaceful world we seek.

We hope to see you at one or both events! A flier is enclosed, and more information is available at www.trivalleycares.org.

IG Says Beryllium Hazards Persist at Livermore Lab

by Scott Yundt and Toshimi Barks from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Dept. of Energy, Office of the Inspector General (IG) recently released an audit, "Implementation of Beryllium Controls at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory" revealing safety gaps, management failures and incomplete "actions necessary to... resolve previously observed weaknesses" in implementing beryllium hazard controls at the Lab.

Specifically, top oversight and management officials at Livermore Lab had closed out "corrective actions" -required to protect employees from beryllium contamination - without actually implementing the actions.

According to the IG, "Since 2007, Livermore has had at least seven reportable [beryllium] events, two of which occurred within the past year." Tri-Valley CAREs has documented that more than 200 workers have been exposed to beryllium at the Lab over the past five years.

Beryllium is a potentially deadly toxic metal used in the research and development of nuclear weapons. Due to the history of beryllium use at Livermore Lab and the risks it poses, Lab management is required to implement a legally compliant Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program (CBDPP).

The IG conducted the investigation because Lab management had previously been fined $200,000 (in 2010) for multiple failures to comply with the law governing its CBDPP. Subsequently, Lab management reported that it had completed the required corrective actions. This IG audit was to "determine whether Livermore had implemented effective beryllium controls to resolve previously identified weaknesses."

The IG stated, "Livermore officials told us that they had completed corrective actions to communicate beryllium hazards, in part, through the use of facility maps, however, we determined that although it had developed the maps, Livermore had not posted the maps in any of the seven known beryllium facilities that we toured."

According to the IG, the failure to post accurate information resulted in workers unknowingly entering beryllium-contaminated areas without proper protective equipment, including a September 2010 "event in which a technician was potentially exposed to beryllium while performing preventative maintenance on facility-related equipment."

The report also said, "The corrective actions related to training [deficiencies] were closed based on the establishment of training requirements, but without determining whether all employees were actually trained." In one instance cited in the report, "We found approximately 25% of the Environment, Safety & Health managers did not attend the training class on new procedures."

The IG report is full of examples of serious and, apparently, willful noncompliance with the law.

Our Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt, noted, "The IG report validates our findings that Livermore Lab has consistently failed to implement proper safeguards to protect workers from beryllium. The pattern we have seen is one in which management pays lip service to establishing a safety culture when it is caught red-handed contaminating its workers, then continues with business as usual when the investigators go home."

Print Bites: All the News that Fits to Print

by Toshimi Barks and Scott Yundt from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

- Final bio-brief. On June 24, we submitted our final brief to the US Court of Appeals in our challenge to the faulty environmental review produced for the Livermore Lab bio-warfare research facility, which is designed to conduct aerosol (spray) experiments on small animals with anthrax, plague, Q fever and other deadly pathogens, including ones that have been genetically modified. Tri-Valley CAREs asked the Court to order a full Environmental Impact Statement and to suspend the facility's operation until it complies. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in the coming months. To check out our legal briefs go to http://www.trivalleycares.org/new/litigation.html

- Tornado, fire & flood. On June 23, a tornado touched down 100 yards outside of the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, TN. On June 27, the Las Conchas wildfire burned toward 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste and other toxic hazards at the Los Alamos Lab in NM, forcing an evacuation. Also in June, the Missouri River flooded the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in NE. On the heels of Fukushima, could nature be telling us something about nuclear technologies?

- As fire raged, a new bomb plant. Tri-Valley CAREs submitted comments on the government's inadequate Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a new plutonium bomb plant, called the CMRR-Nuclear Facility, proposed for the Los Alamos Lab. Estimated costs for the project have skyrocketed to around $6 billion (and still climbing). The new plant is being built to support production of up to 80 new plutonium bomb cores per year. See our comments at http://www.trivalleycares.org/new/comments.html

- Mayors' resolve. At its annual meeting on June 20, the US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution, introduced by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan on behalf of Mayors for Peace, calling for nuclear disarmament to free billions of dollars to address unemployment in America's cities. The resolution instructs President Obama to join leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to implement the UN Secretary-General's 5-point plan to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020. The resolution further calls on Congress to terminate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and weapons systems.

- Your tritium is leaking. The Associated Press (AP) found there are tritium (radioactive hydrogen) leaks at three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping. AP also found the number and severity of the leaks has been increasing, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of reactors. Tritium has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, and leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard - sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

- Diablo Canyon hears a no. On June 7, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered a 52-month delay in the early license renewal process at CA's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The Order vindicates the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace position that PG&E's 2009 application for license renewal was premature. The current operating licenses for Diablo Canyon's two nuclear reactors expire in 2024 and 2025, respectively. PG&E applied in late 2009 to continue operations until 2044/2045.

- Fresno nuclear proposal. On June 7, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted to withhold support for two nuclear plants, proposed ostensibly to desalinate water as part of a new "clean energy park." Our congrats to the activists and groups who testified against the plan and to the Supes who listened.

Alerts 4 U

from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Wednesday, August 3

The Forgotten Bomb (new film)
Potluck at 6:30 PM, Film at 7:30 PM
Q&A with the Director follows
The Fellowship of Humanity Hall
390 27th St., Oakland
(925) 443-7148 for details

Join us for the Bay Area premiere of this highly acclaimed, new documentary, The Forgotten Bomb. The film examines the political and legal implications of nuclear weapons, but also digs deeper, into the cultural and psychological reasons behind the arsenal's existence. It takes us from the homes of hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) in Japan, to an abandoned Uranium mine in New Mexico, to an underground Titan missile silo in Arizona. From these places, and many others, the film puts together the pieces of a puzzle that explain why we have the bomb, and how we might finally do away with it. Plus- the film's director, Stuart Overbey, will be on hand for Q&A following the film!

Saturday, August 6

Hiroshima to Fukushima to Livermore:
Confronting the Two-Headed Dragon of Nuclear Weapons & Power
6 PM - 9PM, Rally at Bill Payne Park
Vasco Rd. and Patterson Pass Rd.,
Livermore (across from the Lab)
(925) 443-7148 for details

Speakers include noted scientist and author Dr. Arjun Makhijani, music by award-winning duo Emma's Revolution, and more. (See enclosed flier)

Tuesday, August 9

Ceremony and Direct Action
8 AM, Livermore Lab West Gate
Vasco Rd., south of Patterson Pass Rd.
(925) 443-7148 for details

On Nagasaki Day, activists will gather at a main entrance to Livermore Lab in peaceful opposition to the continuing research and development of nuclear weapons. Those who wish will nonviolently risk arrest. Taiko drummers and other guests will join us at the gate.

Saturday, August 13

Tri-Valley CAREs' Strategic Planning Retreat
10 AM - 4 PM, United Christian Church
1886 College Ave., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 RSVP REQUIRED

Join us for this annual retreat to consider - and plan - how Tri-Valley CAREs can best implement its vision over the coming year. (See page 2 for more.)

Thursday, August 18

Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM - 9 PM. Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Our August meeting will feature updates on nuclear weapons, Livermore Lab, radioactive waste cleanup, and what our members can do to create change in the community and in the world. We will report on our recent events, and more. Tri-Valley CAREs meets the third Thursday of the month, except December (when we have a party!). So, circle your calendar now for our September15th meeting, too.

Saturday, August 27

Auction to benefit Tri-Valley CAREs
2 PM to 5 PM, Awaken Chiropractic
3515 Grand Ave., Oakland
(415) 990-2070 for details

Dr. Kenda Burke & Dr. Armene Lamson have coordinated health practitioners, artists, and others to donate one-of a-kind items and services for a silent auction to benefit Tri-Valley CAREs. This family friendly event will include snacks, beverages, chair massage and lots of great deals. There will also be a raffle for awesome door prizes.

Thursday, September 1

Letters to the Editor (writing party)
6:30 PM - 8 PM. Tri-Valley CAREs office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

This month's topic is: THE EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS ON COMMUNITIES. Pick an aspect that appeals to you. And, if you prefer to write on a different topic, that is great too. Exercise your creative voice!

It's Our Strategic Planning Retreat

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Summer 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Date: Saturday, August 13

Time: 10 AM to 4 PM. Bring something to share for a potluck lunch.

Place: United Christian Church, 1886 College Ave., Livermore

Who Should Participate? If you are a Tri-Valley CAREs member, supporter, volunteer, staff or board member, the answer is "you."

What Do You Need To Do? First, RSVP. We will send you a packet with guidance on how to do strategic planning, the day's agenda, and other relevant information.

RSVP required ? Space is limited ? Call (925) 443-7148 or email marylia@trivalleycares.org

Back to Citizen's Watch Index