Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter April 2005

Plutonium Found in Paint Cans, Food Cans at Livermore Lab

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CARES' April 2005 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Livermore Lab is storing plutonium in paint cans and other unsafe containers. Most of the plutonium at Livermore is the nuclear weapons grade isotope, plutonium-239.

In March, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) published a blistering notice in the Federal Register, disclosing that Livermore Lab is using thin-walled receptacles for plutonium that "have no technically justified safety or design basis." The safety board also said: "These container types are generally forms of packaging typically used in non-nuclear applications (e.g., paint cans, food pack cans)."

The DNFSB is commissioned by Congress to oversee safety issues in the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons complex. In its notice, the DNFSB also stated: "Other than two narrowly focused standards... there is no explicit DOE-wide requirement to ensure the safe storage of nuclear materials," such as plutonium.

The safety board found that Livermore Lab had not fully considered the potential effects of radiolysis and gas generation, oxidation due to leaky seals, corrosion and damage from drops and tools in its choice of storage containers. The DNFSB also found that 15% of weapons-related nuclear materials in Livermore's plutonium facility are stored in unsafe packages more than five years old.

Oxidation has been found in food pack cans with plutonium metal at Livermore Lab. These food pack cans are thin-walled tinned carbon steel and fail leak tests. The paint cans that Livermore uses to store plutonium are also thin walled. Their lids, like most paint cans, are closed with a mallet. These cans are not air tight.

In addition to paint and food cans, the DNFSB found that Livermore Lab also stores plutonium in thin-walled "slip-lid cans" with loose fitting covers closed only by tape. According to the safety board, these cans are not designed to serve a containment function. Without the tape, these containers "may not even provide gross retention" of the nuclear materials within.

While Livermore Lab had the largest number of container issues listed in the Federal Register notice, the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico was cited for a serious plutonium-238 contamination incident of multiple workers in 2003 due to leakage from a slip-lid can that has still not been cleaned up.

The DNFSB recommended that DOE "[i]ssue a requirement that nuclear material packaging meet technically justified criteria for safe handling and storage." The safety board had urged DOE to improve packaging and storage conditions for its nuclear materials more than a decade ago, in 1994. The DOE responded by promulgating rules for storage of plutonium declared excess to its nuclear weapons mission, but not for the "program" materials. So, unsafe storage practices for plutonium and other nuclear materials continue to this day.

Moreover, Livermore Lab's plutonium facility has been shut down since January 15th of this year due to a slew of other safety violations and problems, which illustrates just how serious the danger is. Safety procedures at Livermore Lab's plutonium facility are out of compliance with regulations. Faulty gloveboxes and taped up ventilation ducts have been found there. Now, we learn that plutonium is stored in common paint and food cans.

As shocking as this is, it is perhaps even more frightening to realize that these are repeat violations and safety lapses.

For example, more than a decade ago, the DOE Plutonium Vulnerability Assessment Team found plutonium in bulging cans at Livermore. At the time, Livermore Lab management claimed it would resolve the problems, and that plutonium would no longer be stored in unsafe containers. Not true, as we now know.

Today, Livermore Lab wants to reopen its plutonium facility, again without actually resolving the safety issues. Management wants to resume operations with temporary "compensatory measures" in place of fixing the problems. Lab management says it will take care of things later, and the local DOE has given the green light. However, the DNFSB has demanded that DOE Headquarters provide technical justification for this decision. And, the safety board has asked that the Livermore Lab plutonium facility remain in stand-by mode in the mean time.

We applaud the DNFSB action. Worker and public safety dictate that the Lab's plutonium facility not be allowed to reopen based on mere promises from management of reform at a later date.

Further, the DOE should permanently cease plutonium operations at Livermore Lab and de-inventory the plutonium stored there, not restart the facility and increase its storage limit.


You can help make Livermore safer by sending DOE a letter today at

Plutonium Sludge

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CARES' April 2005 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has asked Senator Dianne Feinstein to help obtain federal funds to conduct public education about the plutonium-contaminated sludge offered free to Livermore residents for use in their lawns and gardens.

If funded, the project, led by the county's environmental health dept., would include money to pay for soil sampling for residents who may have gotten the contaminated sludge and who want the sampling service.

The funds would come from the Dept. of Energy budget and would be used to move forward the work already begun by the county, other health agencies, and community residents and groups, including Tri-Valley CAREs, who are participating in the Alameda County Plutonium Action Taskforce, or ACPAT.

ACPAT provides a model for community members to participate in decision-making along with government health agencies. ACPAT derives its "mandate" from a report by the state health dept., which recommended follow-up action on the plutonium-contaminated sludge.

Not surprisingly, Livermore Lab has been vocal in its opposition to the project and the funding request. The Lab says that follow up action on plutonium-contaminated sludge is not needed in the community. This is false. Here are a few community voices to tell the real story.

Janis Kate Turner: My husband and I moved into our newly built house in Livermore in June, 1968... I read an announcement in a local newspaper about free fertilizer (processed sludge) available at the Livermore Water Treatment Plant. We borrowed my dad's old yellow pick-up truck and brought truckloads of sludge home to our yard.

My garden has been growing 35 years, feeding family, neighbors and friends. About 5 years ago I learned that sludge distributed between 1958 and 1976 was contaminated with plutonium-239, which originated at Livermore Lab. I am aware that plutonium particles in dirt can become air-borne, and are hazardous when inhaled.

Martha Priebat: ...My husband came home with the information that free sludge was available... He liked the idea of getting it free to use in several planting beds in our large back yard in Livermore. I think he did get some, but am not sure. We sold the house in 1972... The present owner would have no way of knowing about the possible radioactivity in their yard.

Mary Perner: I love to garden and generally maintain a planting bed of some kind; I have occasionally supplemented my income through gardening for friends and neighbors. I've gardened in at least 8 locations around Livermore.

Tri-Valley CAREs to Press Congress and the Bush Administration:
End Weapons Projects, Clean Up the Mess

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CARES' April 2005 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Twelve Tri-Valley CAREs members will travel to Washington, DC in April to share their views - and yours - with Members of Congress and the Bush Administration.

Their goal will be to "speak truth to power" to constrain the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, stop the further development of nuclear "bunker-busting" bombs and promote cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution at Livermore Lab and other Department of Energy (DOE) sites across the country.

While in the nation's capital, the Tri-Valley CAREs team will meet with California Senators and Representatives, leaders of congressional committees that oversee nuclear issues, and key staffers.

The team will also meet with senior staff at DOE Headquarters, the Environmental Protection Agency and other Administration officials.

Tri-Valley CAREs will be working with colleagues from more than a dozen other states who are participating in the seventeenth annual Alliance for Nuclear Accountability "DC Days."

"The push for new nuclear weapons and new bomb plants continues even while DOE tries to reduce its obligations to clean up contamination resulting from past nuclear weapons development, production and testing," explained Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, Marylia Kelley.

"To enhance the genuine security of our communities, we need to modernize cleanup technologies, not nuclear weapons," she continued.

"Our nation's priorities should be public health, safety and the environment, not 'Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators' and more nuclear waste," declared Tara Dorabji, Tri-Valley CAREs' Outreach Director. "We are going to our nation's capital to lift our voices against escalating militarism, violence and death."

Tri-Valley CAREs will also discuss the plutonium dangers at Livermore Lab, the upcoming release of DOE's final Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement and other top priority community concerns with our elected officials.

Your intrepid Tri-Valley CAREs truth-telling team in Washington will include Jon Hart, Stacy Williams, Del Miles, Will Easton, Fran Macy, Josh Kearns, Chelsea Collogne, Barbara Dyskant and Erek Dyskant, along with staff members, Marylia Kelley, Tara Dorabji and Loulena Miles. The team plans to conduct approximately 100 meetings while they are there.

"We cannot guarantee that Congress and the Bush Administration will do what we ask," commented Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Loulena Miles. "But, we can promise you that they will know why we are there. No longer will they be able to say, 'we didn't know'."

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability is a network of local, regional and national organizations representing the concerns of communities downwind and downstream from U.S. nuclear weapons and radioactive waste sites. Tri-Valley CAREs has been a member since 1989.

Peace Vigil

by Tara Dorabji and Jo Ann Frisch
from Tri-Valley CARES' April 2005 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

5 PM - 6 PM

Lizzie Fountain, corner of First St. & Livermore Ave.

Songs - Signs - Candles - More

On May 1st, thousands will rally in New York City for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Here, in the Tri-Valley, we will gather in solidarity with signs and music in downtown Livermore.

May 1st is the eve of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the United Nations. The NPT is the most universal treaty of its kind, signed by nearly 190 countries. It commits the nuclear weapon states that are signatories, like the United States, to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. In exchange, countries without nuclear weapons agreed not to acquire them.

The United States is seeking new earth-penetrating nuclear bombs, which are contrary to the nation's legal and moral obligations under the NPT. According to published reports, the Bush Administration will go to the UN determined to weaken the effect of the treaty's disarmament clause. This could further unravel the already fragile non-proliferation regime and encourage the further spread of nuclear weapons.

Tri-Valley CAREs and peace advocates from around the world will converge on the UN to support the NPT. We will call on the U.S. to live up to its obligation under the NPT's Article VI to achieve disarmament.

On May 1st in Livermore, we will vigil for an hour to show our support for the rule of law, for global nuclear disarmament, and for our five hard-working Tri-Valley CAREs members -- and the Mayor of Pleasanton -- who will be in New York at that time. At Lizzie Fountain, our signs will call for a halt to the further development of nuclear weapons, including the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" bomb. We will illustrate the hypocrisy of a war waged in Iraq where no weapons of mass destruction were found. We will tell President Bush, "no more nuclear excuses for war."

Hold up signs and candles-and your voice in song-for peace.




Lab Tours

We are Planning Livermore Lab Tours this Summer for Members & Supporters - Sign up Now

from Tri-Valley CARES' April 2005 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Are you interested in seeing what goes on inside the fence at Livermore Lab?

Tri-Valley CAREs is planning two tours for its members this summer. The tours will take place on Thursday, June 16 and Tuesday, July 12. Both tours will be from 9 AM to 1 PM.

Details are still being worked out, but the tours will likely include visits to the National Ignition Facility, the supercomputers used in weapons design, the bio-lab area, a treatment facility for contaminated groundwater and other programs of interest. We will also stop at, but not enter, the plutonium facility and the tritium facility.

Each tour is limited to 12 participants, and we must submit participant data several weeks in advance in order to get security clearances and badges. Call Gayle or Ann at (925) 443-7148 for details and to reserve your space today.

Back to Citizen's Watch Index