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April/May 2009 Citizen's Watch Newsletter

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From DC: Report on the Gains Made and the Road Ahead

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' April/May 2009 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

A 7-member team from Tri-Valley CAREs has returned, tired but buoyed, from a whirlwind of advocacy meetings and activities in the nation's capital.

The occasion was "DC Days," held the last week in April and sponsored by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a network of three dozen organizations located downwind and downstream of the major sites in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Tri-Valley CAREs has been an ANA member group since 1989.

Overall, ANA activists and allies met with 105 Obama Administration officials, members of Congress, and key committee staff dealing with nuclear weapons, nuclear power and radioactive waste policy issues. Some meetings were uplifting, others were difficult; all were important. Here are a few highlights of who we met, what we learned, and what we were able to accomplish.

Two from Tri-Valley CAREs' team, Marylia Kelley and Roger Logan, a retired Livermore Lab weapons designer and former head of the Lab's "directed stockpile work," were part of the group that met for several hours with top Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) officials, including Administrator Tom D'Agostino. Agenda topics ranged from Life Extension Programs for weapons to worker safety to NNSA's thoughts about linking U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to its nuclear weapons projects like the National Ignition Facility.

We rejected the notion of a "deal" linking an important Treaty to funding for a mega-laser that may never achieve ignition and is not needed for weapons' maintenance in any case. We advocated against NNSA's "Complex Transformation" plan and its proposed new bomb plants like the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)-Nuclear Facility and the Uranium Processing Facility. We proposed that NNSA institute a "Curatorship" program in place of its current practice of adding militarily significant "improvements" into stockpiled nuclear warheads. We pointed out serious problems at the weapons labs, including with their management contracts, and suggested solutions. And, we listened and learned from what NNSA had to say.

Tom D'Agostino opened our meeting by citing President Obama's speech orienting the U.S. toward a world without nuclear weapons. However, he went on from there to "shoehorn" many old Bush Administration bomb programs into the framework of the new Administration's goals.

To give one example, during the Bush years D'Agostino had said CMRR was important for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. Now, with Obama declaring RRW inconsistent with the nuclear free future he seeks, D'Agostino promoted the CMRR (and much more) for "maintaining and exercising capability."

In other words, the NNSA still plans to build CMRR-- but now it's not so much for the bombs as for the bomb makers (to exercise their capability). The NNSA's rhetorical shift was evident throughout our meetings. Missing was the deep change in nuclear weapons programs and policies that the country needs.

Other meetings yielded much more immediate results. Adrian Drummond-Cole represented Tri-Valley CAREs at a meeting with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). He talked about a recent accident involving exploding uranium at Livermore Lab and received a promise that the board would investigate. Drummond-Cole also urged the board to assign a full-time DNFSB technical staff person to Livermore Lab, rather than the current situation in which the board conducted its oversight from across the country. On May 6, the board assigned one of its key people, Jonathan Plaue, to fill the role of DNFSB "site rep" at the Lab. Plaue is slated to move to Livermore in June.

Tri-Valley CAREs' team member Janis Kate Turner's home is located near Livermore Lab. She and her neighbors are impacted by the off-site plume of polluted groundwater emanating from the Lab's main site. She focused her "DC Days" advocacy on radioactive waste policy and cleanup at Livermore and other weapons sites.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher is already making good on Tri-Valley CAREs' request that she send a letter supporting the use of stimulus funds for "shovel ready" cleanup projects at Livermore Lab. Tauscher's letter will go to Ines Triay, the head of Environmental Management at the Dept. of Energy. We will keep you, and all of our members and friends, informed of the outcome in future newsletters.

Tri-Valley CAREs' Rob Schwartz made progress in bringing needed Congressional attention to the problems faced by Livermore Lab and other workers made ill by on the job exposures to toxic and radioactive materials. He also participated in key meetings with the Dept. of Energy Inspector General on beryllium contamination at Livermore Lab and with the agency's Office of Health, Safety and Security on plutonium issues.

Janine Carmona focused her meetings on stopping new bomb plants at the weapons labs and other sites in the complex. She met with members and staff from key congressional committees overseeing nuclear weapons funding and policy, including Rep. John Spratt. One of the highlights for Tri-Valley CAREs' Scott Yundt was an inspiring meeting he was able to set up in Barbara Lee's office.

Logan called on decades of weapons expertise to detail the benefits of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty among other policy issues. Kelley divided her time between meetings with the Obama Administration, including the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Congress, particularly the Senate.

Moreover, the Tri-Valley CAREs team utilized the recently released report, "Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World," to support many of the policy changes advocated by ANA. Members of Congress, and their defense staff in particular, were eager to receive copies, as were key Administration officials. (See the enclosed insert for more information on the report.)

In all, your Tri-Valley CAREs team participated in nearly 70 of the 105 advocacy meetings conducted during "DC Days." Over the coming months we will continue the work -- following up on the acquaintances we made and the commitments we obtained.

While policy meetings dominated all of our daylight hours, ANA sponsored an amazing evening reception and awards ceremony to honor government officials and others for exceptional work over the past year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada merited an ANA award for his successful efforts to stop the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump. Journalist Laura Frank received an award for her moving series of articles on sick workers and the broken compensation program that is supposed to help them. Attorney Larry Sanders was honored for his outstanding legal support to achieve environmental justice for communities impacted by the Dept. of Energy's Savannah River Site and nearby nuclear power plants.

And, saving the best for last, a Bay Area environmental standout, Kathy Setian, netted an ANA award. Setian is the EPA project manager who carries out the agency's regulatory authority for the Superfund cleanup at Livermore Lab. In addition to her longstanding commitment to a clean environment and public participation, Setian was honored for pursuing (and achieving) fines and penalties against the Dept. of Energy when it violated the law by not re-starting the Livermore cleanup after receiving Congressional funding to do so.

Drummond-Cole has posted some photos from "DC Days" on our website at We invite you to check them out.

We offer our heartfelt thanks to all of our members and friends who participated by sponsoring our Tri-Valley CAREs team. This was a true grassroots effort. We could not have done it without you!

NIF Ceremony Masks Serious Questions

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' April/May 2009 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Name a nuclear weapons facility at Livermore Lab that's $4 billion over budget, 9 years behind schedule and still plagued by unresolved technical problems. If you said, National Ignition Facility, or NIF, you would be correct. Yet, on May 29, Livermore Lab threw a huge, and very expensive, party for NIF. There were more than 3,000 invited guests, many flown in from around the country and the world. The occasion? "Completion" of the construction phase of the NIF project.

The Livermore Lab's PR was more intense than any laser light that will travel through NIF's 192 beam lines. Chief among the things getting lost in the flurry of photo ops and press releases was -- the truth about NIF.

Tri-Valley CAREs sought to fill that gap. We created a "NIF Truth Telling Exhibit" with a 7 ft. tall NIF poster and 2 "evidence tables" piled high with documents detailing NIF's weapons applications, plutonium use, scientific deficiencies and other key facts that would not be spoken at the NIF ceremony.

We brought our exhibit to the Lab and set it up along the fence, on the way to the NIF. We staffed it, held signs, gave interviews and offered literature to passersby throughout the day. We were present to represent the (otherwise) untold story. We have been tracking NIF since it was proposed. The NIF was conceived and budgeted as a nuclear weapons project, and it remains so today.

Marylia Kelley, the group's Executive Director, explained, "The fusion fuel to be used in NIF is a 50-50 mix of deuterium and tritium, the radioactive hydrogen of the H-bomb. According to the Government Accountability Office, 85% of the experiments in NIF are planned for the advancement of nuclear weapons physics. This is borne out by the Dept. of Energy (DOE) fiscal year 2010 budget, which states that only 15% of NIF's planned experiments will be made available for 'basic science' and 'users' who are not related to the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration nuclear weapons program."

Kelley continued, "In 2005, DOE further expanded NIF's weapons mission with a decision to add plutonium into NIF experiments. That decision ran counter to DOE's prior pledge not to use plutonium in NIF. The DOE also decided to produce both the plutonium fission targets and the deuterium-tritium fusion targets at Livermore Lab, thus reneging on a separate promise that the targets would not be loaded in Livermore due to the associated radioactive emissions and the proximity of the community.

"The history of NIF is a history of broken promises and deception. This remains true today regarding NIF's purpose and mission, its radioactive wastes, its airborne releases -- and its scientific readiness," she concluded.

Dr. Stephen Bodner, the retired head of lasers at the Naval Research Lab noted, "Construction projects are generally measured by three variables: time, cost and ultimate performance. The NIF has failed on all three. The performance failure is easily documented from Livermore's own publications. The question is, do they get away with it?" (See Dr. Bodner's analysis posted on our blog at

Christopher Paine, director of nuclear programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Luciana Messina and Les Miklosy, two NIF whistleblowers formerly employed at Livermore Lab, also issued important statements. You will find their statements in our web site "press room" as part of our NIF media advisory (click into press releases). We invite you to check them out!

Lab Caught Conducting Illegal Restricted Bio-Experiments

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' April/May 2009 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tri-Valley CAREs recently received documents that the group had long been seeking under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding Livermore Lab's biological agent programs.

The records we received show that Livermore Lab violated federal regulations by conducting "restricted experiments" without the proper approval. These illegal experiments were discovered during an inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2005. However, the information was not made public -- until now.

"The Dept. of Energy and the Lab withheld these documents until we filed federal litigation under FOIA to obtain them," explained Marylia Kelley, the group's Executive Director. "This is a stunning example of the government covering up unclassified information because it is embarrassing. As a result, the public is denied knowledge to which it is entitled, and community health and safety are degraded."

Restricted experiments are experiments utilizing recombinant DNA that involve the deliberate transfer of a drug resistance trait to select agents that are not known to acquire the trait naturally. Select agents, which include anthrax and plague, are biological agents and toxins having the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety. Because of the dangers involved in transferring drug resistance to select agents, restricted experiments require approval from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Livermore Lab did not have that approval, but ran the experiments anyway.

After discovering the illegal restricted experiments, the CDC required Livermore Lab to destroy the research samples. Otherwise, the Lab may have lost CDC's authorization for its select agent program

These experiments were conducted around the time of an anthrax release caused by Livermore Lab in August-September 2005. The anthrax incident led to the exposure of five individuals and resulted in a $450,000 fine against the Lab. The anthrax release also laid bare a variety of errors and deficiencies within the Livermore Lab's select agent program, including in the Lab's response to the mishap.

It is notable that relevant details of the 2005 anthrax accident were kept from the public at the time, just as happened with the illegal actions that are coming to light now. In both instances, Tri-Valley CAREs used FOIA to uncover information that the public had a right to know all along.

"Taken together, the illegal restricted experiments and the anthrax release demonstrate that there are serious problems with Livermore Lab's select agent program," Kelley stated.

At the time of the violations, the Lab was only operating a Biosafety Level 2 research laboratory. Since then, the Lab has opened a Biosafety Level 3 facility, which allows researchers to have additional types of select agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases, and in greater quantities (up to 50 liters).

The Lab's planned BSL-3 activities include aerosolizing (spraying) pathogens such as plague, tularemia and Q fever, in addition to anthrax. Moreover, government documents disclose that planned experiments in the BSL-3 include genetic modification and potentially novel manipulation of viruses, prions and other agents.

According to Kelley, Livermore Lab's expanding biological warfare research program is a legitimate community concern. She asks, "If the Lab broke the law in the past and did not tell the public the truth, what is protecting the public today?"

Alerts 4 U

from Tri-Valley CAREs' April/May 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Wednesday, June 3

Sick Worker Support Group meets
7 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148

If you or a family member has suffered an illness that may be related to on the job exposure to toxic or radioactive material at Livermore, Sandia or another Dept. of Energy site, this group is for you. Call Rob at Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148 for more information.

Saturday, June 13

Join our Peace Entry
in the Livermore Parade
10 AM, Downtown Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

"A Nuclear Weapons-Free Future for the Next Generation" is the title of Tri-Valley CAREs' entry in this year's Livermore Parade. We invite kids of all ages (up to 100 years) to join us. See the enclosed flier, and be sure to RSVP so that we can give you our line-up number and location when we get them from the Parade Committee.

Thursday, June 18

Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Saturday, June 20

Rummage and Bake Sale
to benefit Tri-Valley CAREs
9 AM - 4 PM, 2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Our event is part of the annual Livermore City-Wide Garage Sale. Call us about donating items to sell. And, don't forget to browse and shop June 20. See the enclosed flier for more information.

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