Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter August 2002

In This Issue...

NEW THREATS COMING TO LIVERMORE, BAY AREA

  • Plutonium-Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation
  • BSL-3 authorization to handle live anthrax, bubonic plague and other bio-weapon agents
  • Plans to use plutonium, highly-enriched uranium, and lithium hydride in experiments at the Lab's National Ignition Facility

YOUR OPPORTUNITIES TO CREATE POSITIVE CHANGE

  • Sign-on comment letter to oppose new uses of plutonium, anthrax and other hazards at the Livermore Lab (attached, at the end of the newsletter)
  • Sept. 12 seminar offering "Straight Answers for Sick Workers"
  • Peace-oriented, multi-cultural memorials to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks
  • Opportunity to join, volunteer with Tri-Valley CAREs

New at the NIF

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2002 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

There is good news and bad news these days for opponents of the controversial mega-laser for nuclear weapons research, called the National Ignition Facility (NIF), under construction at Livermore Lab.

On the positive side, the U.S. Senate is beginning to recognize the stench of science fraud at the NIF. The committee that funds the mega-laser recently issued sharp language questioning whether the Dept. of Energy (DOE) is taking the Senate's money, but backing away from promises the NIF will achieve its scientific goal of ignition. The committee noted with alarm that DOE is changing its commitment to ignition, both in name (now calling NIF's aim high energy density physics) and in performance criteria. Tri-Valley CAREs has been saying for years the laser will be the "National Almost Ignition Facility." Looks like others are noticing. Perhaps, next year, the Senate will cut NIF's funds.

However, on the dark side, even while skulking away from scientific goals set for NIF, the DOE and Livermore Lab are rolling out plans to expand the types of experiments to be conducted on NIF. This, they hope, will bring NIF new justifications and even more money. It will also give NIF new and even more lethal hazards.

The proposal calls for plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and lithium hydride to be used in laser experiments, in addition to the radioactive tritium-deuterium targets that will be NIF's "fuel."

The proposal to use these new chemical and radioactive materials in NIF is briefly described in the Federal Register Notice announcing the preparation of a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement on Livermore Lab operations. The use of these additional materials makes up part of what DOE calls its "proposed action alternative." In plain English, that means look out here it comes.

The first glimmer that DOE and Livermore Lab wanted to use these deadly materials at NIF came when Tri-Valley CAREs, Natural Resources Defense Council and dozens of other groups sued DOE over inadequacies in its environmental review of NIF and the rest of the so-called Stockpile Stewardship program in 1997. Through the lawsuit, we obtained several key redacted, or declassified, documents disclosing the plans. At that time, DOE claimed it had not made the decision to go forward with any additional experiments, though DOE, Livermore and the Pentagon had already jointly produced written plans for them.

The plans call for bomb-grade plutonium to be used in NIF in at least two kinds of experiments, equation of state (in which plutonium is compressed) and fission induction (in which neutrons from the fusion "fuel" pellet are used to begin the fissioning process in the plutonium). These tests can also be conducted using highly-enriched uranium.

The lithium hydride would be used in large Neutron Multiplying Assemblies (NEUMAs), each one weighing up to 10 tons. One declassified document talks about as much as 100 pounds of lithium hydride being kept on hand at the NIF.

Lithium hydride is rated by EPA as "extremely hazardous." The lawsuit documents call lithium hydride "a toxic material... which may ignite in air. It can form airborne dust clouds that can explode on contact with flame, heat or oxidizers (an oxygen source)." The reports go on to describe the "moon suits" Livermore Lab employees would need to wear because human sweat can set it off.

The lithium hydride would be used to amplify the effects of the NIF's fusion "fuel" (i.e., the pellet filled with tritium and deuterium) in order to create a nuclear war fighting environment inside NIF's target chamber big enough to encompass an entire weapon or other large object, according to the declassified reports.

These experiments to determine how well satellites, warheads and other military equipment will survive nearby nuclear explosions are part of the government's missile defense plans. Moreover, the documents allude to NIF experiments to develop nuclear-tipped interceptors and other "star wars" paraphernalia.

Already, Livermore Lab has modified the NIF in order to conduct these experiments (making their claim a "go ahead" decision hasn't been made laughable). The flooring has been reinforced to accommodate the NEUMAs and heavy equipment. A special hydraulic lift has been installed in the NIF target chamber to handle hoisting these heavy loads. An enlarged shielding door has been put in specifically for these experiments.

These uses of the NIF will also increase the toxicity and volume of the waste stream, make radioactive releases more likely and create decontamination complications.

Send comments on this and other Livermore Lab programs to DOE before Sept. 16, 2002. Your comments will become part of the "scoping" process for the Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement on Livermore Lab operations. Mail comments to: Mr. Thomas Grim, Document Manager for the LLNL SWEIS, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 1301 Clay St., 700 N, Oakland, CA 94612-5208; or email to tom.grim@oak.doe.gov


Lab Plutonium Isotope Program Rears Its Ugly Head - Again

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2002 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

What contains a glovebox line the size of a boxcar, is an environmental hazard and serves as a boon to nuclear proliferants? Hint: this "new" program was canceled more than a decade ago, before it ever operated, at Livermore Lab due to public and congressional opposition.

Long-time Tri-Valley CAREs members will recall its name, Plutonium-Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation, or Pu-AVLIS. Newer members will need to learn it now. It's baaack, and it's as dangerous as ever.

The process involves heating plutonium metal until it vaporizes. Toxic-dyed laser beams are then shot through the hot vapor to selectively ionize chosen plutonium isotopes. The process thus separates desired isotopes from the mixture.

For nuclear bombs, the desired isotope is pu-239. For plutonium generators and certain plutonium aging experiments, it's pu-238. For some bomb experiments, it may be another isotope that's wanted, pu-242. The Pu-AVLIS technology, if perfected, would allow weaponeers to harvest specialized batches of plutonium isotopes. And, any isotope present in the vaporized "feedstock" could be harvested.

The proliferation risk is immense. If Livermore Lab goes forward with Pu-AVLIS and shows the way, any nation or sub-national group that has some fuel-grade plutonium could then build a relatively compact and nearly impossible to detect facility (e.g., in a garage or a college lab) using Pu-AVLIS technology to harvest bomb-grade material, the pu-239. That's a nightmare scenario. That's why the program was killed in 1991. And, now, post 9/11, Livermore Lab proposes to revive it. Unbelievable.

The environmental risks posed by Pu-AVLIS are stunning as well. For starters, vaporizing plutonium in a heavily-populated area riddled with earthquake faults is not a sound idea. Moreover, an environmental review performed on a similar Livermore Lab AVLIS project for uranium (now canceled), disclosed that up to two grams of radioactive metal would be released into the air-every year. There is no doubt that Pu-AVLIS would produce airborne particles as well.

Bruce Goodwin, the Lab's associate director for nuclear technologies, told the San Jose Mercury News that "only" 50 to 100 kilograms of plutonium would be used over a ten-year period, roughly enough for 5 to 10 bombs.

Livermore Lab's secret plan to refurbish the old Pu-AVLIS glovebox line and build a new facility around it came to light after Tri-Valley CAREs members offered testimony at the public "scoping" meetings on the Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement being prepared on Lab operations.

Our members saw that the public notice mentioned a "defense nuclear technology, classified project." Folks asked if this would involve "dirty bomb" or plutonium pit research. Responding to these difficult public questions, the Lab then 'fessed up to its Pu-AVLIS plans.

Now, it is up to us to stop them -- again.

Send comments on this program and others before Sept. 16, 2002 to DOE for inclusion in the "scoping" comment period for the Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement on Livermore Laboratory operations. See the "New at the NIF" article above for the complete address.


BSL-3: The Anthrax is Coming

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2002 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Livermore Lab is planning to build and operate a new facility to experiment with bio-warfare agents such as live anthrax, botulism and bubonic plague.

The new facility is called a BSL-3 (short for Biosafety Level 3). It will consist of 3 laboratories and cover 1,500 square feet. One of the labs will be used to conduct experiments with aerosolized, or airborne, agents.

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) has released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the planned BSL-3 facility at Livermore. The comment period ends Sept. 7, 2002. Tri-Valley CAREs will have "talking points" and sign-on letters available at its office on Thursday, Sept. 5. We will also have a computer set up then for folks to send comments to DOE via email.

The draft EA says the BSL-3 facility will use "...exotic agents which may cause serious or potentially lethal or debilitating effects on humans, plants and animal hosts." In other words, a plethora of deadly bio-agents and toxins.

One concern is that Livermore Lab has amassed a terrible, 50-year-long history of leaks, spills, accidents and releases into the environment with its radioactive materials. Our community now has elevated levels of plutonium in city parks and tritium (radioactive hydrogen) in our grapes and other agricultural products. Who is to say we won't have to contend with live anthrax spores and rare disease agents in the future?

Further, locating a BSL-3 facility to work on bio-weapon agents inside a classified weapons laboratory raises serious questions. DOE and Lab spokespersons insist that the research to be conducted at Livermore is "defensive" research aimed at detecting bio-agents.

However, Livermore Lab's central mission for the past half-century has been the development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. How will the Lab convince the world that its new work with bio-agents is strictly defensive? DOE and Lab statements, and the draft EA, ignore this important question. Yet, avoiding it will not make it go away.

It's a fine line that separates "defensive" (e.g., detection methods for bio-weapon agents) from "offensive" research (weaponization of the agent). Even the carefully worded definition of the proposed BSL-3 work contained in the draft EA suggests the Lab may skirt that line.

The EA states that the DOE national security mission will require the Livermore BSL-3 facility to, among other things: "... produce small amounts of biological material (enzymes, DNA, ribonucleic acid [RNA], etc.) using infectious agents and genetically modified agents..."

The draft EA leaves it open for Livermore to import an indefinite number of bio-toxins and bio-agents once the facility is built, including any and all BSL-3 level bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses and prions. This is a long list, and the EA puts it inside a 45-page appendix.

The only limits offered in the EA are on quantities of individual bio-agents (no more than a liter of any one cultured microorganism at a time), and on the overall inventory (less than 10 liters of cultured microorganisms at any one time). This is due to the fact that any amount over 10 liters gets defined as a production and not a research facility.

The draft EA discloses that some of the research with bio-agents will make them airborne. In particular, it describes what it calls "challenges" of small animals -- up to 100 at a time. The EA describes a "tissue digestor" and some of the other equipment to be used in animal experiments. (Upon reading this, one of our members wondered aloud how this is different than the purported Iraqi experiment on the dog, and whether CNN will run tape of Livermore's BSL-3.)

There are a number of BSL-3 facilities, run by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and others, around the country. But, rather than send a Livermore researcher and/or the bio-detector to a CDC lab for testing (where there is at least a track record and an agency with a civilian mission), DOE and Livermore want to bring all the bio-agents here.

This suggests that, over its 30-year life time, the BSL-3 at Livermore Lab may be used for more than its announced program of developing bio-detectors.

To send comments for the draft EA, send by Sept. 7, 2002 to: Mr. Richard Mortensen, Document Manager, LLNL BSL-3 EA, Mail Stop L-293, Lawrence Livemore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, Livermore, CA 94551. Or, email to: rich.mortensen@oak.doe.gov.

To send comments stating that the BSL-3 facility and all of its risks must be included in the Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement now being prepared on Livermore Lab operations, mail a letter before Sept. 16, 2002 to: Mr. Thomas Grimm, Document Manager, LLNL SWEIS, U.S. DOE, 1301 Clay St., 700N, Oakland, CA 94612-5208.


Info Event for Atomic Workers and Public

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2002 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

If you or someone you know has been made ill by nuclear weapons activities, join us for this important seminar on the federal compensation program for atomic workers. Join four non-profit nuclear "watchdog" organizations for an

INFORMATIONAL "BROWN BAG" SEMINAR

...to talk about the compensation program for Department of Energy employees, contractors and other atomic weapons workers who have suffered on the job exposure to toxic chemicals or radioactivity and have become ill.

STRAIGHT ANSWERS FOR SICK WORKERS

  • Find out the eligibility requirements for workers and surviving family members;
  • Get the facts on what the program covers -- and what it does not;
  • Learn the criteria by which the government will evaluate your claim;
  • Discuss how the determination will be made of the likelihood that your illness arose from your employment;
  • Find out how to navigate the paperwork involved in filing your claim;
  • Learn which companies qualify as atomic weapons employers;
  • Get an opportunity to ask questions and meet other radiation workers;
  • Learn about obstacles to compensation; and
  • Join in a discussion of how to best overcome them and improve the compensation program.

Richard Miller and Attorney Tom Carpenter from the Government Accountability Project will explain the compensation program. A discussion will follow the presentation.

WHEN: Thurs., Sept. 12, NOON - 1 PM

WHERE: Livermore Laboratory's Visitor Center Auditorium, Greenville Rd. entrance. This is an "open" area, easily accessible to Lab employees and the public. Bring a "Brown Bag" lunch, refreshments provided.

SPONSORS: Tri-Valley CAREs, Western States Legal Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility, SF Bay Area Chapter


Citizen's Alerts - Calendar

Please visit - and bookmark - our new community calendar page at http://www.trivalleycares.org/calendar/


Plutonium Update:

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2002 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

In June, you read about our victory when DOE dropped its plans to transport plutonium in faulty containers, citing our lawsuit as the reason. We had a second win when DOE agreed not to send any of it to Livermore. Since then, however, DOE has refused to codify the agreements and make them legally-binding into the future. Therefore, we will move forward and file a brief in federal court on Aug. 23. Stay tuned.


Environmental consequences of Livermore Lab: Print out, sign and mail before September 16, 2002.

Mail to:

Mr. Thomas Grim
Document Manager
U.S. Dept. of Energy
1301 Clay St., 700 N
Oakland, CA 94612-5208

Dear Dept. of Energy:

I am submitting the following comments on the scope of issues that must be considered when preparing the new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) on the operation of the Dept. of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

General Comments

Livermore Lab has a shameful history of accidents, spills, fires, explosions and leaks. Radioactive pollutants, such as plutonium and tritium, have found their way from Livermore Lab into our air, soil and groundwater. Likewise, chemical contaminants from the Lab's main site and site 300 high-explosives testing range have entered our environment. Today, Northern California communities continue to have their health and safety jeopardized by nuclear weapons and related programs at Livermore Lab.

DOE prepared a SWEIS on Livermore Lab operations ten years ago, in 1992. It essentially promised no future harmful impacts. Looking back, we see that during the past ten years Livermore Lab has had uranium fires, a filter shredding mishap that exposed workers to curium, various tritium accidents, a hazardous waste explosion, a chlorine gas leak that forced an evacuation, an incident where plutonium had to be cut out of a worker's hand -- and more. The new SWEIS must include a more rigorous and honest analysis of potential threats posed by Livermore Lab operations with hazardous and radioactive materials.

Further, Livermore Lab's continuing mission as a nuclear weapons development facility must be challenged. The SWEIS must consider alternatives, including a "Green Lab" scenario in which Livermore's mission would be devoted to pollution cleanup and civilian science initiatives.

Specific Comments

1) Do Not Build a BSL-3 Facility to Allow Anthrax and Other Bio-Hazards in Livermore.

The DOE and Livermore Lab plan to build and operate a 1,500 square foot Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility, which would permit anthrax, bubonic plague, small pox, botulism and other deadly pathogens and bio-toxins on site. Further, DOE and the Lab are "fast-tracking" this very dangerous facility by preparing a less stringent and lower-level review, called an "environmental assessment," for it. Instead, DOE and Livermore Lab must (a) fully analyze all potential hazards to workers and the public from the new facility in the SWEIS, and (b) prepare a programmatic environmental analysis that considers the national implications of building a BSL-3 facility at Livermore as well as a proposed BSL-3 facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. It is a fine line that separates "defensive" and "offensive" research with anthrax and other bio-weapon agents. How will DOE assure the world that this research is purely "defensive" (e.g., anthrax detection) if it will take place within the confines of a super-secret, classified nuclear weapons lab?

2) Do Not Construct and Operate a New Plutonium Technology.

The Notice of Intent to prepare the SWEIS mentions a new "Defense Nuclear Technology, Classified Project" to be constructed at Livermore Lab. After prodding from the public and reporters, Livermore Lab told the San Jose Mercury News that the project was a Plutonium-Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (Pu-AVLIS) facility. The Pu-AVLIS process would heat plutonium metal to a vapor form, then shoot toxic-dyed laser beams through it to separate the various plutonium isotopes. Pu-AVLIS poses a nuclear proliferation risk as well as a health and environmental hazard. All plans to operate this facility should be halted.

3) Do Not Develop New and Modified Nuclear Weapons, Including So-Called "Bunker Busters."

Livermore Lab is redesigning the B83 "lay down" bomb to give it earth-penetrating capability. Further, the Lab is modifying the W80 nuclear warhead that sits atop cruise missiles. At the same time, Livermore is working to put new military capabilities into additional nuclear weapons -- and to create other, new nuclear and high-tech weapons concepts. The SWEIS must fully analyze the consequences of nuclear bomb development activities at Livermore Lab. These activities make the use of nuclear weapons in combat more likely. All work aimed at perfecting these new, "modified" and "more usable" nuclear weapons must stop.

4) Halt Construction of the National Ignition Facility.

The NIF mega-laser is billions over budget, years behind schedule and, if built and operated, will allow weapons designers to continue their deadly pursuits. It should be stopped. Instead, DOE and Livermore Lab are proposing to conduct additional experiments in NIF that will increase its harm to workers and the community. The Lab proposes to use plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and lithium hydride in NIF. These radioactive and toxic materials would be in addition to the radioactive tritium that, along with deuterium, will be NIF's "fuel." The SWEIS must analyze the environmental and nuclear proliferation risks of all proposed NIF experiments. These must be compared to the alternative of stopping construction and foregoing all NIF operations.

5) Address Security Issues Involving Nuclear Materials.

Many experts have told DOE, Livermore Lab and the U.S. Congress that the nuclear materials stockpiled at Livermore are not secure from theft and/or attack. The administrative limit for plutonium at Livermore Lab is 1,540 pounds, roughly enough for 150 bombs. Lab employees have said that management mishandled a recent bomb threat in the plutonium facility. The SWEIS must analyze a series of scenarios to determine the security (or lack thereof) of nuclear materials at Livermore Lab.

Additional Comments

1.

2.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the SWEIS and the future operation of Livermore Lab. Protecting public health and the environment -- and preventing the further development of nuclear weapons -- must be paramount considerations when preparing the SWEIS.

Sincerely,

Name:

Address:

City/Zip:

 

_____ I do want my name placed on the DOE SWEIS mailing list to receive a notice when the draft SWEIS is completed and public hearings are held in 2003.

_____ I do not want my name placed on the DOE SWEIS mailing list.

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