Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
January/February 2011 Citizen's Watch Newsletter
by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January/February 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
New START Ratified
On Dec. 22, 2010, the U.S. Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, paving the way for modest reductions in the number of deployed, strategic nuclear weapons in both countries.
The U.S. and Russia possess 95% of the world's nuclear bombs. "It is necessary and fitting to take bilateral action, and Tri-Valley CAREs views U.S. ratification as a small but significant step in the right direction," noted Marylia Kelley, the group's Executive Director.
The vote was 71 - 26, with 13 Republicans voting "yes." It has long been discussed that Russian ratification would follow the U.S., and we look forward to that happening in 2011. Among New START's merits are key verification measures, and we welcome their prompt resumption.
However, even as we celebrate its merits, we must warn elected officials and the public about the dark and ominous cloud that hangs on the New START horizon, not because it must, but, rather, solely because political deal-making sullied the ratification process. In truth, New START is such a modest agreement its ratification should have been a short, sweet and cloudless pursuit.
Instead, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) became the ringleader for holding the ratification vote on New START hostage to demands for future funding for new U.S. nuclear weapons and the new bomb plants that will build them. While Kyl's efforts secured Administration promises to request future year monies totaling $185 billion for so-called "modernization" of the weapons complex and arsenal, this political "deal" is not hard wired into the treaty. The ratification vote does not change the U.S. Constitution's mandate that Congress shall appropriate funds on an annual basis.
Importantly, on a scientific and technical basis, there is no linkage between New START and new bomb plants. Therefore, any U.S. action to build new nuclear weapons design, testing and production capabilities will jeopardize the nonproliferation and disarmament benefits of New START and threaten the treaty's global effectiveness. (For more on New START and its challenges, www.trivalleycares.org.)
by Scott Yundt and Iti Talwar from Tri-Valley CAREs' January/February 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Suing DOE for Documents
In 1998, 2000, 2006, 2008 and, again, on Dec. 28, 2010, Tri-Valley CAREs brought litigation against the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) for its failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which requires federal agencies to respond to public requests for information within 20 days.
This, most recent, suit involves seven separate instances in which the DOE and its sub-agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) failed to provide responsive, unclassified documents regarding operations at the Livermore Lab as required by law. The information that is the subject of the litigation is overdue by time periods ranging from six months to more than three years.
During the G. W. Bush years, then Attorney General John Ashcroft adopted policies relating to FOIA that were very unfriendly to requesters. President Obama sought to turn that tide and make government more transparent. On his first day in office, Obama issued an Open Government Directive to increase the amount of information that federal agencies make public on the internet and to decrease FOIA request response times. This policy has been formalized as the Open Government Initiative and every federal agency is required to take steps to comply.
However, the DOE and NNSA have not made any great efforts we can see to comply with the initiative. First, the "new information" is often too little, too late and not what's most useful to the public. Second, DOE and NNSA have continued to lag for months and years in responding to FOIA requests.
Attorney Iti Talwar, a member of Tri-Valley CAREs' Board of Directors who helped prepare the current litigation, stated, "We should not have to file lawsuits in order to obtain public information. Congress enacted the FOIA specifically so that organizations like Tri-Valley CAREs would have free access to unclassified, non-exempt records that disclose the operation of the government."
In addition to suing DOE and NNSA for the documents we requested, our lawsuit requests that the Judge issue a court order appointing a Special Counsel to investigate the agencies' pattern of abuse in failing to comply with FOIA. The Special Counsel would determine whether disciplinary action is warranted and against whom.
"The DOE and NNSA are egregiously out of compliance with the law," noted Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt. "This frustrates the public's basic right to know. The information is of urgent importance to the community, and involves Livermore Lab's plutonium transport, bio-warfare agent experiments, hazardous materials usage, worker exposures, financial irregularities, start up plans for the "Tritium Facility Modernization Project," and a proposal for future research and development."
Ms. Talwar added, "By dragging its feet for up to three years and more, and not providing the requested information, the government has not only violated the law but has potentially degraded the value of the information sought, which is often time-sensitive. In some cases, public comment timeframes have elapsed and projects have gone forward while our group's information requests went unanswered."
More information can be found in our year-end letter, enclosed. The complaint and press release are posted at www.trivalleycares.org
by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January/February 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Status of the Nuclear Weapons Budget
Generally, here is how the annual process works. The President's proposed nuclear weapons budget for the next fiscal year (FY) goes to Congress on the first Monday in Feb. Congressional subcommittees with jurisdiction "mark it up" (i.e., change it). Next, it gets debated in full committee, where more changes can be made. Then, it goes to the full House and Senate, where it can be altered by "floor amendments" if they pass.
And, if there are substantive differences between the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill (and often there are), it goes to a "conference committee" to create a final bill, which then goes to the President for his signature.
This is the usual modus operandi, and it's why we initiate multiple "action alerts" each year, as there are 3 or 4 points in the process where the budget can be changed. That said, this past year has been a bit different, as you may have noticed.
The year began with the FY 2011 budget request going to Congress in Feb. 2010. Here the "normal" ends. As you know from our newsletters and budget report, the President requested a whopping $7 billion for nuclear weapons activities in FY 2011, a 14% increase over the prior year's budget for the same activities.
As the year unfolded, the President acceded to demands from Senator Jon Kyl and his cohorts for promises to increase nuclear weapons spending in return for Republican votes to ratify New START (note that Kyl voted "no" anyway).
On top of that, there was no FY 2011 nuclear weapons budget bill completed by Congress. The government's fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and Congress passed a short-term "Continuing Resolution," and then another. As the calendar year ran out, Congress passed a new CR funding nuclear weapons activities through March 4.
Usually, a CR freezes an agency at its prior year's appropriation level, which would have been moderately good news for us as it would have meant a $6.4 billion annual budget rather than $7 billion. However, Obama requested, and Congress agreed, to fund nuclear weapons activities at the $7 billion figure in the CR. So, on a prorated basis between now and March 4, the U.S. nuclear weapons budget has increased substantially.
Here is what we see as the most probable next steps. First, as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, its Members will probably tackle the nuclear weapons CR. And, while other options exist, the new Congress will most likely pass another CR to fund nuclear weapons through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Therefore, it is important to get your message to new and returning members of Congress this month that the nuclear weapons budget is unnecessarily bloated. Procedurally, Congress could shrink the budget in the new CR.
Next, Obama will likely send his FY 2012 nuclear weapons budget request to Congress on Valentines' Day, Feb. 14, a week later than usual. Please mark your calendar now, and be prepared to respond that you do not [heart] nuclear weapons. While Obama did promise to request more money as part of the "deal" for New START ratification, he can only ask. In the final analysis, Congress appropriates the money.
It will be a steep climb to educate Congress and achieve budget cuts, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. We are committed to this struggle. Cutting nuclear weapons spending is a worthy goal, and you are invited to accomplish it with us.
by Scott Yundt and Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January/ February 2011 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Happy New Year: Let's Celebrate Some Recent Accomplishments
GOAL: Stop Nuclear Weapons
SUCESSES: As a "watchdog" organization, we have consistently monitored, and successfully countered, nuclear weapons propaganda (and programs) coming out of Livermore Lab and its parent agency, the Dept. of Energy (DOE). During the past year, we have exposed illegal cost accounting practices at the National Ignition Facility, which is intended to train a new generation of bomb designers at Livermore Lab. We also celebrated a 80% gone milestone in our efforts to de-inventory nuclear bomb usable quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium at Livermore Lab, further limiting the Lab's nuclear weapons development capacity.
We published a much-used budget analysis, written by Dr. Robert Civiak, of Obama's 2011 funding request for nuclear weapons, detailing its increase and the fact that the Obama budget request exceeds the nation's annual nuclear weapons budgets at the height of the Cold War. We brought community members and youth to Washington, DC and conducted 70 meetings with the Administration and Congress using the report. Working with colleague groups, we succeeded in getting language into the 2011 Defense Authorization bill to make nuclear weapons "life extension programs" and large construction projects more accountable. This victory could have a long-term impact, laying the foundation now that will help us cut new bombs and new bomb plants in the future. Moreover, we submitted technical comments opposing the new plutonium facility at Los Alamos Lab in NM, the new uranium processing facility at Y-12 in TN, and continued activities at the Nevada Test Site.
GOAL: Environmental Justice
SUCCESSES: Nuclear weapons pollute the environment, and Livermore Lab's activities are no exception. In prior years, we have upheld the Superfund law by preventing the Lab from abrogating its cleanup responsibilities. And, when the Lab proposed to dump contaminated groundwater into the Bay, untreated, we stopped it. In 2010, we successfully mobilized the community to achieve a better cleanup plan for the Lab's contaminated groundwater.
We organized a community meeting, made Lab management listen by insisting that they hold a public meeting, and won a much improved (though not yet perfect) plan to pipe the contaminated water back to the Lab and detoxify it in an existing groundwater treatment facility, rather than dump it into the Bay. At year's end, we launched a petition drive to ensure that the new plan, and other cleanup activities, will be prioritized and funded. Of national import, our Executive Director was invited by the EPA to participate in a federal facilities dialogue aimed at improving the transparency and quality of environmental cleanup at DOE and DoD sites across the country.
GOAL: Protect Health
SUCCESSES: Our actions over the year on behalf of Livermore and other DOE workers made ill by on the job exposures celebrated a victory when the federal radiation advisory committee voted unanimously to expand "Special Exposure Cohort" status for ill Livermore Lab workers. The expanded SEC will ease the burden of proof for a whole new group of sick workers and permit them to receive compensation. Working with Congress, we were able to ensure the new SEC's quick passage into law. Our Staff Attorney was then invited to the first national conference of sick worker advocates in DC, during which he provided training sessions for sick workers and their allies in conducting meetings with Congress.
During the year, we also met with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and others to advocate more stringent oversight of accidents and hazards at Livermore Lab. Our tracking of beryllium accidents at the Lab achieved a success when we learned that Lab management had been fined by its parent agency for repeatedly exposing workers to this toxic metal. Our press release broke the story locally and nationally, and numerous news outlets covered it, including the LA Times.
GOAL: Promote Disarmament
SUCCESSES: Building on our 27 year tradition advocating for U.S. and global nuclear disarmament, we joined with colleagues in the Bay Area to organize a "Nuclear Abolition Day" demonstration at Bechtel Headquarters in San Francisco, highlighting Bechtel's role in managing Livermore Lab and other sites in the nuclear weapons complex. We also co-organized and hosted about 250 peace advocates in a solemn ceremony at the gates of Livermore Lab to mark the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the international scale, we participated as an NGO in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, speaking on panels and one-to-one with diplomats and other NGOs from around the world on the proliferation dangers of U.S. plans to "modernize" its nuclear weapons complex and stockpile. We supported ratification of New START with Russia, even as we opposed the "deal-making" in which Obama traded promises to request funding for new bomb plants in return for the blessing of Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), which he did not get anyway, and Republican votes to secure ratification. While we celebrate the passage of New START, our unceasing work to stop new bomb plants and achieve much deeper reductions in nuclear arsenals goes forward into the New Year.
GOAL: Advance Right to Know
SUCCESSES: In 2010, we reached a favorable settlement in our 2008 litigation against DOE for numerous violations of the Freedom of Information Act. The documents we won provided valuable information we are using to counter DOE and Livermore Lab statements about the supposed safety and security of the Lab's bio-warfare agent research, among other things. And, this Dec., we filed fresh FOIA litigation to compel documents that DOE and NNSA are trying to hide and to seek prosecution of the agencies' pattern and practice of violating the law. Further, we are continuing our legal challenge of the poor environmental review that DOE did in order to open the bio-warfare agent research facility at the Lab. If we prevail in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, we may win public hearings and a full environmental impact statement. Stay tuned!
Alerts 4 U
Monday, January 17
Commemorate the life and legacy
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
10 AM, gather at Tri-Valley CAREs
2582 Old First St., Livermore
RSVP (925) 443-7148
This year's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will focus on the relevance of his message for today's world. We will march together to the downtown Livermore fountains (weather permitting) with signs and banners and take turns reading from one of Dr. King's speeches. Traditionally, we have commemorated Dr. King's holiday with friends from United Christian Church and others. This year, plans are being discussed as we go to press. So, simply come to our office, and we will proceed from there.
4 Wednesdays each month
Petition Signature Gathering to
clean up pollution at Livermore Lab
11:30 AM - 1 PM, Livermore locations, Safeway, Lucky and Dollar Tree
(925) 443-7148 for details
Volunteers are needed for 90 minutes on Wednesdays. Choose one day, or volunteer for more. We are gathering signatures on a Superfund petition to Obama and Congress to prioritize cleanup of toxic and radioactive pollution at Livermore Lab. Board member Beverly King is heading up the signature drive. We will cover Safeway, Lucky and the Dollar Tree. Call our office at (925) 443-7148 to volunteer. This is a great way to make a real difference in the community.
Thursday, January 20
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details
Make a New Year's resolution to become more active with Tri-Valley CAREs. We meet the third Thursday of each month (except for Dec.). Old-timers and new members alike are always welcome.
January 29 - 31
National Academy of Sciences
Prospects for Inertial Confinement
Fusion and Energy Generation
Location, times, comment session TBA
The committee will advise DOE on the prospects for generating power using inertial confinement fusion (ICF), which is an interesting way of posing a research question when DOE's National Ignition Facility is unlikely to achieve the ICF "ignition" that is in its name. Apparently, the committee will straddle the awkward chasm between NIF's problems and DOE's optimism (and hubris) in planning a next generation facility. We have provided comments and will participate in the meetings as part of our "NIF truth telling campaign."
We believe this is an appropriate time and place to comment on NIF's mission (nuclear weapons), costs (around $7 billion so far) and related topics, including the role of complex technology in resolving social issues like energy generation and consumption. So, do circle the dates, plan to attend, and check our website or the NAS website for details as they become available.
Thursday, February 3
Letter to the Editor (writing party)
6:30 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details
Write a letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper. This month's topic will be the National Ignition Facility. Executive Director, Marylia Kelley will share NIF information and handouts. And, if you prefer to write a letter on a different topic, that's great too. Exercise your creative voice in a supportive atmosphere.