TVC in the News
Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
LLNL TERMINATES ‘LIFE’ PROGRAM TO COMMERCIALIZE LASER FUSION ENERGY
February 21, 2014
Source: Nuclear Security & Deterrence - Todd Jacobson
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has cancelled an ambitious laser fusion energy program aimed at marketing and commercializing National Ignition Facility technology in the face of Congressional scrutiny and questions about the utility of the program. Acting Livermore Director Bret Knapp confirmed last week in an interview with NS&D Monitor that the program, known as LIFE (Laser Inertial Fusion Energy), had been formally terminated, though he emphasized the decision had no impact on NIF itself. “We’ve just marketed LIFE way beyond where it was ready to be marketed,” Knapp said. “The problem is it’s a really nice idea that is so far away. What we need to do is study the fundamental things so we begin to understand ignition.”
NIF has recently made some slight progress on the path to ignition (NS&D Monitor, Vol. 18 No. 6), but the elusive goal has proven much more difficult to achieve than initially promised, and the lab has rebalanced the shots on the massive laser in favor of shots designed to improve knowledge for the Stockpile Stewardship Program while taking a more measured approach to understanding the physics of ignition.
‘Way More Trouble Than … It’s Worth’
With a tag line of “soon enough to make a difference,” LIFE seemed to assume the facility would quickly achieve ignition and envisioned a fleet of modular power plants employing laser fusion reactors to solve the world’s energy needs by producing “safe, cost-effective and reliable baseload power.” According to the program’s website, LIFE’s approach was to “build upon the technology advances achieved in building and conducting ignition experiments on NIF.”
The problem, according to Knapp, is that the concept is so far away from implementation that it appeared to distract from the current mission of achieving ignition. “Once we get ignition you still need a 50 times multiplier before you ever start talking about getting energy out,” Knapp said. “There’s a bunch of things. This idea of starting to market this fusion energy thing is just a thing that’s gotten us into way more trouble than it should’ve, or that it’s worth.” Marylia Kelley, the executive director of Tri-Valley CARES, a Livermore-based watchdog group, has long been critical of NIF and the pursuit of LIFE. “The science just isn’t there yet to support LIFE,” Kelley said. “ ‘Betting on the come’ is neither prudent science nor sound fiscal management. It’s a good idea to stop further funding for LIFE now. In fact, it is overdue.”
LDRD Funding Comes Under Scrutiny
Lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver was unable to say exactly how much money has been spent on LIFE, but she said the lab spent $58.4 million from Fiscal Year 2008 to FY 2013 on inertial fusion energy efforts, which includes the LIFE program. Much of that money came in the form of laboratory directed research and development funds, which represents a small percentage of laboratory spending on programs deemed innovative and exploratory. LDRD also offers the lab more flexibility in terms of how it spends its money, and there is less Congressional oversight than typical budget items. “We got ourselves in the situation where people thought we were spending too much money—that we should’ve been spending on experiments— marketing LIFE,” Knapp said. “I don’t think there was a ton of money spent on it, I don’t think it’s that big a deal, but I think it got us cross-wise with more people than it was worth. The basic research and stuff is still useful to do but you don’t have to pin it on LIFE.”
Congressional appropriators, however, began to question the growing amount being spent on LIFE in recent years and had begun to object that LIFE—with dozens of staff and a director, Michael Dunne—had grown into more than a LDRD program. “When you start getting key Congressional supporters mad at you, you need to fix it,” Knapp said. “We’re going to keep, as quietly as we can, marching toward ignition. … I think we’re going to continue to make progress. Whether we are going to get to ignition or not, I don’t know. But I’m feeling better than I was three months ago.” Knapp said the lab will still invest in resources that include relevant materials science, diode pumped laser development, and target research, but he emphasized that those are “multipurpose” areas with relevance to magnetic fusion energy or directed energy in addition to inertial fusion energy applications.
February 13, 2014
Source: Tri-Valley Times - Alison Forrest
One consequence of the use of nuclear weapons that people do not often consider is food security. The national Physicians for Social Responsibility recently published a report that examined this issue.
Titled, "Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People At Risk," the study examined a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan. They found that a nuclear exchange involving less that 0.5 percent of the world's nuclear weapons would have a global impact on food supplies.
Even a "limited" nuclear war would cause significant global climate disruption. There would be shortages for corn and soybean production, which is usually used as food to "grow" animals, and for Chinese rice and winter wheat production. This would lead to increased prices, and food would be inaccessible to hundreds of millions of people. Overall, the global impact could put up to two billion people at risk of starvation.
The report calls for the global elimination of nuclear weapons as soon as possible. This is a common-sense recommendation that, if heeded, will benefit all humanity.
Give Diplomacy a Chance
February 13, 2014
Source: The Independent - Jo Ann Firsch
At least seventy members of Congress are organizing a letter to the President supporting US-Iran diplomacy and opposing new sanctions or other measures that would kill the talks.
Negotiations with Iran reportedly will resume February 18 in Vienna.
The first phase of the nuclear agreement was negotiated in November 2013. It covers six months. During that time, the agreement freezes Iran’s uranium enrichment program. It puts daily inspectors on the ground and eliminates Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. In return, some U.S. and European Union sanctions were temporarily lifted.
These milestones will help secure a comprehensive deal with Iran that will ensure it will never become a nuclear weapons state.
I urge my Congressman, Eric Swalwell, to sign on to the letter to give diplomacy a chance.
January 16, 2014
Source: A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, Muste Notes - Marylia Kelley
It was during conversations with congressional staff in Washington in March 2012 that we at Tri-Valley CAREs first learned of a proposal to put whole plutonium bomb cores on the road from the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico to the Livermore Lab in California. There had been no public announcement or environmental review, despite the plan’s obvious dangers. Even now, the U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s plutonium transportation plan remains shrouded in secrecy.
Hanging in the balance is a stark choice of values: do we prioritize the weapons labs or public safety?
Radioactive plutonium cores are the A-bomb components of modern nuclear weapons. The first plutonium atomic bomb was the one tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico in July 1945. It was then used as the model for the bomb dropped on the people of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, which left as many as 80,000 dead.
The government’s plan would put these plutonium bomb cores on a “road trip” of about 1,200 miles across New Mexico, Arizona and California. Upon arriving at Livermore Lab, at the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, these bomb cores would undergo “shake and bake” testing. This involves a shaker pit to vibrate the plutonium cores, a thermal unit to heat them and a high crane from which to drop them. The purpose is to see how the plutonium bomb cores will respond in storage, transportation and “use” environments (meaning nuclear war).
Following the “shake and bake” tests, the bomb cores would be loaded into trucks for the 1,200-mile return trip to Los Alamos, through California’s agricultural Central Valley and the densely populated greater Los Angeles area. When we asked the National Nuclear Security Administration how often these bomb trucks would roll, we were told the number of trips would be based on the needs of the nuclear weapons campaigns each year.
Livermore Lab houses the “shake and bake” equipment but lost its security authorization to house plutonium bomb cores, so its officials plan to obtain “variances” to the nation’s nuclear safety and security regulations every time the cores arrive—although a 2008 review stated that only four trucks would be needed to move the equipment instead.
We at Tri-Valley CAREs believe that public education and organizing are essential to stopping this dangerous plan. We launched our campaign with a community “town hall” meeting in January 2013. The meeting included environmental, legal and nuclear weapons experts who watchdog both the Livermore and Los Alamos Labs.
We held the town hall in the largest available community space at the Livermore Public Library. We had Spanish translation available in a conversational setting. The meeting successfully engaged scores of new community members regarding the government’s proposal and the threat it poses locally, in towns along the transportation route, at Los Alamos, and, potentially, around the world in the event of a major catastrophe.
The meeting also presented alternatives to the government’s plan— from decommissioning the “shake and bake” to moving the equipment to where the bomb cores are located. After hearing from four panelists and engaging in some lively Q & A, the participants broke into action groups.
It was particularly exciting to see new people become engaged. Participants moved their chairs into smaller circles where they developed strategies, practiced talking points and took on follow up tasks, including gathering petition signatures, contacting groups along the transportation route, writing elected officials and more.
From this foundation, we continue to mobilize residents to challenge this plan through letters to the editor, the petition campaign and sit-down meetings with youth, other community members and decision-makers.
One initial successful outcome is a formal letter Tri-Valley CAREs received from the government official in charge of the plutonium plan, committing to a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before moving forward. Tri-Valley CAREs is following up, as the agency official did not commit to producing a full Environmental Impact Statement and holding public hearings. Another success can be seen in the 3,000 signatures gathered so far on our petition to stop the transport of the plutonium bomb cores.
Tri-Valley CAREs will continue to organize the community, gather petitions, and coordinate with other groups to ensure that this plan is changed. If the government tries to move forward, we will mobilize people to comment on the NEPA environmental review document. Finally, we are developing a contingency plan to bring litigation in federal court if necessary.
We are asking groups in directly affected states to take action with us to prevent the transport of plutonium bomb cores through their communities. Please check www.trivalleycares.org or call 925-443-7148. Further, we invite peace and justice advocates everywhere to join the struggle to stop the continued development of nuclear weapons and move this country and the world toward their permanent abolition.
January 9, 2014
Source: The Independent - Pamela Richard
In 2014, I would like to see a change in the priorities at Livermore Lab. If the Lab’s mission would shift from nuclear weapons to civilian science, the community, the country, and the world could all benefit.
In the current situation, the safety of the 7 million people who live within a 50-mile radius of the Lab is at risk. A major accident could contaminate the air, soil and water on which our lives depend.
In the coming year, I hope the government decides not to bring plutonium bomb cores from Los Alamos to Livermore to be tested. Instead, my wish is for 2014 to bring more cleanup of the radioactive and toxic plutonium that already exists at the Lab’s Main Site in Livermore and at Site 300, where explosives were detonated in the hills between Livermore and Tracy.
Let’s employ more of our scientists to solve the pressing problems of our planet, such as climate change, renewable energy, water scarcity, ocean acidification depletion of our natural resources, and more. Livermore Lab has small programs in several of these areas. I hope 2014 is the year that they become its central focus.
January 2, 2014
Source: San Ramon Valley Times - Scott Yundt
Livermore Lab has been pushing Congress to move forward with the development of a dangerous new nuclear warhead. Most of the research and development would take place in Livermore.
This project, estimated to cost upward of $14 billion, would mix elements from several existing nuclear weapons.
Some components would come from the Navy's submarine-based W88, some from the Air Force's silo-based W8, and some from other weapon designs.
This mash up of three or more different warheads would create an untested Frankenbomb with new military capabilities, thereby violating our nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations and encouraging other nations to undertake similar new weapons programs.
Because the Navy and others have objected to the interoperable warhead's costs as well as the radical nature of the proposed new design, the Obama administration could, and should, impose a 5-year delay on the program to study alternatives.
The Livermore-based Tri-Valley CARES has brought important information to light about this new warhead and continues to challenge this dangerous and costly program.
The group serves as an important check on the Lab's otherwise unfettered nuclear ambitions. Check out their work at www.trivalleycares.org.
January 2, 2014
Source: Tri-Valley Times - Alison Forrest
Harvard University's Institute of Politics has been surveying undergrad students since 2000 to determine the attitudes young adults (18- to 29-year-olds) on many different social and political issues.
On the Oct. 30—Nov. 11 survey, one of the questions asked was if the students supported a policy to "Reduce spending related to the nuclear arsenal by reducing U.S. nuclear warheads from approximately 2,000 to approximately 1,550." This was supported across the board by Democrats, Republicans and independents.
I'd say we young people have got it right.