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August/September, 2008 Citizens Watch Newsletter

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Student Convergence!

by Adrian Drummond-Cole from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Making a public statement at a University of California (UC) Board of Regents meeting can be discouraging. Certain Regents are notorious for talking to each other throughout the public comment period, while others use the time to eat breakfast. Some have been caught sleeping.

It is none-the-less imperative that UC students, faculty, staff and community members offer pubic comment to hold the Board of Regents accountable for UC's continuing role in the management of the Los Alamos and Livermore nuclear weapons design labs for the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE). Notably, the July 2008 Board of Regents Meeting in Santa Barbara was an empowering exception to the usual disregard in which the public comment period is held. Here is what happened.

The Coalition to Demilitarize the UC organized a "convergence" (informal conference) to coincide with the Regents Meeting and delivered a comprehensive, collective statement criticizing DOE's "Complex Transformation" plan. The coalition statement focused in part on plans to expand plutonium pit production at Los Alamos. The Coalition, founded in 2002 by students and non-profits (including Tri-Valley CAREs), is a collaborative network of campus and community based groups challenging UC involvement in the research, design, testing and production of nuclear weapons.

The five-day convergence in Santa Barbara featured workshops and discussions on issues ranging from Regent accountability and democratization (they are appointed, not elected), to current nuclear weapons programs, to student-worker solidarity. Coalition convergences are typically held several times a year. They provide an opportunity for communities affected by the Regents to meet, learn about each other's diverse efforts and strategize together for a world free of nuclear weapons.

In particular, the Student Dept. of Energy Lab Oversight Committee (DOELOC), a UC Santa Barbara Associated Student Government Committee chartered in 2007, played a crucial role in organizing the convergence and drafting the collective statement. During the Regents Meeting, Regent Norman Pattiz, who had met with the student DOELOC earlier in the year, responded to the collective statement by encouraging the other Regents to follow his example and meet with the students. "Clearly, this [nuclear weapons] is not a growth industry," said Pattiz. "We have to start taking seriously what these students have to say."

If you would like to get involved with the Coalition to Demilitarize the UC, contact Janine or Adrian at the Tri-Valley CAREs office, (925) 443-7148.

And the Winner is... Cleanup

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

In our March and April newsletters, we told you how the Dept. of Energy budget for cleaning up toxic and radioactive wastes at the Livermore Lab main site had been chopped in half.

Twelve million dollars was needed to keep soil and groundwater treatment facilities operating at Livermore Lab throughout the year, but only six million was appropriated. The Livermore Lab is contaminated with a toxic stew of volatile organic compounds, Freon, hexavalent chromium, tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and numerous other contaminants. An underground polluted water plume has emanated from the Lab into our community.

To give some perspective on the severity of the pollution, volatile organic compounds were the contaminants of concern in Woburn, MA in the movie, "A Civil Action." And, hexavalent chromium was the contaminant found in the Southern CA town of Hinkley in the movie, "Erin Brockovitch." The Livermore Lab has it all.

In 1987, the Livermore Lab main site was placed on the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list of most contaminated sites in the nation. (The Lab's Site 300 was also placed on that list, in 1990.)

The outlook for cleanup this year was dire. Without funding, more than a dozen treatment facilities were turned off. The contamination was left to migrate in many locations. Many of you responded by taking positive action, including sending letters to the head of DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, Tom D'Agostino.

While the Department was initially slow to respond, we are happy to report that a request to reprogram funding OUT of the nuclear weapons budget and INTO cleanup was sent from DOE Headquarters to Congress. And, the Congress did act quickly. We have been told that the check is in the mail to rescue the cleanup.

The Superfund cleanup has been saved (at least for now). Money has been taken away from making new nuclear bombs and put toward cleaning up the mess caused by past bomb development. We feel good about this, and hope that you do, too.

Beryllium Exposure

by Robert Schwartz from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Two separate investigations are now looking into Livermore Lab's handling of beryllium, a carcinogenic metal used in nuclear weapons work. The investigations were prompted by 5 incidents involving beryllium at the Lab in recent years. Exposure to beryllium dust can lead to beryllium sensitivity and chronic beryllium disease, an incurable and potentially fatal respiratory disease.

Among the 5 incidents is one where Livermore Lab allowed nearly 200 workers to continue retrofitting a machine shop for five months after Lab management learned of beryllium contamination in the building. This is particularly troubling because continued exposure to beryllium after becoming sensitive to the metal increases the chances of developing chronic beryllium disease. Recent testing has found that some of the exposed workers have developed beryllium sensitivity.

In another incident, another worker who had previously tested positive for beryllium sensitivity was permitted to enter a building that had elevated beryllium levels. Also being examined is the Livermore Lab's failure to update beryllium training records and protective equipment protocols, as well as poor communication between Lab management and employees.

In one of the current investigations, a team of outside experts audited beryllium work at the Lab this past June. The second investigation will be conducted by the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration in September and, reportedly, will include a plan to resolve systemic issues with the Lab's Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program.

Some of our members and supporters are Lab workers exposed to beryllium and other hazardous materials. If you or someone you know suffered exposures at Livermore Lab (or nearby Sandia), call Rob at (925) 443-7148.

Tour 4 U

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

You are invited "inside the fence" at a classified weapons facility. Tri-Valley CAREs has set up a tour of Livermore Lab's high explosives testing range, called Site 300, for our community members and supporters. The visit will take place on Tuesday, September 23 from 9:30 AM to Noon.

The Livermore Lab main site was founded in 1952. Three years later, in 1955, the Livermore Lab opened Site 300 on eleven square miles just off I-580 between Livermore and Tracy. Site 300 is used to process and test high explosives and to test nuclear and other weapons components.

Bomb tests at Site 300 have included open-air detonations that wrapped high explosives around depleted uranium (replacing plutonium in the test weapon core), tritium (radioactive hydrogen), and scores of additional hazardous materials. As we wrote on page xx, we have recently succeeded in preventing new, bigger bomb blasts at Site 300 but our efforts continue in order to stop all such detonations.

Not surprisingly, decades of bomb testing and related activities has heavily contaminated the soil and groundwater at Site 300. In 1990, Site 300 was placed on the federal EPA's Superfund list of most contaminated sites in the nation. The major pollutants include chemicals like TCE, high explosive compounds like RDX, perchlorate, metals, and radioactive materials like uranium and tritium.

On our tour, we will visit an overlook of the "Pit 7 Complex" where many of the site's unlined dump sites are located. From there, we will be able to evaluate the Lab's cleanup plans and progress. We will also visit other areas of interest, including a solar powered "pump and treat" facility for contaminated groundwater. Peter Strauss, an independent environmental scientist who is Tri-Valley CAREs' technical advisor on the cleanup, will accompany us on the tour. The tour will also be led by Livermore Lab Superfund staff. There will be time for questions.

If you are interested in attending, you must RSVP to Tri-Valley CAREs by Monday, September 15, and submit the information required for "badging" (e.g., full name, drivers license number, date and place of birth, social security number). We are offering this opportunity to go "inside the fence" at Site 300 on a first come, first served basis, so call us right away.

The People Defeat Permit for New Bomb Blasts at Site 300

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

How do you spell V - I - C - T - O - R - Y?

At Tri-Valley CAREs, one answer is by S - T - O - P - P - I - N - G new bomb tests with tons of radioactive and toxic materials.

Some victories announce themselves with great fanfare and parades, others are confirmed quietly. In this case, on August 8, 2008, Livermore Lab put out a carefully worded press release stating that the weapons facility had "withdrawn its permit application with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to increase the amount of explosives detonated in open-air experiments at the Lab's Site 300 experimental test facility."

The press release said vaguely that circumstances had "evolved," alleviating the "near term need to perform larger explosive experiments..." While this understated one-pager is sufficient to confirm the victory, it does not tell the story. So, let us offer some of the missing detail.

For starters, Livermore Lab neglected to tell you that this is YOUR success. How so, you ask? Last year, Tri-Valley CAREs launched a letter writing campaign to oppose the issuance of the permit that would have allowed these huge new bomb blasts.

Many hundreds of you wrote letters or signed on to the one we included in our newsletter and on-line. Livermore Lab may not admit this, but it is none-the-less true: Your voices made a difference. Your letters were a factor in stopping these bomb tests. We say to you, hooray -- and thank you!

It is hard to overstate the significance of this victory. You may recall that Livermore Lab first attempted to obtain the new permit with an application in 2006 that "forgot" to list the types and amounts of hazardous materials that would be in the detonations. If Tri-Valley CAREs member and Tracy business owner Bob Sarvey had not seen a small notice in the local newspaper, the story might have ended there.

Fortunately, it does not. Sarvey, backed by technical and legal analysis provided by Tri-Valley CAREs and Earthjustice, challenged the permit - and won. The Air District pulled the permit.

Livermore Lab then re-applied. The Lab's new application contained equations that, once we deciphered them, confirmed what we had known -- and worse. If Livermore Lab obtained the permit, our Central Valley and Bay Area air quality would be at grave risk.

The bomb detonations would have been conducted on 4 open-air firing tables at Site 300, located between Livermore and Tracy. No air pollution control technology of any kind was proposed.

The Lab's annual limit for high explosives would have risen 8-fold, from 1,000 pounds to 8,000 pounds per year. According to the equations in the application, the blasts could contain up to 5,000 pounds per year of uranium-238 (also called depleted uranium) and 200 curies per year of tritium (the radioactive hydrogen of H-bombs). Further, the Lab's permit application contained about 60 additional hazardous materials that would be allowed in the blasts. Many of the air pollutants to be released in the tests posed a severe health risk, including vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide and scores of others.

Today, we celebrate the fact that we have stopped the Lab's plans to conduct these toxic and radioactive open-air detonations. We cheer this major victory for our air, land and water and for our health, our children's health, and our communities. Further, we believe that some of these tests would have been used to aid in the further development of new nuclear weapons. Now, that will not happen.

Our joy is, however, tempered by the knowledge of work still to come. Tri-Valley CAREs will continue to oppose the current open-air bomb tests at Site 300 that are being conducted below the 1,000 pounds per year threshold. We will continue our proactive advocacy to convert Site 300 to civilian science, cleanup of the massive contamination that is already deposited from past tests, and open space. Join us.

Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

by staff from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • Wanted: Your stories and photos.

    To celebrate 25 years of activism and advocacy, we are asking you for your favorite TVC snapshots, stories and memorabilia. We will use them to create a display at our 25th Anniversary celebration. And, we will post some of them on our web site, too. You can mail items, drop them off at our office or email them to Adrian@trivalleycares.org. Be sure to let us know if we can credit you, and how you would like the items returned. Thanks!
  • Lab Security Failure Probe Called.

    Recently, Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate DOE's handling of security at Livermore Lab. The request to GAO comes in response to a security test earlier this year, during which a team of mock terrorists was able to seize a stash of plutonium from the Lab's "Superblock." Dingell and Stupak were particularly troubled because DOE and Lab management pre-approved the tests and were given the testing schedule nearly a year in advance. If a team of mock terrorists can beat the Lab's security and obtain enough plutonium to make a bomb during a scheduled drill, imagine what can happen when the attackers have the element of complete surprise?
  • Lab Safety Found Lacking.

    The DOE Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a finding that Livermore Lab has failed to fully implement an Integrated Safety Management system. Since 2003, the Lab has experienced an above average illness and injury rate, relative to other sites in the nuclear weapons complex. The OIG concluded that workers may still suffer from illnesses or injuries that could be avoided. The OIG looked at three types of accidents, including one in which four Lab employees were exposed to radiation.
  • RRW Gets Zip.

    As the 2009 DOE budget request wends its way through Congress, both the House and Senate Appropriations committees cut funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a new H-bomb that Livermore Lab has begun designing. Although no final bill is likely to emerge in this election year, these actions continue a trend of cutting RRW funding each time that DOE proposes it. We are certain that DOE has a few tricks up its sleeve to try in the coming year. We will keep watch and keep you informed.
  • Whistleblowers Laid Low by UC Exemption.

    The Supreme Court of California has unanimously ruled that University of California (UC) employees cannot sue for retaliation unless the university fails to reach a decision on an employee's complaint within an established time limit. The justices were interpreting the California Whistleblower Protection Act, which prohibits retaliation against state employees who report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law, or threat to public health. The case that reached the Supreme Court was brought by Leo Miklosy and Luciana Messina, two former UC employees who worked at Livermore Lab on the National Ignition Facility. Miklosy and Messina identified specific mechanical problems at the NIF, both orally and in writing, and claimed that they were retaliated against for raising those concerns. Several justices noted that the literal reading of the Whistleblower Protection Act defeats its purpose by leaving UC employees with less protection than other state workers. These justices urged the legislature to revisit the Act and to amend it to resolve the inequity. State Senator Leland Yee has introduced a bill to accomplish this goal. Stay tuned.

Alerts 4 You

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August/September 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Thursday, September 18
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM - 9 PM, Livermore Library
1188 South Livermore Avenue
(925) 443-7148 for details

Join us in creating peace, justice and environmental consciousness in our communities -- and our world. We will share newly released information about Livermore Lab's anthrax accident. We will discuss progress in stopping plutonium activities at the Lab, and our next steps. Learn what you can do to stop nuclear weapons and war. Help plan upcoming events. Meet old friends and make new ones. Together, we are making a difference. All are welcome -- and needed to achieve the deep and lasting change we seek.

Friday, September 19
Anti-war vigil and sign holding
Part of the national Iraq Moratorium
5:30 PM - 6:30 PM, downtown Livermore
Fountains at First St. and Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Demonstrate the power of local opposition to war. Participate in Livermore's monthly vigil and sign holding. Bring a sign, or come and make one there. Call Janine for more information or to volunteer.

September 20 and 21
Day on the Glen Festival
World of Fun Days
10 AM - 5 PM, Emerald Glen Park, Dublin
(925) 443-7148 to sign up

It's a World of Fun with Tri-Valley CAREs! We are looking for volunteers to help us at our literature booth at the "World of Fun Days" in Dublin. Help Tri-Valley CAREs staff a canopied table and enjoy the "Day on the Glen" festival! Volunteers are needed for 3 hour shifts or the whole day! To sign up for the shift and day of your choice, call our office or email Janine@trivalleycares.org.

Sunday, October 26
Tri-Valley CAREs' 25th Anniversary
Raffle and Gala Program
3 PM - 6 PM, Livermore Library
1188 South Livermore Avenue
(925) 443-7148 for details

Come and celebrate a quarter century of local and global advocacy with your favorite nuclear weapons "watchdogs." Call us today to order your raffle tickets ($2 ea./3 for $5). And, if you have a service or additional items that we can add to the raffle, please call Janine or Marylia ASAP. Thank you!

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