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Senators, health experts demand action to address biolab accidents

June 29, 2015
Source:
USA Today - Alison Young

Key members of Congress, public health leaders and biosecurity experts demand better oversight and accountability for laboratories in the wake of a USA TODAY Network investigation that revealed widespread safety lapses and pervasive secrecy that obscures failings by researchers and regulators.

The investigation uncovered hundreds of lab accidents and near-miss incidents that occurred in biological laboratories working with dangerous pathogens in recent years, putting scientists and sometimes even the public at risk. Oversight of labs is fragmented and largely self-policed, and even when labs commit the most egregious safety violations, they are allowed to keep operating and their names are kept secret by federal officials, the investigation showed.

The "lack of transparency and significant variability in how safety lapses are reported and reprimanded across all levels of government is very concerning," said U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Johnson, R-Wis., said research on high-risk pathogens is important to protecting public health, but "we need to ensure agencies are holding labs accountable and shoring up trust in this program through reasonable transparency and communication with the public."

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said high-profile laboratory mishaps in recent months "underscore the need for our federal government to improve the way it handles select agents and infectious diseases at high-containment research facilities."

Much of the oversight of labs working with "select agents" — the government's term for viruses, bacteria and toxins that have the potential to be used as bioweapons — is hidden from public view, making it difficult to determine the effectiveness of the inspection and enforcement program. Labs that work with other dangerous microbes that aren't on the government's select agent list — such as tuberculosis bacteria and the MERS virus — are largely self-policed when it comes to biosafety.

...Transparency about labs and incidents needs to extend to the public, said Scott Yundt, an attorney for Tri-Valley CAREs, a community-based watchdog group in Livermore, Calif., that has monitored activities at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since 1983...

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Safety of warhead-related tests at Livermore lab challenged

June 29, 2015
Source:
San Francisco Chronicle - David Perlman

Livermore scientists at the multibillion-dollar National Ignition Facility have begun a series of controversial experiments zapping tiny samples of the intensely radioactive element plutonium with powerful laser beams.

The nature and safety of those experiments are under challenge by local and national environmental organizations, but leaders of the research insist the tests are safe and essential to assure the “safety, security, and reliability” of the warheads in America’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

Plutonium, a manufactured element, was the explosive ingredient of the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in World War II, and is the essential key to the far more powerful hydrogen bombs now held in America’s nuclear arsenal.

The new experiments are aimed at making sure that the thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled for decades in the nation’s arsenal are still in working condition.

Opponents argue that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s assurances on safety of the experiments are inadequate, and charge that the lab’s most important environmental impact statement on experiments conducted there is 10 years out of date and grossly inadequate.

Lawrence Livermore lab

Tri-Valley Cares, the environmental organization based in Livermore, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington have called for a halt to the experiments and for a new environmental impact statement before any work with plutonium continues...

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Nuclear production on the rise - County within blast area of Livermore lab

June 23, 2015
Source:
Calaveras Enterprise

It’s almost unthinkable, and probably unknown to most residents, that the scenic hills and wide-open fields of Calaveras County are within the blast radius of one of the only nuclear warhead design sites in the United States.

But that was just the kind of information members of the Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment sought to pass along at their Saturday afternoon informational meeting at the Murphys Library.

“Murphys is within 100 miles of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and in case of a severe accident, the prevailing winds do blow east,” said Tri-Valley CARE Executive Director Marylia Kelley. “Folks in communities like Murphys don’t really ever think about how they can be affected directly by Livermore Lab, but in fact, in a severe accident they could be.”

At the meeting, Kelley explained to more than 30 attendees that there are only two laboratories in the United States that design every nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile, one being the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The other is the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Every U.S. nuclear weapon was designed at one of those two places,” Kelley said. “To have one of those two places in Northern California, I think, gives us all a special responsibility to be educated on what goes on at the Livermore Lab and to act upon that knowledge democratically and participate on decision making.”

Kelley also brought a wealth of information on the United States’ stockpile of nuclear weapons and the increasing budget for and production of nuclear weapons.

Most attendees said they had not been aware of the growing expenditures and production.

Read the full story...




Letter to the Editor: Hazardous Waste

June 18, 2015
Source:
The Independent - Jo Ann Frisch

Recently, I attended a public hearing run by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. It was about issuing Livermore Lab a permit renewal to store and treat very dangerous hazardous wastes, including those mixed with radioactive materials.

As currently written, the draft permit would allow on-site treatment of 600 tons of hazardous wastes per year. Even more waste could be stored at the Lab.

All of this would be near community parks and homes, including mine. Therefore, I was shocked to discover that the state is not planning to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before issuing a new permit. Instead, the state will depend on Livermore Lab data that is a decade or more old and wildly out of date.

For example, the draft permit doesn’t consider the newest USGS seismic information, which shows that Livermore Lab is at a greater risk than previously considered from ground motion and, potentially, liquefaction. Using outdated earthquake risk analyses, the draft permit allows incompatible wastes to be stored as close as two and a half feet apart and stacked two barrels high.

Livermore Lab is already one of the most contaminated locations in the United States. It is a national EPA Superfund cleanup site. Any new hazardous waste permit must be strongly regulated to protect our community and Lab workers from nuclear exposures.

The state will accept written comments until August 3rd. More information can be found at www.trivalleycares.org. Join me in insisting on an Environmental Impact Report before any new permit is issued.


Letter to the Editor - Please attend hearing on lab's waste permit

May 20, 2015
Source:
Contra Costa Times - Jo Ann Frisch

I invite the community to attend an important public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Arroyo Seco School, 5280 Irene Way in Livermore.

Livermore Lab is in the process of renewing its hazardous waste permit. The lab generates toxic and radioactive "mixed" wastes that are dangerous to lab workers and the community. The proposed permit would allow Livermore Lab to store up to almost a million gallons of hazardous waste. As currently written, the permit would also allow the lab to treat 600 tons of hazardous waste per year.

I'm concerned about the safety of our families and the continuing contamination of our air, soil and groundwater aquifer. The lab has a history of accidents and pollution, and this hearing is a chance for the community's concerns to be heard. We have the right to insist that our health and safety be the top priority. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control will make the final decision based on your verbal and written comments. I hope to see you at the hearing.

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Letter to the Editor: Anniversary

March 12, 2015
Source:
The Independent - Jo Ann Frisch

March 11th is the 4th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdowns. The earthquake and tsunami caused many deaths and a huge release of radiation. The effects continue today.

TEPCO recently admitted it concealed an ongoing radiation leak at Fukushima for nearly a year. The company is still in the process of stabilizing and decommissioning its damaged nuclear power plant. Cleanup is a distant goal that may never be realized.

The nuclear accident and its victims will be remembered at 2:30pm on March 11 at the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco. You are invited.

If you can’t attend, there is a national action you can take from your home or office. It’s called “Unplug Nuclear Power.” To participate, unplug yourself from the grid as much as possible on 3/11. Thousands will remember Fukushima in this deeply personal way, including me.

Fukushima is not merely a tragedy from the past, it is an ongoing danger today and a warning for the future, nuclear power is too great a risk for people and the environment to bear.


Video: Statements at the 4th Anniversary of Fukushima Protest outside of San Francisco's Japanese Consulate

March 11, 2015
Source:
The Independent Web Journal International USA - San Francisco Channel - Genta Yoshikawa

Click here to watch the video of statements being read - Tri-Valley CAREs' statement is first.


Letter to the Editor: Proliferating nukes seems to be in full swing

March 3, 2015
Source:
The Valley Times- Hayden King

The budget request for nuclear weapons in the 2016 fiscal year, recently made by President Obama, saw a dramatic increase. It requested a $1.2 billion funding increase to a whopping $12.6 billion dollars -- up 10.3 percent from last year's budget.

Our local Livermore Lab, where 85 percent of the facility's funding is for nuclear weapons activities, seeks to profit from this increase in appropriations. The lab is heading a program intended to develop a Long-Range Stand Off (LRSO) warhead that would allow planes to "sneak attack" from an estimated 1,000 miles. This new program received a request for $195 million dollars for 2016 and $914 million over the next three years.

As a high schooler here in Livermore, this information is very concerning. As far as I know, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was supposed to "nonproliferate" nuclear weapons, yet the budget is still increasing annually beyond the amount that inflation would suggest. I question in 2016 if this is how public funds should be allocated.


Letter to the Editor: Nuclear Aresenal

February 19, 2015
Source:
The Independent- Mailbox Feature - Pam Richard

Most people assume that the United States is in the process of dismantling a large part of its nuclear arsenal, with the implementation of the New START Treaty. Few realize that $1 trillion of our hard-earned money is proposed for new nuclear weapons, and most of that will line the pockets of defense contractors and their cronies over the coming three decades.

The fiscal year 2016 budget contains nuclear weapons spending that busts the budget caps. Funding requested for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is increased by more than a billion dollars over the current year, to $12.6 billion, which is more than the U.S. spent on comparable activities during the cold war. Many additional billions are in the Pentagon budget.

This level of spending not only empties our pocketbooks, it puts Americans at risk in other ways. Recently, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock’s hands to only three minutes to midnight. The Bulletin noted that nuclear weapons modernization and lack of progress on disarmament were bringing us closer to annihilation, along with climate change.

There remain nearly 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, a number that can end life on our planet many times over. The U.S. leads in nuclear and military spending. This encourages “modernization” and proliferation in other countries.

Instead of spending $1 trillion over the next thirty years to increase the nuclear danger, we should move the world toward a new era of disarmament. Our children and grandchildren could then know the true security of a world free of nuclear weapons.


Letter to the Editor Regarding Livemore Lab

February 2015
Source:
The Pomegranate -(Granada High School Newspaper) - Erin Vistnes

In 1968, the United States became a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, effectively agreeing to eliminate its massive stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Yet today, the US still owns 4,804 nuclear warheads and continues to create “new and modified” designs.

A significant portion of these weapons are developed at the local Lawrence Livermore National Lab. While nuclear weapons projects are not the only activity at the Lab, the budget for this research and development will consume 89% of the annual spending at a total of just over a billion dollars for 2015.

This program not only violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also poses a very serious threat to the Livermore community. In 1995, a study by the California Department of Health found that children and young adults in this area are 6 times more likely than average to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

The total radiation released by the lab is more than 1 million curies, which is equivalent to the radiation experience by the people of Hiroshima from the nuclear bombing in 1945.

This contamination has been largely tritium, which is often associated with birth defects and cancer. Most concerning of all, Livermore dedicates only 2% of its annual budget to environmental cleanup. Minimal funding provides for insufficient cleanup of both soil and groundwater. This slow progress means that the Lab’s main site in Livermore will not be cleaned up until 2080, according to government estimates.

The Lab’s Site 300 High explosives testing range near Tracy will take even longer to detoxify. As young people who will inherit this mess, we have a vested interest in ensuring that cleanup is given a higher propriety and a bigger share of the annual budget at Livermore Lab.


Plutonium experiments at NIF draw fire

February 9, 2015
Source:
Physics Today - David Kramer

Two environmental organizations have asked the US Department of Energy to cancel experiments with plutonium at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF). Representatives from the groups claim the experiments could contaminate the massive laser facility and possibly expose workers and the public to the toxic element.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Tri-Valley CAREs, in Livermore, California, charge that existing environmental impact statements do not include an adequate assessment of the environmental, safety, and proliferation aspects of zapping plutonium with beams from NIF’s 1.8-megajoule laser. The experiments are to be conducted in NIF’s massive 10-meter-diameter target chamber without an inner vessel to contain debris.

“Before these controversial experiments begin, at a minimum we believe the government must undertake a stringent environmental review and solicit public comment pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs’s executive director. “The planned use of plutonium in NIF raises serious nonproliferation concerns,” added Matthew McKinzie, director of NRDC’s nuclear program. “NIF construction and operation was predicated on agency assurances that plutonium would not be used in experiments,” he stated, citing a 1995 review of NIF’s proliferation potential.

But LLNL spokeswoman Lynda Seaver says the environmental impacts of the plutonium “shots” were assessed in a 2005 LLNL sitewide environmental impact statement and in a 2011 supplement to that statement. She says, “The scope of planned operations at NIF is fully consistent with what was disclosed, considered, and approved by DOE” in those documents.

NIF’s target chamber was designed specifically for using radioactive materials in shots and containing all the debris that may result, Seaver notes. Radioactive materials, including tritium, have routinely been used in NIF experiments with no contamination issues., she notes. Materials will be contained primarily in the target assembly or the associated diagnostics. “In the unlikely event that any material escapes the target assembly, it would be contained in the target chamber,” says Seaver.

All the experiments will use plutonium-242, a non-fissile isotope far less radioactive than fissile plutonium-239, which is used in the primary stage of nuclear weapons. The amounts used will range from less than a milligram to 10 milligrams, around the size of a poppy seed.

Seaver says NIF was built in support of the nuclear weapons program, and that support includes experiments to identify the properties of materials at extreme high pressures and temperatures. Such experiments can’t be done anywhere else in the world, she says. The plutonium shots will have no impact on unclassified work at NIF, including experiments performed by outside users.

Activists from the two organizations maintain that the sitewide environmental impact statement had first stated that plutonium experiments would need to be performed within a removable inner containment vessel to prevent contamination of the target chamber. DOE determined later that the experiments could not be carried out inside a vessel but didn’t formally assess the environmental or nonproliferation consequences of that change, the activists contend.

Read the full story...




NNSA, Livermore Moving Forward with Pu Shots on NIF Despite Activist Objections

January 30, 2015
Source:
Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor

The National Nuclear Security Administration is not backing off a plan to use plutonium in shots at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility despite a last-minute appeal by activist groups to postpone the experiments. The first shots on the multi-billion dollar laser involving plutonium could take place between Jan. 30 and Feb.3, NS&D Monitor has learned. Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs and the natural Resources Defense Counsel in a Jan. 27 letter called for the experiments involving plutonium to be halted until an environmental review of the lab’s plans are completed, but NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz gave no sign of postponing the shots in a Jan. 29 response. “The use of plutonium on the NIF has been an integral part of the experimental program envisioned for the facility since 2002,” Klotz said. “The experiments conducted on the NIF have already made significant contributions to science and our nation’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and will continue to do so.”

The activist groups have objected to the plans for plutonium shots on NIF over concerns about public safety and nonproliferation. Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelley said the plan to use plutonium in NIF experiments involves a “clear risk of contaminating the laser optics and target chamber, and potentially exposing workers and public to plutonium. Before these controversial experiments begin, at a minimum, we believe the government must undertake a stringent environmental review and solicit public comment pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Lab, NNSA Downplay Risks

The lab and NNSA, though, have downplayed the risks, comparing the potential exposure to much less that a dental X-ray. The shots will use about 20 milligrams of plutonium or less, about the size of a poppy seed. About a dozen shots per year are expected as the NNSA seeks to expand its understanding of plutonium properties. The NNSA last analyzed using plutonium in NIF in a 2005 Site wide Environmental Impact Statement, but the activist groups have argued that review focused on shots using an inner containment vessel, which is no longer the NNSA’s plan. Livermore spokeswoman Lynda Seavers said NIF’s target chamber was designed to contain radioactive materials and debris. “All materials will be contained primarily within the target assembly or associated diagnostic,” Seavers said in a statement to NS&D Monitor. “In the unlikely event any material escapes the target assembly, it would be contained within the target chamber.”

Klotz, too, emphasized safety. “Safety is always the highest concern to NNSA,” he said. “The NIF was built with many safety features to prevent impacts to the workers, public and environment. All experiments are conducted within all feral, state and regional regulations. LLNL has extensive experience in management of the plutonium for experimental activities supporting the mission of the NNSA. Extensive reviews have been conducted to verify that the staff, procedures, and the safety systems are ready to proceed with the planned experiments.”



Despite objections, Livermore lab to fire world's largest laser at plutonium

January 30, 2015
Source:
Contra Costa Times - Jeremy Thomas

LIVERMORE -- Tests on non-weapons grade plutonium are moving forward at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Lab, and may even already have taken place.

Lab scientists, under a directive from the National Nuclear Security Administration, have planned to use the world's largest laser to examine how tiny amounts of the radioactive material respond to conditions found in nuclear explosions, without resorting to underground testing.

Attorney Scott Yundt with the Livermore-based anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley CAREs said he believed the first test shots at NIF were scheduled to occur on Thursday.

"While we are disappointed that the lab is putting the health and safety of its workers and the community needlessly at risk, we will continue to explore other options to challenge this potentially 10-year program and keep the community informed of its risks as it moves forward," Yundt said.

The group's executive director Marylia Kelley on Friday said odds were 50-50 that the tests had already begun, but it was also possible the shots had been rescheduled.

"They've formed a shroud of secrecy around it, which isn't appropriate," Kelley said. "It isn't classified, so that information should be shared with the public. ... If they're so proud of it, why are they so reticent?"

Read the full story...




Oppose Plutonium

January 29, 2015
Source:
The Independent - Erin Vistnes

In December 2014, the Livermore Lab announced the beginning of plutonium testing in a massive laser, known as NIF. Tests could begin in late January 2015.

This is a danger to the community. Documents state that air contamination outside the NIF chamber may exceed the legal limit and with over 100 tests planned, contamination will be exacerbated.

It is unknown how much scientists will actually learn from these experiments. We also do not know how difficult it will be to clean the laser to allow for civilian rather than weapons science.

NIF has cost over $8 billion to construct and operate. What purpose will this investment serve if the chamber is useless due to plutonium buildup following these tests?

Because similar tests involving plutonium are already conducted elsewhere, there is no reason to expose Livermore to these risks.

If used for unclassified experiments instead, NIF could be wildly beneficial for our nation. Plutonium testing is simply no the best use for this machine.

Please call our Senators at (202) 224-3121 to voice your complaints.


More public data necessary before tests start

January 20, 2015
Source:
The Tri-Valley Times - Jo Ann Frisch

Deadly, radioactive plutonium may be used in the National Ignition Facility by the end of January. NIF has cost taxpayers more than $8 billion and has failed every ignition test.

Scientists have said that experiments with plutonium may contaminate NIF usage for future nonweapons, scientific research.

Blasting plutonium with lasers in NIF will lead to more worker exposure to radiation. Nuclear waste will increase too.

Documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs disclose Livermore Lab has known since 2009, but never made public, that it will be unable to contain the radioactive debris from plutonium experiments in NIF. Also, there are plans to do at least 100 plutonium shots over a 10-year span. More information needs to be made public before these experiments begin. The public has a right to know.

For more information: www.trivalleycares.org or call 925-443-7148.

Read the full story (third story down)...




At Livermore: Activist Groups Ramp Up Opposition to NIF Plutonium Shots

January 9, 2015
Source:
Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor- Todd Jacobson

Members of an anti-nuclear activist group met with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials this week about plans to use small amounts of plutonium in experiments at the National Ignition Facility after ramping up their opposition to the plans in a Jan. 6 protest. About a dozen members of Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs and the Catholic Worker Farm gathered at the lab to voice displeasure about the plans, assembling outside the lab’s East Gate with signs, placards and leaflets, according to Tri-Valley CAREs Director Marylia Kelley.

While the activist groups say they're worried about the potential contamination from the shots involving plutonium - both to the public and to the facility’s target chamber - the lab and NNSA have downplayed the risks, comparing the potential exposure to much less than a dental X-ray. The shots will use about 10 milligrams of plutonium and fewer, about the size of a poppy seed. About a dozen shots per year are expected as the NNSA seeks to expand its understanding of plutonium properties, with the first shots expected later this month. No one was arrested during yesterday's protest, but Kelley said the East Gate was closed and protesters were prevented from handing out leaflets on lab grounds by lab security officials and local police officers.

Kelley described the atmosphere of interactions with lab and police officials as "very cordial" and was optimistic about interactions with lab officials, where she said Tri-Valley CAREs will formally ask for an environmental review of the plans. "They are, at a minimum, receptive to hearing our questions and concerns, and I appreciate it," Kelley said. "Time will tell, however, whether the lab is receptive to the idea of following the law and doing the needed environmental analysis and conducting a public (and worker) comment period before vaporizing plutonium with lasers in a heavily congested area, which LLNL is."



Plutonium

January 8, 2015
Source:
The Independent - Pamela Richard

Livermore Lab has a plan to conduct experiments with radioactive plutonium in the National Ignition Facility, probably as early as January 2015. I question the safety of these experiments to the employees and the public, from increased radiation exposure and more nuclear waste.

It costs tens of millions of dollars to prepare each “shot” and, without an effective means of containment, plutonium will contaminate the inside of the National Ignition Facility. The cleanup could be very costly, if it’s even possible.

The promise by the Lab that NIF will help create clean energy has never materialized, despite spending billions of dollars. Contaminating NIF with plutonium, however, is a step in the wrong direction, and could make it unfit for any unclassified research.

I believe there is little need to do these dangerous experiments. The public can find more information at www.trivalleycares.org.



Marylia Kelley on Flashpoints with Dennis Bernstein

January 5, 2015
Source:
KPFA- Flashpoints (on at the start of the show) Click here to listen


Activists demonstrate at Livermore lab against plutonium testing

Janurary 6, 2015
Source:
The Contra Costa Times - Jeremy Thomas

LIVERMORE -- A handful of anti-nuclear activists gathered outside the Lawrence Livermore Lab on Tuesday morning urging a halt to plans to test plutonium using the National Ignition Facility laser.

Members of Tri-Valley CAREs and the Catholic Worker Farm held an early morning vigil outside the lab's East Gate, where they recited scripture and proceeded to pass out flyers to lab workers and passing motorists, warning of health risks and demanding an enivironmental review before the tests are conducted.

"We're here to say no to plutonium experiments in the National Ignition Facility," said Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelley. "Most lab workers don't know it's going to happen.... We're here to involve the workers in decisions that affect their daily lives."

The lab recently got the go-ahead from the National Nuclear Security Administration to experiment with tiny amounts of non-weapons grade plutonium using the NIF -- the world's largest laser -- to examine how the radioactive material reacts during nuclear explosions. Lab officials said there is no timetable yet for when the experiments will begin.

Livermore lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said health and safety concerns already have been analyzed in a sitewide environmental impact statement, which was completed in 2005. Because the tests involve minute amounts of less radioactive plutonium, they pose no danger to the public or lab employees, she said.

"Everything is fully contained within the target chamber," Seaver said. "In the very highly event it were to escape it would be equivalent to a dental x-ray."

Seaver said plutonium laser "shots" have been planned for NIF since 1993. The lab, she said, is preparing to conduct 10 shots using plutonium this year, with a potential for a total of 100-120 over the next decade, pending an assessment after 2015.

"Now it's gotten everything ready, everything prepared and everybody trained," Seaver said. "These shots will be fairly insignificant actually. It's a natural extension and a chance for NIF to do its stockpile stewardship work for which it was built."

During the demonstration, two protesters made their way past the lab's east gate to pass out the leaflets to employees on their way to work and were turned back by lab security forces and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies, who moved the group to Greenville Road and directed traffic at the intersection for safety reasons. No one was arrested.

Protester Chelsea Collonge of the Catholic Worker Farm in the Sierra Nevada said she attended the vigil out of concern the experiments would shift the focus of NIF to nuclear weapons and away from civilian energy research.

"It will be a hazard to human health and I want to communicate to the workers that there's got to be a better way," Collonge said.

Tri-Valley CAREs' Kelley, who anticipates the tests will start by the end of January, said she is requesting a meeting with lab officials and would consider "investigating other actions" if the experiments move forward without a new environmental review. Besides safety concerns, testing plutonium in the NIF may make it "unfit" for conducting unclassified civilian science, she added, as the radioactive material could contaminate the laser's sensitive optics.

Seaver said the lab expects the tests to cause minimal contamination to the NIF's target chamber, but not enough to affect the unclassified use of the facility.

A decision on whether or not to conduct a new environmental review would be up to the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, she said.

Read the full story...