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Citizen Watch Newsletter April 1999

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant: The Two Percent "Solution"

(with an Action Alert)

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The flatbed truck left Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico at 7:49 PM on Thursday, March 26, and headed south on U.S. 285 for about 270 miles - to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM. Loaded in the truck was 600 pounds of plutonium-contaminated waste. The trip was reported to have taken around 7.5 hours.

In truth, that journey took the Dept. of Energy 25 years and $2 billion. When the nuclear debris reached its destination at about 4 AM on Friday, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson called it "a truly historic moment."

Was it, really? What is WIPP? Will it solve the nuclear waste problem? If so, why have environmentalists toiled such long hours for two decades and more - in courtrooms, on picket lines and in offices piled high with technical reports - to stop it? Why had the state of New Mexico also sought to enjoin its opening? Why is DOE putting nuclear waste in WIPP without first obtaining a hazardous waste permit?

WIPP is the DOE's proposed deep geologic repository for nuclear weapons-generated transuranic waste (containing radioactive elements heavier than uranium, mostly plutonium). WIPP is being excavated in an ancient salt bed 2,150 feet below the ground. Still under construction, WIPP will ultimately contain 16 square miles of buried plutonium wastes, including up to 850,000 55-gallon drums entombed in 56 rooms, each 300 feet long by 33 feet wide.

WIPP will leak. Much of the waste slated for WIPP is contaminated with plutonium 239, which has a radioactive half-life of over 24,000 years. A radioactive element's hazardous life is generally calculated at 10 half-lives, in this case 240,000 years.

The WIPP site is surrounded by proven oil and gas reserves and potash deposits. Future mining and drilling operations could hit the waste rooms, releasing massive amounts of radioactivity to the surface. Other drilling operations, such as fluid injection, could cause radioactive releases at WIPP even if the original operation is kept outside the site boundary. Experts don't understand the groundwater system at WIPP very well. The Rustler aquifer, which sits above the WIPP waste rooms has fractures and caverns in it that could transport waste, eventually contaminating drinking water supplies. Pressurized brine reservoirs under the WIPP site could bring wastes to the surface as well. These reservoirs contain large amounts of salt water under high pressure.

DOE is seeking, but does not yet have, a hazardous waste permit from the state of New Mexico. The permit is required because DOE will dispose of mixed transuranic wastes at WIPP. These are wastes that are contaminated with both a chemical hazard (like a solvent) and a radioactive element such as plutonium. States can regulate DOE's hazardous (chemical) wastes. Therefore, WIPP must have an operating permit. However, DOE is the sole regulator for all the radioactive waste in the weapons complex. DOE is essentially forcing the premature opening of WIPP by bringing in a shipment of "purely" radioactive waste from Los Alamos.

Never mind that this waste is from NASA activities at Los Alamos Lab, and that WIPP is supposed to be for military wastes only. And, never mind that significant controversy exists over whether the Los Alamos waste was properly analyzed and classified. DOE's aim was to get waste, any waste, into WIPP and preempt the state's ability to impose limits through its permitting authority.

DOE plans to bring 40,000 truck loads of transuranic waste to WIPP over the next 30 years. Most of it will come from California (including from Livermore Lab), Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina and Washington state. DOE estimates these shipments will result in 6 deaths and 48 injuries from accidents and that 3 people will die from radiation exposure during "accident free" shipments.

WIPP is part of the DOE's nuclear waste "shell game," a dangerous enterprise that puts deadly wastes on our highways, moving them around the country and substituting "out of sight - out of mind" for a sound policy.

Estimates are WIPP will cost around $20 billion. Storing waste where it is would cost about $3 billion. Moreover, WIPP will not come close to solving the country's nuclear waste problems, not by any standard of measurement. WIPP is designed to handle less than 2% of the existing volume of nuclear bomb-generated radioactive wastes. Even if one calculates the transuranic wastes alone, WIPP is proposed for only about one-third of DOE's existing TRU waste.

Yet, Secretary Richardson sent out a press release to say that WIPP will safely clean up the nuclear weapons complex. So, what gives?

Perhaps, WIPP's main use is not for waste disposal, but rather for its public relations value. If DOE can convince enough people that it has taken care of its waste problems, then currently operational weapons facilities like Livermore Lab will face less pressure to cut down on the future production of nuclear wastes. Transuranic wastes will continue to be generated. And we will put them... where?

WIPP action suggestion:

Write to Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20585. In your own words, tell him, "Transuranic waste generation must be reduced at its source. Don't bury it, Bill."

WIPP legal update:

Four groups have appealed Judge Penn's decision to lift the 1992 injunction against WIPP. This is the decision that now allows DOE to send 17 shipments of Los Alamos waste to WIPP, of which the first has been sent. (The Judge has not yet given a go-ahead for DOE to begin waste shipments from other sites around the weapons complex.) If the appeal is successful, the injunction would be fully reinstated. No hearing date has been set as yet. The four groups filing the appeal are: Southwest Research and Information Center, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. (The state of New Mexico had been a party to the original suit as well.)

In a separate legal action, SRIC, CCNS, the state of New Mexico and Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping are challenging the legality of the EPA certification for WIPP. A hearing is scheduled for May 6. If the plaintiffs are successful, the DOE would have to try and recertify WIPP, a process that would likely take several years and, theoretically at least, its end result would not be assured.

Meanwhile, the DOE's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab and Rocky Flats Plant are gearing up to ship waste to WIPP, and may try to argue before the Judge that somehow "national secuity" demands putting nuclear trash on the road.

Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico has gotten an earful from its citizenry through the public comment process, and must ponder the permit issues and make that decision. -- Stay tuned.

Nuclear Abolition: Good News From the People and the Congress

(with two Action Alerts)

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

While much of the news has been bad lately, there have also been glimmers of hope and light, including significant progress in building a movement - amongst the people and in the halls of the U.S. Congress - for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

In February, about 60 organizations, including Tri-Valley CAREs, gathered in Santa Barbara, CA to galvanize a campaign to address the unique challenges and opportunities we face in moving the U.S. government to eliminate its nuclear weapons. This conference sought to bring together diverse perspectives on achieving disarmament, and therefore included representatives from several Native Nations, community-based grassroots organizations, national and international groups, atomic vets, authors, youthful voices and a former U.S. Senator -- along with many other creative, wise, wonderful folks. Everyone's contributions were magnified by the collective energy in that big conference room!

Coming out of the Santa Barbara meeting, we have a mission statement and a collective declaration. Also, an interim steering committee, including Tri-Valley CAREs' own Sally Light, has been set up to guide the campaign over the next six months as it completes the birthing process. The campaign's name, structure and strategic methods are in development, as is a statement on nuclear weapons, power and democracy. Leaving Santa Barbara, we have already in operation a useful timeline and thirteen working groups to carry out activities.

Our Santa Barbara declaration

From all corners of this land, representing diverse constituencies and traditions, including indigenous nations, we have come together in common cause, determined to end the threat to all life posed by nuclear weapons. We recognize that nuclear weapons and the nuclear fuel cycle have caused widespread suffering, death and environmental devastation. We further recognize that resources used for nuclear arms need to be redirected to meeting human and environmental needs. The U.S. bears special responsibility as the only country to use nuclear weapons in war. It continues to spend vast sums on its massive nuclear weapons complex, and its current policies would upgrade and maintain a huge nuclear arsenal far into the future. The conference has initiated a campaign tailored to address the unique obstacles in the U.S. to achieving nuclear weapons abolition. Our campaign builds upon the foundations laid by Abolition 2000 and other efforts to abolish nuclear arms. We commit our hearts, our spirits, and our energy to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and invite all people of good will to join us.

The Campaign Mission Statement

To ensure a just, secure, healthy and sustainable world for our children, grandchildren, all future generations and all living things, we aim to educate public opinion and mobilize persistent popular pressure to move the U.S. government to take prompt and unequivocal actions to eliminate nuclear weapons. These actions must include halting continued development of new and modified nuclear weapons, de-alerting nuclear forces, addressing the environmental degradation and human suffering arising from testing, production, deployment and use of nuclear weapons, and undertaking negotiations with other countries on a treaty for their elimination. Our objective is nothing less than the universal, complete, verifiable, and enduring abolition of nuclear weapons. (end)

"Stockpile Stewardship" and the Congress

Congressional resolutions can be reintroduced each year. This means they get new numbers, and also that they can pick up new cosponsors -- giving them added momentum and force. On March 24, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the 1999 House Concurrent Resolution 74, which seeks to constrain the U.S. "stockpile stewardship" program, divest it of its proliferation-causing new facilities like the National Ignition Facility (being built at Livermore Lab) and replace it with a "curatorship" approach that will passively maintain the arsenal under safe conditions as it awaits dismantlement.

The resolution already has 18 co-sponsors! Included are 4 California Reps: Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Anna Eshoo and George Miller. According to Markey's office, more co-sponsors are welcome - and needed. Call Jeff Duncan in Markey's office at (202) 225-2836.

Furthering nuclear disarmament

On February 24, 1999 the Bay Area's own Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) offered House Resolution 82 to "recognize the security interests of the U.S. in furthering complete nuclear disarmament," and to urge the President to initiate multilateral negotiations toward that end. It was introduced with 22 co-sponsors! Included from California are: Pete Stark, George Miller, Anna Eshoo, Bob Filner and Henry Waxman. As with the Markey resolution, Woolsey's office is looking for additional co-sponsors. Call her DC office at (202) 225-5161.

For copies of either resolution, call or write Tri-Valley CAREs, or simply click on the links above. To find out the current status of these bills, visit and type in the bill number or sponsor.

Censored Subcrits

by Project Censored
from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Each year Project Censored, located in the Bay Area at Sonoma State University, offers special recognition for the top 25 underreported news stories of the year. In essence, these are stories judged to be of importance to our lives and our world that most mainstream publications didn't run.

>From news about a secret international trade agreement that threatens to undermine democracy in the U.S. and abroad, to recycled radioactive metals on your clothing and in your kitchen, you can read all about it in Project Censored's newest volume, Censored 1999. Of particular interest to Tri-Valley CAREs is that the number 6 most under-covered story of the year is the U.S. "stockpile stewardship" program, including its "subcritical" nuclear tests. Here is a short excerpt.

#6. United States' Nuclear Program Subverts Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: When scientists in India conducted a deep underground test on May 11, 1998 it was seen as a violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. However, two months before, the U.S. carried out a test that went largely unnoticed by the American media. Underground nuclear experiments aren't the only U.S. method of subverting the Treaty, says The Nation. Further, Russia conducted a subcritical test at its site at Novaya Zemlya. In defending the experiment to the press, Russian officials pointed to the U.S. test. -- from The Nation, "Virtual Nukes: When is a Test Not a Test?" June 15, 1998, by Bill Mesler.

Each of the top 25 chosen stories is followed by authors' updates, including contact numbers and information about how to get proactively involved. To order Censored 1999, call Project Censored at (707) 664-2500.

Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

** NATO Brings Cold War Back to the Future. On Thurs., March 25, the Itar Tass news agency reported that Russian tactical nuclear weapons could be moved back into Belarus, on the border with Poland (which was newly brought into the NATO alliance), following the NATO air strikes on Kosovo. On Fri., March 26, a news agency reported that the Ukraine Parliament voted to renounce its non-nuclear status in response to NATO attacks on Yugoslavia. (This report has just been confirmed and updated by the Financial Times of London. Since the vote in the Parliament, the President of the Ukraine has announced that it his decision that the Ukraine remain non-nuclear.)

** NATO, Russia and Y2K. On Fri., March 26, Reuters wire service reported that Russia's Defense Ministry has called off cooperation with the U.S. on Year 2000 computer problems as a protest of the U.S.-led NATO bombings in Yugoslavia. Russian and U.S. officials had been working on cooperative measures to increase trust in the event that nuclear weapons computers malfunction on the eve of the millennium. While experts downplay the potential of a computer bug directly launching a weapon, it is considered possible that Y2K problems may, for example, interfere with nuclear early warning systems, causing computer screen blackouts or false information about an incoming attack. This could precipitate a nuclear war by miscalculation.

** Going Zero for Six. The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization announced on March 29 that a Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor missed a Hera missile target in a flight test over White Sands, NM. It was the sixth miss out of six tries. In March, both the House and Senate passed bills to make a national missile defense system a priority. To date, the government has spent between $50 and $60 billion on missile defense schemes. The THAAD system, a more limited, regional attempt at missile defense, has cost $3.8 billion so far. Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles was in charge of putting a happy face on things. "Everything seemed to work very, very well with the exception, obviously, of what happened relative to the closing end game for the missile," he told reporters. Indeed.

** Real Solutions. Either we move to a nuclear weapons-free world or face a future in which everyone has nukes. The destabilizing, leaky shield of missile defense is no answer. Act! Organize! Work for peace! Join us!

Mother's Day Proclamation, 1870

reprinted in Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

by Julia Ward Howe

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

>From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

-- Previously Julia Ward Howe had written the lyrics for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. However, the carnage of the Civil War caused a transformation within her that inspired her to write this poem and call upon all women to work for disarmament. This, and not Hallmark cards, is the true beginning of Mother's Day.

* Note: the poem's "line breaks" are not preserved from the original, mostly because Tri-Valley CAREs has in its possession copies of the poem from two sources -- and they break the lines in different places! Anyone having an authoritative version is requested to send it to us for our future reference. Thanks.

Mother's Day: Reclaiming its Meaning!

Events from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Honoring the Mother: Healing Global Wounds

May 7 - 10 at the Nevada Test Site. Call HGW, (760) 852-4175. Unite to demand an end to all nuclear weapons development and a halt to the dumping of nuclear waste on Sacred Native land. Come together to: Honor women in struggle for their lands and rights in Newe Sogobia and around the world; heal and honor our Mother Earth who provides life for all beings; celebrate the unique and powerful gifts women bring to the human family; and occupy Western Shoshone lands stolen to create the Nevada Test Site.

Peace Has a Chance

May 9, meet at 12:45 PM at U.C. Berkeley, then walk to MLK, Jr. Park. Music and short speeches until 2:45 PM. Celebrate mothers, children, and families who are working hard to teach real family values -- the courage for children to say NO to violence in neighborhoods and for us grownups to say NO to war, and to teach loving behavior. Call Women for Peace at (510) 849-3020.

Universal Disarmament: The Meaning of Mother's Day

May 8, from 4 PM to 5:30 PM, at the Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. Call the Sonoma County Center for Peace and Justice at (707) 575-8902. Renew the true beginning of the first Mother's Day observance in 1870. There will be music, a reading of the Mother's Day Proclamation, 1870 written by Julia Ward Howe and more.

Citizen's Alerts

from Tri-Valley CAREs' April 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tuesday, April 6
Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets
7 PM, Janis Kate's home
749 Hazel St., Livermore
(925) 443-4372 for info

Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets quarterly. We currently have a 6-member Board, and would like to expand it by August 1999. If you are interested in serving the group in this way, please contact Board President Janis Kate at the number above for more info.

Thursday, April 8
LLNL Community Work Group meets
6:30 PM, Livermore Lab Visitors Center
Greenville Road entrance, Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Tri-Valley CAREs has been a member of the "work group" since 1989, advising on the Superfund cleanup of LLNL's main site soil and groundwater. This meeting will focus on cleanup policy and prioritization of activities.

Thursday, April 15
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

One good thing will happen on "tax day"- Tri-Valley CAREs members and friends will get together to create peace and a healthy environment. Join us and learn more about our activities to "watchdog" Livermore Lab. Hear from our members who will be traveling to "DC Days." Discover your local connections to the Non Proliferation Treaty meeting at the UN and the Hague Appeal for Peace. Get reports from Good Friday at the Lab and the Abolition 2000 gathering.

Thursday, May 6
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Here's one way to help -- come to our mailing party.

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