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Citizens Watch Newsletter August 1998

New Report Calls National Ignition Facility Illegal, Dangerous

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Bob Schaeffer and Marylia Kelley with Arjun Makhijani and Hisham Zerriffi

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a $5 billion mega-laser under construction at Livermore Lab, and other key portions of the U.S. "stockpile stewardship" program for nuclear weapons violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions, according to a new study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Maryland.

The report also warns of the severe new proliferation dangers that would develop if current and planned U.S., French and Russian laboratory-based nuclear testing programs, such as the NIF, result in the development of pure fusion weapons. The report, Dangerous Thermonuclear Quest: The Potential of Explosive Fusion Research for the Development of Pure Fusion Weapons, details current activities that are connected to the design of the thermonuclear components of weapons, commonly called "hydrogen bombs."

"Pure fusion weapons have long been a dream for nuclear weapons designers. Present-day thermonuclear weapons need plutonium or highly enriched uranium to set off the hydrogen-bomb part," observed Dr. Arjun Makhijani, principal author of the report and president of IEER. Pure fusion weapons would not need either of these fissile materials. Thus, pure fusion weapons would present far greater nuclear proliferation dangers since the acquisition of highly enriched uranium or plutonium is currently the main obstacle to proliferation. By contrast, tritium and deuterium, the forms of hydrogen used in fusion research and weapons, are less difficult to make. Verification would also become more difficult with fusion weapons. Additionally, fusion bombs would likely lower the threshold for nuclear weapons use, in part because of their potentially smaller size, the report said.

"Major advances in substituting the fission trigger by non-nuclear components need to be made before the scientific feasibility of pure fusion weapons can be established," said Hisham Zerriffi, a physicist and coauthor of the report. "Until recently the hurdles have been too huge to overcome. But experiments are now being conducted and devices are now under construction that may achieve explosive thermonuclear ignition without fissile materials."

Two of the facilities discussed in the report are huge laser fusion machines-the National Ignition Facility at Livermore and a similar facility near Bordeaux in France, called Laser M?ajoule (LMJ). They are both designed to use powerful lasers to achieve thermonuclear explosions in the laboratory.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has been signed by over 150 countries including the U.S. and France, prohibits all nuclear explosions. The report states that the negotiating history shows that fission explosion of even a few pounds of TNT equivalent are banned under the CTBT. "We conclude that laboratory fusion explosions are also banned under the CTBT," said Makhijani. "That makes the National Ignition Facility and the LMJ project illegal under that treaty." The report points out that there is as yet no public negotiating record for the CTBT that explicitly deals with laboratory fusion explosions. It argues, however, that since these are clearly nuclear explosions, they are prohibited.

IEER asserts that it is dangerously provocative for the U.S. and France to be building these facilities at the same time they are lecturing countries like India and Pakistan to stop their nuclear weapons programs. The report calls for a moratorium on explosive fusion projects and experiments designed to achieve thermonuclear ignition.

Once the scientific feasibility of pure fusion weapons is proven there would be an inexorable push to actually develop them. "The time to stop is now. Once feasibility is demonstrated, the pressures from the nuclear weapons laboratories as well as the military establishment to actually design and build weapons would be immense," Makhijani pointed out.

The study discusses several different devices and experiments that relate to the potential development of pure fusion weapons. Besides the laser fusion machines NIF and LMJ, it describes joint U.S.-Russian experiments at Los Alamos, and the "wire-array z-pinch" at Sandia Lab, in Albuquerque. These facilities work together, according to IEER. Mega-lasers cannot be miniaturized into deliverable weapons. But, NIF could be more easily used to design the thermonuclear fuel targets than the other machines. The Magnetized Target Fusion experiments at Los Alamos Lab could be used to perfect the use of chemical explosives in fusion weapons, while the wire-array z-pinch can generate intense x-rays, similar to those that are produced by the fission portion of present-day thermonuclear warheads.

(Copies of the IEER report are available on request.)


The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Plutonium Facility, on August 7, 1998, was found to have plutonium stored in a work station over the mass limit allowed by plutonium criticality safety rules. These regulations exist to prevent criticality accidents. A criticality is a runaway nuclear chain reaction, beginning with an intense flash and followed by a burst of radiation. Neither the Lab nor its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has made any public announcement of this serious violation.

"We are calling on the new Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, to immediately shut down operations in the Lab's Plutonium Facility, and to personally oversee an investigation into the severe and pervasive safety problems there that, left unchecked, could pose a threat to the workers and surrounding community," declared Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director and a close neighbor of the Laboratory. "We understand that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board is at Livermore Lab today, looking into the criticality violation. The Plutonium Facility should not undertake additional plutonium operations before the investigation is completed," Kelley added.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board is authorized by Congress to make recommendations on the conduct of nuclear operations in the DOE weapons complex.

Rocked by the discovery of twenty-five plutonium criticality violations, resulting in lapses of multiple safety regulations over a six-month period, all work at the Livermore Laboratory's Plutonium Facility was shut down last year. That summer, DOE and the Lab at first instituted only a partial halt in operations. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board then came to inspect the Plutonium Facility and found more safety violations, including new ones still occurring. The Safety Board issued a sharply critical assessment, resulting in the shut-down of all operations. Many of those violations were due to plutonium operations in which the potentially deadly, heavy metal was transferred into and out of work stations and stored for periods of time in excess of criticality safety limits. This most recent plutonium criticality safety violation is of the same type.

"Recently, Livermore Lab began only a very limited restart of select activities in the Plutonium Facility," explained Kelley. "Therefore, with a new criticality violation occurring even before the facility is fully ramped-up and running, what does that say about the Lab's readiness to resume these very dangerous operations?"

The DOE's own internal Operating Experience Weekly Summary states that "... [T]his event is important because it indicates that corrective actions from several similar previous events were ineffective." (AU Weekly Summary 98-32, page 8)

The Plutonium Facility Manager, according to DOE, found 268.32 grams of plutonium in a work station, in violation of the facility safety procedure's 220 gram maximum. Apparently, that work station had been operating under an obsolete procedural limit. Hazards Control personnel at LLNL allowed the outdated limit to expire because they knew it "needed to be revised." Yet, the over-mass of plutonium was left in place. (OE Weekly Summary 98-32, pages 7 and 8)

According to Paul Carroll, a nuclear policy analyst at Tri-Valley CAREs, "This record of violations reveals deep, systemic deficiencies in both management and worker understanding and attitudes. Repeated criticality safety infractions betray the same 'production first, safety last' mentality at work that has led to numerous accidents, spills and leaks here in Livermore and around the entire DOE nuclear weapons complex." Until July 1996, Carroll was a program analyst in the Office of Environmental Management at DOE Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Initial interviews conducted by Tri-Valley CAREs indicate that the work station involved in this latest criticality violation was originally slated to be part of the restart activity associated with "Bagpipe," the subcritical nuclear test that Livermore Lab plans to detonate at the Nevada Test Site this September. What was described as a "changing scope" may have altered that work station plan, according to the Safety Board's Jim Mc Connell. The status of the work station is "among the questions I will try to resolve when I get to Livermore," he said.

"Fifteen of the twenty-five criticality safety violations last year happened during the Lab's preparation of its previous subcritical nuclear test, 'Holog'," noted Sally Light, a nuclear program analyst at Tri-Valley CAREs. "These nuclear experiments are provoking nuclear proliferation world-wide, as well as endangering us locally," Light added. "The entire program needs a thorough review. We are hopeful the new Energy Secretary will appreciate the severity of the situation and act accordingly."

"Casks of Uncertainty" Pass in the Night

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Sally Light

On Tuesday, July 21, "The Blue Bird" passed under the Golden Gate carrying a potentially-lethal cargo of spent nuclear fuel rods from Korea. This was the first of five such U.S. Dept. of Energy shipments from countries slated to go through Northern California, destined for "temporary" storage at DOE's national lab in Idaho, a facility that is already overburdened with nuclear waste.

DOE's stated reason for these shipments is to keep the highly radioactive fuel rods from "terrorists." Yet, DOE doesn't rule out extracting those materials itself. DOE also claims the U.S. must honor promises made during the so-called "Atoms for Peace" program in the 1950's, when the U.S. gave 41 countries nuclear technology and materials for research reactors, agreeing to take back the high-level nuclear wastes. In a series of controversial moves, Concord was selected as the point of entry for those shipments coming through the west coast, despite community opposition.

Spent nuclear fuel rods contain intensely radioactive materials. Therefore, DOE's assertion that transporting these rods is a safe procedure largely hinges on the controversial question of whether the casks containing the rods are totally accident-proof, protective barriers. In July, Western Communities Against Nuclear Transportation, a multi-state coalition of public interest, labor and tribal organizations including Tri-Valley CAREs, released a report titled, "Casks of Uncertainty." In this report, principally authored by Lee Dazey of Citizen Alert, WCANT showed, among other things, that the casks used for these shipments have never undergone full-scale testing, despite DOE claims to the contrary. As a result, DOE was forced to issue a statement admitting to shortcomings in its safety claims.

On the day before the first nuclear rods arrived, activists from Tri-Valley CAREs, Western States Legal Foundation, Groundswell, BAN Waste, West County Toxics Coalition and others, with the help of boats from Bay Keeper and the Peace Navy, held a press conference at Fort Point, right below the Golden Gate Bridge. Speakers eloquently expressed concerns ranging from cask safety to the hypocrisy of the nation's overall nuclear policy. Activists outlined alternatives to the program, calling on the U.S. to support storage of the nuclear rods under a strict regime of international monitoring and control, at or near their sites of origin, except in such cases where the country in question cannot do so. To date, DOE has refused to consider whether or not to transport the dangerous rods on a case by case basis.

Then, the ship carrying the nuclear rods passed through the Golden Gate, and up the Carquinez strait to the Concord Naval Weapons Station, where the rods were off-loaded and put on a train. They were then routed for Idaho via the Feather River Canyon in Northern California, the most treacherous, accident-prone stretch of railroad track in the state, according to the Public Utilities Commission. People vigiled and protested along the way. Of local note, we hired a plane to circle over the initial stretch of track in Martinez with a banner reading, "Danger! Nuclear Train Coming!" Too, members of Tri-Valley CAREs and other groups kept a vigil at the Amtrack station in Martinez from noon until the nuclear cargo left at about 1 AM. Groundswell members pulled the most grueling duty that night; it was they who alerted Citizens Along the Tracks in Sacramento to get their members ready to vigil before the train sped by the state capital at about 3 AM.

"A World Without Weapons..."

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Marylia Kelley

On Thursday, August 6, at 8 AM, between 150 and 200 peace advocates gathered in the shadow of the Livermore Lab to commemorate the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and the second nuclear attack on Nagasaki, three days later. Participating in this special observance were numerous Bay Area groups, clerics, Japanese activists, legal scholars, singers and a representative of U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

The rally's theme, "A World Without Weapons is a Universal Right," linked the abolition of nuclear weapons with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. In speeches and songs, with banners and signs, in ways both quiet and flamboyant, activists of all ages mourned the suffering and death caused by the bomb and rededicated themselves to stopping the National Ignition Facility and other weapon design activities at Livermore and around the globe.

A procession to the Lab's gate was followed by 55 people who, coming in waves of 7 to 8 apiece, peacefully blockaded while reading a statement of purpose in unison. As arrests were made, supporters took up a chant for the weaponeers and the police: "Put your nuclear weapons down, and come out with your hands up."

At Livermore Laboratory, it was a day full of sadness, horror, creativity, determination, inspiration and joy.

In India, 250,000 jammed the streets of Calcutta. Thousands more demonstrated in Bombay and New Delhi. Similar, but smaller, antinuclear protests took place in three Pakistani cities. In Hiroshima, 50,000 gathered to pray in silence at 8:15 AM, the time the bomb fell on August 6, 1945. In the U.S., demonstrations took place at a number of DOE facilities including Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and the Nevada Test Site as well as in cities, and at military bases, across the country.

Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Marylia Kelley

** Lab Not Appealing. Livermore Lab won't appeal the Labor Dept. ruling that it retaliated against "whistleblower" David Lappa. Last summer Lappa refused to sign a safety report after it was rewritten by Lab and Energy Dept. officials to downplay evidence that plutonium handlers had knowingly violated criticality safety regulations (see also page 4). The Labor Dept. upheld Lappa's claims of reprisals including but not limited to his being placed in a windowless office that had formerly been a storage closet. With no appeal, the Lab has to pay Lappa the $32,500 in damages and fees awarded by the Labor Dept. In a related development, Livermore Lab dodged a $153,750 fine for the actual plutonium safety violations. The Lab is exempt from such federal penalties because it is managed by the non-profit Univ. of California rather than a private company.

** Plutonium Sampler. On July 31, Livermore Lab published its "draft final" plan for plutonium testing at Big Trees Park. With more than five times the pages of its earlier draft, the plan is improved in some aspects. The Lab now proposes to segment the soil samples properly before analysis. However, the level of contamination the Lab considers normal is way too high, the plan excludes analyses of other important radionuclides like cesium and strontium and the proposal is too narrowly focused on one park to the exclusion of other, also potentially polluted areas. Tri-Valley CAREs will prepare "talking points" for the public meeting, which takes place on Aug. 12, shortly after we go to press. It is hosted by DOE, LLNL and EPA.

** Circle Your Calendar. We have just reserved the Livermore City Council chambers for a very special Town Meeting, scheduled for 7 PM on October 22. The event will focus on the health effects of plutonium and other pollutants from Livermore Lab. Expert panelists will include Dr. Seth Tuler of the Childhood Cancer Research Institute in MA, and Dr. Steven Wing, professor of epidemiology at the Univ. of North Carolina. Both researchers have been involved in studies on radiation and health consequences at a number of nuclear facilities. Check next month's newsletter for additional details.

** Beamlet Goes Dark. Built as a prototype to demonstrate one of NIF's planned 192 arms, the Beamlet laser will cease operations in Sept. The prototype has suffered two major accidents, shattering lenses and blowing out sections of its arm. The Lab says it has resolved all such technical problems. Tri-Valley CAREs has requested that Livermore provide a public, statistical analysis of Beamlet's performance. The good-by ceremony for Beamlet is slated for Aug. 11. As of press time, we are still awaiting the report.

** Hack Attack. Two teenagers from Sonoma County pleaded guilty to charges of breaking into computers at Livermore Lab and elsewhere, installing "sniffers" to find secret passwords.

** Incinerator on Pause. Environmental activists and neighbors won a victory recently when EPA agreed to temporarily halt operations at a toxic materials incinerator in West Oakland.

Citizen's Alerts

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Thursday, August 20

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

Long-time and new members alike are welcome-and needed. We have exciting plans- from a "meet the author" event with Atomic Audit's Stephen Schwartz to a Town Meeting on the health effects of Lab pollution. Issue updates will include NIF, subcritical tests, plutonium plans and Lab cleanup.

Wednesday, September 9

Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party 7 PM, Stephanie's home 8301 Mulberry Pl., Dublin (925) 829-6939 for directions

Join us for an evening of mailing labels, baked goods and discussion around the kitchen table.

Saturday, September 12

Abolition 2000 No. CA gathering 10 AM, Tri-Valley CAREs' mtg. room 5720 East Ave., Livermore (925) 443-7148 for details

Abolition 2000 is the global movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. In 1995, Tri-Valley CAREs was a cofounding organization. Today, the movement includes over 1,100 groups in 75 countries. In No. CA, Abolition 2000 meets quarterly and works cooperatively to move the Lab and the world into a nuclear weapons-free 21st Century.

Late September

Atomic Audit "Meet the Author"

Atomic Audit is the definitive study on the costs and consequences of the U.S. nuclear weapons program since 1940, showing that the U.S. has spent $5.5 trillion to date (See July 98 Citizen's Watch). Tri-Valley CAREs and Western States Legal Foundation will be planning an event with the study's editor and principal author, Stephen I. Schwartz. Stay tuned for details.

Tri-Valley CAREs: We're looking for a few good men... and women... and space

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Board: If you are committed to a nuclear weapons-free world, desire conversion of the Lab to peaceful pursuits and relish the idea of supporting Tri-Valley CAREs' organizational development, you may be just who we need to expand our Board of Directors. Four Board meetings a year; no experience necessary, but the resolve to accomplish the aforementioned and willingness to learn are a must. Interested? Call Marylia at (925) 443-7148.

The Organizer: Want to make a difference in the community? Have experience advocating for social change? Organizing people? We are looking for a Community Organizer to expand our membership base and get our message out. This position requires a versatile, personable individual with strong writing and verbal communication skills. Interviews will begin in mid-August. Call Marylia for details.

The Office Space: Tri-Valley CAREs has "maxed out" its donated office space, and is bursting at its seams. We are looking for reasonably-priced, visible, accessible "storefront-style" space in or around downtown Livermore. If you can help us by locating a great space, financing our big move, or showing up with a truck, please call Roxanne at (925) 443-7148.

The Cyberspace: Thanks to Will, one of our wonderful volunteers, Tri-Valley CAREs now has a web site under construction. You are hereby encouraged to check it out at There you will find our beautiful multi-color logo, action alerts, back issues of Citizen's Watch and more. Reports, press releases, fact sheets, etc. are being installed. Let us know what you think of this new "space," and tell us what you would like to see there.

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