Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter April 2004

In This Issue...

  • Your Voice is Needed. Read all about a once in a decade chance to influence the Dept. of Energy's plans for new nuclear weapons development at Livermore Lab. See the enclosures and page 1 for information on Public Hearings. Don't be silent and let them more than double the plutonium limit at Livermore Lab.

  • Toxic Threats to Waterways. Vital water resources locally and around the country are impacted by nuclear development.

  • Weak Nuclear Security. Training for security officers at major DOE sites, including Livermore, is inadequate.

  • Independent Monitoring. Initial analysis of 12 samples around Livermore Lab has found radionuclides that the Lab's official monitoring program did not.

  • Public Forum on Patriot Act. Check out our "alerts" section for forum details, actions at Vandenberg and more!

Your Voice Needed: Public Hearings on Nuclear Weapons Development, Environmental Dangers at Livermore Lab

by Marylia Kelley and Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Today, at Livermore Lab, the U.S. government develops earth-penetrating nuclear bombs, each containing the explosive power of many Hiroshimas, and researches so-called "mini-nukes," partial Hiroshimas with yields of less than 5 kilotons. And, future nuclear weapons programs will be bigger, costlier and more deadly, according to a draft environmental study.

The Nuclear Policy Context

Much has been written about the Bush Administration's "Nuclear Posture Review" and subsequent "National Security Strategy of the United States," which advocate preventive war wherein America may preemptively bomb any where, any time, with any weapon (including nuclear) for any reason of its own choosing.

But, where does nuclear policy become operationalized? The answer lies right here in the Bay Area, at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Livermore Laboratory. Every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal was developed at Livermore, 45 miles east of San Francisco, or at the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. Livermore Lab is now redesigning the B83 nuclear "lay down" bomb to give it earth penetrating capability. With a top yield on more than one megaton, the B83 is the most powerful nuke in the current U.S. stockpile.

Escalation Meets Environmental Law

Amid this new nuclear build-up, the clock has run out on the Livermore Lab's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) coverage. NEPA is the country's most fundamental environmental law. Livermore Lab's operating document is called a Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) and the last one, completed back in 1992, is obsolete.

Therefore, the DOE must conduct a fresh environmental study of Livermore Lab ?- and the recently-released draft gives the public a rare glimpse into the extensive and dangerous new nuclear operations planned for the next ten years. Moreover, according to the law, DOE must provide public hearings and solicit public comment on its plans before moving ahead.

"At the end of this month, the public will have a once in a decade opportunity to influence nuclear weapons policy and the future direction of Livermore Lab," pointed out Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director. "Will we be silent and let them develop new nukes? Will we let them bring thousands of pounds more plutonium into Livermore? Hell, no" Kelley vowed.

New Weapons Programs Revealed

The draft SWEIS contains 2,000-plus pages that lay out a full buffet of dangerous new programs to be implemented at Livermore Lab over the coming decade. They include:

  • More than doubling the plutonium storage limit at Livermore Lab, from 1,540 pounds to 3,300 pounds, enough for more than 300 nuclear bombs.

  • Making Livermore Lab the place to design and test new technologies for producing "pits" (plutonium bomb cores) at the "Modern Pit Facility," a new bomb plant capable of turning out up to 450 new plutonium pits per year (and 900 if run on double shifts, which would approximate the combined nuclear arsenals of France and China ? every year). The DOE site that will host the Modern Pit Facility has yet to be chosen.

  • Vaporizing plutonium at Livermore Lab and shooting laser beams through the hot plutonium to separate its isotopes for various weapons experiments. To do this, Livermore plans to increase 3-fold the amount of plutonium that can be used in any one room at a given time, from 44 pounds to 132 pounds.

  • Adding plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and lithium hydride to the mix of experiments to be conducted in the National Ignition Facility (NIF) mega-laser when its construction is completed at Livermore Lab. These experiments will increase NIF's utility to weapons research while adding to its cost, environmental damage and nuclear proliferation risks.

  • Manufacturing radioactive tritium targets for NIF on site at Livermore Lab, which will increase the amount of tritium allowed to be "at risk" at a time in any one room by nearly 10-fold, from just over 3 grams to 30 grams.

  • Preparing for a return to full-scale underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site by developing new diagnostics at Livermore Lab to enhance U.S. "readiness" to conduct these tests, which were halted in 1992.

Retired staff scientist Marion Fulk warns of impending health and environmental damage if these programs are not stopped. "I know first-hand that Livermore Lab has not been able to keep its contamination inside the fence line," he said. "Today, it's already a Superfund cleanup site. If these programs go forward, there will be more accidents, spills and releases of plutonium, tritium and other radioactive materials into the environment. Cancer is only the tip of the iceberg. Many illnesses will result."

Public Hearings: Your Voice is Needed

"The public's voice is urgently needed at the hearings. We must speak up for peace and the future of our environment," according to Tara Dorabji, the Outreach Director for Tri-Valley CAREs. "It is our responsibility to show up and use the opportunity to oppose new nuclear weapons and the dangerous new Lab programs that enable them."

Public hearings will be held at three locations:

  • On Tue., April 27, the hearings will be held in Livermore at the Double Tree Club Hotel at 720 Las Flores Road. There will be a 1 PM session and a 6 PM session.

  • On Wed., April 28, public hearings will be held in Tracy at the Holiday Inn Express at 3751 N. Tracy Blvd. Sessions will begin at 1 PM and 6:30 PM.

  • On Fri., April 30, a public hearing will be held in Washington, DC at 10 AM at DOE Headquarters, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW.

Use the enclosed postcards. Check out the flier and talking points. To volunteer, call us at (925) 443-7148. And, for more information, visit our web site at

Nuke Security Weak

by Inga Olson from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Dept. of Energy's (DOE) 4,000 personnel responsible for securing nuclear materials, weapons, and national security-related information received inadequate training, according to an Audit Report published in March 2004 by the DOE Office of Inspector General.

Individual DOE sites are allowed to conduct their own training if it is in accordance with the Department's standardized protective force training curriculum. However, the audit found that the training curriculum had been applied inconsistently throughout the nuclear weapons complex.

Specifically, 10 of the 12 sites reviewed, including Lawrence Livermore Lab and the neighboring Sandia Lab in Livermore, California had eliminated or substantially modified 2 or more "blocks" of security instruction. At one site, approximately 40 percent of the required 320 hours of basic security police officer training had been eliminated.

Because Livermore Lab, Sandia Lab and other nuclear facilities were not required to report local changes from the standardized training curriculum policy to either the responsible DOE program office or the Office of Security, there was no effective way to evaluate the impact of their actions on the national security interests of the Department, according to the audit.

Site security managers told investigators that the many modifications had been made for reasons related to applicability or safety but, as the audit noted, the DOE had conducted significant analyses prior to adoption of its training curriculum as policy, including safety risk analyses.

According to the report, while some deviation from the curriculum to meet local conditions was understandable, the large number of modifications identified during the audit raised concern. Moreover, the audit comes on the heels of a chain of nine reports that have found numerous weaknesses with multiple aspects of DOE site security.

DOE Threatens Nation's Water Sources

by Bob Schaeffer and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Vital water resources are at risk from radioactive and toxic contamination seeping from U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities, according to a comprehensive, new report."Danger Lurks Below: The Threat to Major Water Supplies from US Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Plants" documents the pollution of important rivers and underground aquifers.

The report profiles the risks posed by the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Fernald, Hanford, Idaho, Rocky Flats, Mound, Nevada, Oak Ridge, Paducah, Pantex, Portsmouth and Savannah River sites. The report was produced for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a national network of groups near U.S. nuclear weapons facilities.

"Cleaning up the pollution generated by five decades of nuclear weapons development and production is the biggest environmental project in U.S. history," explained ANA Director Susan Gordon. "Numerous contaminants threaten major water supplies. It's time for DOE to obey all environmental laws, clean up its mess, and end plans to generate even more pollution by building new weapons plants."

According to the report, DOE must begin to tell the truth about pollution and allocate sufficient funds to remove contaminants instead of cutting corners. Conservative, independent estimates put the cost of DOE cleanup at more than $200 billion.

"At many major DOE sites, radioactive and toxic materials are flowing toward the site boundaries ? and beyond," added Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, whose firm, Radioactive Waste Management Associates, conducted the assessment. "A toxic soup of contamination has traveled from DOE sites to groundwater via unlined landfills, burial bits, injection wells, pipeline breaks and deliberate dumping."

"Now, the DOE wants to renege on cleanup commitments and leave dangerous wastes behind," said Inga Olson, Program Director at Tri-Valley CAREs. "Worse, DOE is aggressively pushing new nuclear weapons programs that will add to the contamination burden. At Livermore Lab, the on-site production of prototype plutonium bomb cores, use of plutonium in the National Ignition Facility, design of a 'Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator' and similar projects will inevitably generate more radioactive and toxic pollution," Olson concluded. (See page one and for more on new bomb plans at Livermore Lab and the public hearings later this month.)

Major water bodies threatened by pollution from DOE sites include the Columbia River in Washington, the Savannah River on the South Carolina-Georgia border and Tennessee's Clinch River. In Livermore and Tracy, California, important underground water sources used for drinking and agriculture have been polluted. Additional, major underground aquifers put at risk include the Ogallala beneath Texas, Idaho's Snake River Aquifer and the Great Miami Aquifer in Ohio.

Independent Monitoring Finds New Radiation Threats Around Livermore

by Moon Callison
Tri-Valley CAREs' April 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Radiological analysis of initial samples collected outside Livermore Lab show that the community may be subjected to radiation in excess of what is officially reported by the Lab. The independent sampling project is being conducted by a Washington-based organization, The RadioActivist Campaign (TRAC) in collaboration with Tri-Valley CAREs.

TRAC obtained twelve initial samples of water, grass and other plants downwind and downstream from Livermore Lab ? and, using a broad band photon-spectrometer for the analysis, obtained evidence of artificial radioactivity in seven of them.

The four radionuclides discovered in the environment are:

  • iron-59, a short-lived, water-borne neutron-activation product.

  • strontium-90, a long-lived, air and water-borne fission product.

  • cesium-137, a long-lived, air and water-borne fission product.

  • americium-241, a long-lived byproduct of plutonium production.

  • TRAC's initial sampling report, available on both TRAC and Tri-Valley CAREs' websites, describes the properties of these four radionuclides. TRAC will conduct follow-up sampling in May 2004 and report those results and the conclusions of TRAC's study this autumn.

    One TRAC sample is of special concern for Lab neighbors; a grass sample with strontium-90 at 270 picocuries/kilogram(wet). For reference, legal standards put a limit for strontium-90, a carcinogenic bone-seeker, at 8 pCi/kg(wet). That standard is thirty-four times lower than the grass sample.

    All four radionuclides reported by TRAC warn Livermore neighbors that government monitoring of Livermore Lab may fail to detect and report significant radiation. This means that Livermore Lab's monitoring program may be defective from its fundamental design onward.

    TRAC will discuss its on-going sampling project at a community meeting hosted by Tri-Valley CAREs. The meeting will take place on May 6th at 7 PM at 2582 Old First Street, Livermore. Light refreshments will be served. Come learn about the Lab's radiological impact on our community. Join us in working to fix its inadequate monitoring program. Help gain a seat at the decision-making table for communities surrounding Livermore Lab.

    With Your Help, Tri-Valley CAREs Speaks Truth to Power in Washington, DC

    from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

    Thanks to your donations, eleven Tri-Valley CAREs members (including two very articulate teens!) traveled to Washington, DC to advocate on behalf of peace, justice and the environment in nearly 100 meetings with Congress, DOE and EPA. We were joined by activists from across the country who, like us, live near DOE nuclear weapons sites. We pressed for an end to new nuclear weapons programs and for needed cleanup of the serious radioactive and toxic pollution already generated by DOE weapons activities.

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