Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter December 2003

New Plan Leaves Toxic, Radioactive Debris in Environment

by Inga Olson
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Livermore Lab's 1.5 square mile main facility was named a Superfund cleanup site in 1987. Site 300, the Lab's 11 square mile, high explosives testing facility in Tracy became a Superfund site three years later, in 1990. The Superfund designation means that these are two of the most contaminated locations in our nation.

Deadly contaminants at the Livermore main site include numerous volatile organic compounds (VOC) found in a groundwater plume emanating from the site and heading westward toward Livermore's municipal drinking water wells. This plume contains Freon 113, TCE, TCA, DCE, and DCA. Also found in the toxic groundwater "stew" beneath the Lab main site were benzene, toluene, carbon tetrachloride, chromium and radioactive tritium in excess of drinking water standards established under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These and other pollutants also exist in the soils at numerous locations on site. Plutonium was removed from soil onsite at the Livermore main site.

Plutonium in the soil and VOCs in the groundwater, originating from the Lab, have also been found in nearby residential neighborhoods in Livermore. Tritium has routinely been measured at high levels in rainwater at the Lab and in the surrounding community.

According to a 1989 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health conservative risk assessment, if the groundwater emanating from the Lab's main site is not cleaned up and thus reaches Livermore's municipal wells, the cancer risk to Livermore families from the VOCs alone is one cancer for every 1,000 residents. This means at least 73 additional cancers because there are over 73,000 Livermore residents. The risk to someone drilling a well 250 feet from the LLNL boundary is two times higher; two cancers per 1,000.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has entered into legally-binding agreements with the U.S. EPA and state regulators to clean up groundwater at the Lab's main site so that it meets drinking water standards and no longer poses the risks described above. For years, the DOE has been engaged in pumping contaminated groundwater to the surface, treating it and recharging most of it back to the ground. Full cleanup is expected to take about 53 years.

Now, however, Bush appointee, Jessie Roberson, is moving forward with what she calls her Risk-Based End States (RBES) Vision. In short, what passes for "vision" in this plan will become a nightmare for communities and the environment. The primary goal of RBES is to allow DOE to obtain variances from current environmental laws and obligations and walk away from doing actual, complete cleanup.

Under the RBES Vision, all environmental restoration activities at the Livermore Lab main site and site 300 will be transferred to the folks within DOE that create nuclear weapons. Specifically, the DOE Environmental Management department will no longer be in charge of Livermore Lab cleanup activities, instead the National Nuclear Security Administration will run the show.

Those of our readers who have followed DOE for decades may feel a sense of d??vu, for this new "vision" takes us back to the old system that made Livermore and other DOE facilities such horrific messes in the first place. Only after the nuclear weaponeers contaminated the environment to nearly unimaginable levels did DOE's EM program evolve. Now Bush's DOE wants to make EM go away. And leave the nuclear "fox" in charge of cleanup.

The RBES Vision document for Livermore says that cleanup efforts will be abandoned except where there is imminent offsite migration of a contaminant plume - at levels considered unsafe by the state and federal EPA - into the surrounding residential, agricultural and commercial areas.

At the Lab's main site this would mean violating the law and turning off facilities that are already built and operating onsite to clean soil and groundwater. The legally binding Record of Decision for the main site specifies that DOE will clean up groundwater both on and offsite and so, for example, VOCs are currently being cleaned up both on and offsite to a concentration of 5 parts per billion. Remediation facilities located near the center of the Lab's main site are treating contamination "hot spots" in the groundwater, and are treating contaminated soil as well in order to prevent pollutants from migrating.

Under the RBES Vision, because onsite pollution will be allowed to migrate into the water and polluted groundwater will be allowed to migrate to the fence line, these present day cleanup activities would be terminated.

Additionally, Jessie's "vision" extends for 20 years only. That is the planning parameter imposed by the RBES approach. Forget that prior estimates say real cleanup will take longer. Just clean up less and walk away sooner.

Tracy's site 300 has its own deadly broth that includes radioactive tritium, uranium-238, toxic heavy metals, high explosive compounds, chemicals, rocket fuel, and some of the worst volatile organic compound spills in the country.

The RBES Vision for site 300 is downright scary! Like the Livermore main site, after 20 years all cleanup bets are off. Also, similar to the main site, contaminants will be allowed to migrate and pollute pristine water freely. The only time cleanup will be required is when these poisons are poised to move offsite and only if there is a regulated level for the pollutant and the regulated level for that pollutant will be exceeded.

At site 300, the final Record of Decision for the site has not been completed, and the Interim ROD does not set cleanup levels. However, the Lab has promised the community and the state and federal regulators that the final cleanup standards would be at least as stringent as federal standards and possibly more stringent in order to comply with State Water Resources Control Board Resolution 92-49. This Resolution specifies that all polluted ground water be cleaned up to restore water quality to background concentrations whenever feasible.

At this time, the cleanup strategy for Site 300 includes evaluating the feasibility of attaining background water quality. It is crucial that the DOE and Lab stick with this effort and the commitment made to the community - not abandon it in favor of the RBES "Vision."

The RBES Vision is part of a public relations campaign called "accelerated cleanup." DOE advertises it as saving money and saving time. Both types of savings are, in a narrow sense, true. When you reduce the standards and the level to which you are cleaning up, you do save time and money. In essence, however, communities pay by accepting a polluted environment and elevated health risks.

Based on what we have seen, it looks like the RBES Vision means fenced off "sacrifice zones" in Livermore and Tracy and all across America. Some former weapons sites, like Rocky Flats in Colorado, have been designated as future "wildlife refuges," yet radioactive debris such as pipes and buried plutonium hot spots will be left under the ground. Small mountains of radioactive and toxic debris, with big rocks placed over the gigantic piles, is what final cleanup looks like at the DOE's Weldon Springs site. It is time for residents in Livermore, Tracy, Northern California and across the country to come forward and tell DOE that this is not how we define cleanup.

Tri-Valley CAREs is committed to ensuring that the DOE pollution in the Tri-Valley and Tracy areas gets cleaned up, and that our communities are healthy places for our families, neighbors and Lab employees. You can help us make this happen by signing the enclosed letter, adding your additional comments at the end and mailing it to the DOE. Please also send us a copy of your letter. We will keep it on file.

For an electronic version of the sign-on letter, go to our website. The Draft RBES Vision documents can be reviewed at the Tracy and Livermore Libraries and at www-envirinfo.llnl.gov. Comments can be emailed to DOE at kearns2@llnl.gov.

Call us also if you want to work with us to educate your city council member, county supervisor or other officials about the dangers posed by the RBES Vision. We can provide talking points and join you at a council meeting. We can also be called on to help you organize a house party to educate friends and neighbors.


UC Management and the Weapons Labs

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Amid major security breaches, financial mismanagement disclosures and growing criticism of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, Congress recently passed legislation mandating that the Department of Energy (DOE) put all three of its management contracts with the University of California out for competitive bid. Currently, UC manages the nation's two main classified nuclear weapon design labs, Livermore and Los Alamos, as well as the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which has foresworn classified weapons work. Prior to the passage of legislation, DOE had decided to open the Los Alamos contract, now all three contracts will be bid.

The legislation sweeps aside a five decades-long exclusive relationship, wherein DOE and UC negotiate the contracts behind closed doors. Now, DOE will issue a request for proposals and UC as well as competitors will be permitted to bid.

While remaining publicly cagey about its intentions, the University is clearly acting the suitor and posturing itself to bid for the weapons labs. For example, UC is reorganizing its management and hiring nuclear weapons experts for a newly-created panel in order to make itself more attractive to DOE. UC is demonstrating it is eager to oversee an aggressive nuclear weapons mission for Livermore and Los Alamos. Neither increased academic freedom nor a budding emphasis on civilian science missions for Livermore and Los Alamos are evidenced by UC's recent moves.

The UC Regents voted on Nov. 20 to create a National Security Board of Directors. The new board will have broad powers and will report to the Regents through the UC President. The new board is one in a series of management reorganizations that have occurred since UC President Dynes took office on Oct. 2. Dynes had contracted with Los Alamos Lab for more than two decades and is a logical choice as UC adds nuclear weapons "muscle" to its management bid (See the Oct. 2003 Citizen Watch).

Dynes recently announced that retired Adm. Foley would be his new V.P. for Lab oversight. Foley headed weapons programs under the Reagan Administration. More recently, Foley led a commission at Los Alamos, overseeing the return to manufacture of plutonium pits, the core of a modern nuclear weapon.

For decades, UC has maintained a public posture that it manages the weapons labs as a "public service" and would not enter a competition. Recently, UC has begun quietly humming a different tune. UC now says it will remain poised to bid. Rumor has it that UC will take on a corporate partner, most likely a firm with a strong financial management portfolio, and submit joint management bids.

While UC Regents remain engaged in specifics for submitting bids, they generally remain silent about what Congress is funding the weapons labs to do. Pres. Dynes stated that the issue is the bid, not the mission. "The Los Alamos and Livermore Labs are, at their core, nuclear weapons programs, and carry out these programs at a level determined by the federal government. What is at issue is whether the University continues its historic role in managing these efforts," explained Dynes.

Not everyone agrees that the issue is simply whether UC continues to manage the labs. "There exists an imperative to hold a public debate," said Tara Dorabji of Tri-Valley CAREs, "That debate is not limited to who manages these weapons labs, it's about how we get the labs to comply with disarmament obligations in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)." Instead, the weapons labs are designing new and modified nuclear weapons, like mini-nukes and Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators.

In a positive move, the UC faculty has decided to take a visible advisory role on the question of UC's continued management of the labs. The academic senate will hold public forums on campuses and hold a system-wide electronic faculty vote.


Court Considers Order Halting Bioagents

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On Dec. 2, Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico filed a Stipulation and Order to prohibit any shipment of "select agents" to the Department of Energy's (DOE) proposed advanced bio-warfare agent research facilities at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The Stipulation and Order was negotiated and signed by attorneys for the two environmental organizations and the Justice Dept.

Federal Judge Saundra Armstrong will consider the Stipulation and Order in the next few days. Her signature will implement the Order and place it under the jurisdiction of the court.

Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch filed suit against the new facilities on Aug. 26. The litigation charges DOE with violating the National Environmental Policy Act by approving advanced research on bio-weapon agents at its two principal nuclear weapon design labs without conducting a thorough review of the resulting environmental risks and impacts on international nonproliferation agreements. (See the Sept. 2003 Citizen's Watch for details.)

The lawsuit asks the court to compel site-specific and programmatic Environmental Impact Statements and public hearings before the DOE can begin operation at either of the contested facilities.

"We are seeking this Order so that DOE will not be able to import live anthrax, botulism, plague and other deadly pathogens into these controversial bio-warfare agent facilities while our case is being heard," explained Marylia Kelley, the Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs.

"Our goal is to protect workers and communities," said Nuclear Watch Director Jay Coghlan. "This stay will prevent the introduction of dangerous bio-agents, and is a significant step in the right direction. Given both Labs' shoddy environmental, security and management histories, I am confident that the court will soon also grant us the final relief we seek."

The Order filed with the Judge states, "Neither of the proposed BSL-3 facilities will begin operations with agents for which BSL-3 containment is recommended ...or any select agents prior to May 15, 2004."

"We hope to see the court put the brakes on DOE's planned operation of these very dangerous facilities," commented plaintiffs' lead attorney Stephan Volker of Oakland, CA.

"These bio-warfare agent labs could become magnets for terrorist attacks. Had the Justice Dept. not agreed to this stay, it would have had to defend DOE's illegal approval against our motion for preliminary injunction," Volker added.

The proposed Order also lays out a briefing schedule for the case and provides for a hearing on the merits by April 23, 2004. The Order anticipates a final decision by Judge Armstrong on or before May 15, 2004.

"Should the court require more time, I am confident that Judge Armstrong will extend the Order, as needed," Volker said. "I am looking forward to arguing the case. In my thirty years of practicing environmental law, rarely have I encountered a more flagrant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act."

The term "select agents" refers to the several dozen bio-agents covered by Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 73. The DOE defines them thusly: "select agents have historically been associated with weaponizing effects." (Final EA for Proposed Construction and Operation of a Biosafety Level 3 Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, page 18.)

Biological containment levels range from BSL-1, which handles only agents not known to cause illness in humans, to BSL-4, which houses agents for which there are no known cures, such as Ebola. A BSL-3 designation permits work with virulent pathogens used in both defensive and offensive biological warfare research.


Citizen's Alerts

from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Please see our Calendar section here on the website to keep up with Tri-Valley CAREs' latest events...


Appealing Group

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Dear readers,

We ask for your financial support twice each year. As we approach the close of 2003, we especially want to invite you to consider making a generous gift to help achieve these key goals:

(1) Constrain U.S. nuclear weapons development at the Livermore and Los Alamos weapons labs.

(2) Move forward with a landmark lawsuit to prevent the U.S. Dept. of Energy from operating bio-warfare agent facilities at Livermore and Los Alamos without a full environmental review or public hearings.

(3) Organize students, faculty and others at University of California campuses across the state to engage in a campaign to demilitarize the UC system and convert the UC-managed Livermore and Los Alamos Labs to peaceful pursuits.

(4) Stop the Dept. of Energy from implementing its "Risk Based End States" strategy to leave toxic and radioactive pollution in soil and groundwater to migrate through our environment.

Your financial support is vital to our work, so please make a contribution today.

Many thanks and blessings,

Tri-Valley CAREs

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