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Citizens Watch Newsletter January 2000

The National Ignition Facility at the New Millennium

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

As the curtain descends on 1999, we look back at one of Tri-Valley CAREs' top issues - and we offer you, our readers, this pop quiz on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) currently under construction at Livermore Lab. Each of these questions has been covered in prior editions of Citizen's Watch, and we will send you back issues, fact sheets or a copy of our NIF report on request.

Here is your test. The NIF is:

(1) a nuclear weapons project?
(2) the largest weapons facility ever to be built at Livermore?
(3) a means to "compensate" weaponeers for the "loss" of underground nuclear testing?
(4) intended to advance nuclear weapons design capabilities?
(5) a nuclear proliferation risk?
(6) cited by India as a reason for that nation's nuclear tests?
(7) at odds with both the Comprehensive Test Ban and Non-Proliferation treaties?
(8) unneeded for the task of merely maintaining the arsenal?
(9) wildly over budget and behind schedule?
(10) beset by serious underlying technical problems?
(11) under scrutiny from Congress and the Dept. of Energy?
(12) draining funds from civilian science initiatives at the Lab?
(13) a source of more radioactive waste and pollution?
(14) a project that ought to be cancelled?
(15) a focal point for peace activists around the globe?

Answer: all of the above are true.

Still, at year's end, our Congresswoman, Ellen Tauscher, visited the Lab and vowed to continue supporting NIF, calling it a "have to have" project. "Technically, NIF is very sound," she opined to reporters.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, speaking at a whirlwind, two-hour visit to the Lab on Dec. 21, seemed unwilling to fundamentally rethink the question of building NIF. We're (DOE) going to fight the criticism," he told reporters. "The project is sound, it's just badly managed."

In contrast, the public is neither fooled nor in denial of reality. At the Dec. 8 public hearing in Livermore on DOE's draft supplemental review for the NIF, numerous people spoke clearly and eloquently about the necessity of stopping the project and choosing instead a future without nuclear weapons, proliferation and more environmental contamination.

The year's end saw additional detail come to light regarding NIF's technical difficulties.

As we reported previously, employees at the three weapons labs say NIF is suffering severe problems in developing the three necessary laser components - optics, diagnostics and targets.

At the meeting of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force on NIF, held in Livermore on Dec. 13, 1999, Lab scientists told the panel they had not yet found a material out of which to make targets - which are the BB-sized pellets that will hold the frozen radioactive fuel NIF's laser beams are supposed to blast into thermonuclear ignition. Three types of materials, two plastics and a beryllium shell, are being pursued, scientists said. As yet, while research on targets has gone on for many years, no target has been perfected, and each material is still presenting its own unique problems. The Lab scientists proclaimed they are "close" to developing a target.

Neither have scientists figured out how to load the targets - of whatever material - into the NIF's reactor vessel. Serious, unresolved problems exist with alignment and timing.

Further, presentations made to the SEAB Task Force on NIF publicly revealed some of the problems with diagnostics that workers have discussed with us. Diagnostics, in sum, are the devices needed for researchers to understand what is actually going on in a NIF shot. No diagnostics means no data.

To begin, diagnostics for NIF have not been designed. Lab scientists postulated they might have a "core package" of diagnostics ready for "acceptance" by 2003. This would trigger the next phase of diagnostics development, which would extend from "'04 onwards," according to the Lab's vugraphs.

None of the costs associated with developing and creating NIF's diagnostics are included in the price of the project, Lab scientists revealed. It is becoming clear that multi-billion dollar NIF is a bit like buying a car and finding out the engine and tires are extra.

The Lab struggled to put the best possible face on NIF, insisting that everything can be taken care of by "rebaselining" NIF to include more time and money. To underscore their point, the Lab made a lengthy presentation of NIF's external reviews. In so doing, Lab scientist Joe Kilkenny violated a court order obtained by three organizations -- Natural Resources Defense Council, Tri-Valley CAREs and Western States Legal Foundation -- to prohibit the use by DOE or its contractors of a report prepared by the 1997-98 National Academy of Sciences panel on NIF due to the biased make up of the panel and its egregious noncompliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Our attorney is following up.

Tri-Valley CAREs and Allies File Lawsuit Over Lab Hazardous Waste

by Sally Light, Marylia Kelley and Jackie Cabasso
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On December 23, 1999, environmentalists filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland against the California state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the Regents of the University of California and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The groups claim that a final permit issued by DTSC earlier this year for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to treat hazardous and radioactive wastes, including the construction and operation of new facilities, violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) when a project may cause significant impacts to the environment and surrounding community.

In the Lab's case, the DTSC inexplicably decided to forego an EIR, and, instead, to issue a Negative Declaration, which is basically an unsubstantiated assertion by the state agency that the Lab will not harm the environment.

Offering a Negative Declaration for something as complex as a hazardous waste facility at a nuclear weapons laboratory is inappropriate and illegal. According to the lawsuit, the Livermore Lab certainly has the potential to cause significant environmental harm.

DOE documents specify that, in 1997, Livermore Lab generated 2,769,600 pounds of hazardous waste and 243,200 pounds of mixed hazardous and radioactive waste. The Lab also discharges hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater each year into the Livermore municipal sewer system.

Livermore Lab operations and hazardous waste management activities have resulted in releases of hazardous and radioactive materials into the air, soil and groundwater - including releases of radioactive tritium, plutonium, uranium, high explosives and other chemical pollutants like TCE, PCE, Freon and carbon tetrachloride.

Both the Livermore Lab main site and site 300 are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" list of most polluted areas in the nation.

Over the years, numerous Lab workers have been contaminated with radioactive and hazardous materials. Such exposures continue up to the present. Last year, a chemist was injured when a temporary waste container ruptured. This year, a hazardous waste management contractor was sprayed with a slurry of Radney nickel when the cap on a waste container blew off.

As a regular reader of Citizen's Watch, you may recall other recent incidents as well: in July of this year, the Lab suffered a uranium waste fire, in which the material was "glowing and starting to expand," according to DOE documents. That incident forced the temporary shut down of three buildings. Also in July, the Lab failed a waste audit conducted by DOE, and had to suspend all shipments to the Nevada Test Site. Thirty-three corrective action orders were issued.

According to DTSC records, the agency knew of the Lab's pattern of abuse - and yet still cut corners to grant the permit without conducting an environmental review or putting mitigation measures into place.

The three groups bringing the suit -Tri-Valley CAREs, Western States Legal Foundation, and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility - had filed an administrative appeal earlier this year asking DTSC to reverse its decision to issue the permit. DTSC denied the appeal. This led to the filing of the current lawsuit.

Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Michael Veiluva, of Alborg, Veiluva and Cannata, Phyllis Olin of Western States Legal Foundation, and Alan Ramo and Anne Eng with the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Golden Gate University School of Law.

Stay tuned!

Public Hearing Sought on GE Vallecitos

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tri-Valley CAREs has asked for a public hearing on the renewal of the nuclear materials license for the GE Vallecitos Nuclear Center. The request was made to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is reviewing the facility's license to handle plutonium and other radioactive elements.

At issue is a GE Vallecitos program to transport irradiated nuclear fuel rods, mostly from the east coast and mid-western states, to the Pleasanton facility. Once there the nuclear rods are cut up in "hot cells" and analyzed to assess the quantity and distribution of the rod's fission products. The program's goal is to determine whether nuclear rods may be left in power plants for increasing amounts of time. Moreover, the program has no end date.

The letter, sent to the NRC in November, expresses concerns ranging from the transportation issue to the handling of the nuclear materials and the resultant waste streams. The letter outlines the need for GE Vallecitos to establish communication between the facility and the community in order to enable the public's right to know. To date, GE Vallecitos has been extremely secretive about its operations.

Issues we recommend be addressed at a public hearing include the types and amounts of hazardous and radioactive material involved in GE Vallecitos' operations, the potential risks to families who live along the fenceline or in nearby communities, the impacts of proposed development in the area and an exploration of alternatives to the current project.

Joining in the request are Save Our Sunol, Citizens Along the Roads and Tracks and the Western States Legal Foundation.

In an exploratory discussion, NRC headquarters staff expressed a willingness to host a public meeting that - we hope - will prove more informative than the Oct. meeting held by the NRC field office (see Nov. 1999 Citizen's Watch). In turn, we agreed to work with NRC on an agenda for the meeting. This public meeting is separate from, and will not prejudice, our request for a formal public hearing.

For details, call our community organizer, Rene' Steinhauer at (925) 443-7148.

Risky Business

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Science alone cannot totally fill in what science doesn't know.

That may seem like an obvious statement. However, when it comes to issues of radiation and health, the nuclear establishment too often pretends certainty where none exists and (mis)uses science as a tool to belittle the community's knowledge of its own state of health or illness, according to panelists at a recent, well-attended public forum in Livermore.

The meeting, titled Radiation and Risk, brought together scientists, health experts and activists to encourage the public to ask questions and exercise its right of informed consent.

Dr. Owen Hoffman, whose long-standing expertise includes radiation risk analysis, stressed the importance of understanding what science can and cannot say. "In any health study, there are knowns, and there are unknowns," he explained. "Regardless of the type of study, or which way the risk is expressed, there is always underlying uncertainty. Typically, this is not disclosed."

This is why, Dr. Hoffman said, he believes the public should always ask about the degree of uncertainty in any health study or risk assessment presented by the Livermore Lab or any other agency.

Carolyn Raffensperger, author, health expert and one of the drafters of the "Precautionary Principle," stressed the importance of employing cautionary measures backed by common sense. Rather than ask just how much pollution our earth - or our bodies - can take before there are catastrophic consequences, the emphasis should be on prevention, she believes.

Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley brought these concepts home, speaking on Livermore Lab's environmental history, while Andy Lichterman of Western States Legal Foundation encouraged folks to get active on issues like the National Ignition Facility.

A lively Q & A session topped off the evening. One participant elicited laughter when he suggested NIF be converted to a professional football stadium.

Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • New Year's Watch. As we write this, Russian military officers are arriving at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where they will sit with their U.S. counterparts in a special Y2K command center to evaluate the data fed in from U.S. radar and satellite sites during the Year 2000 rollover. The center's goal is to lower the odds of either nation ordering a nuclear launch upon the other based on faulty data stemming from a Y2K computer glitch. The center is slated to continue 24-hour a day operation until mid-January. U.S. officials have suggested that the center's activities may be extended through spring in the event of unresolved computer problems. The Back From the Brink campaign vigorously supports the center and its extension, but notes that the danger of accidental nuclear war due to computer malfunction will persist until both nations' nuclear weapons are de-alerted.

  • Worker Dies. Hisashi Ouchi, 35, died of acute radiation poisoning on Dec. 21, 1999. He had been in critical condition since his exposure at the uranium processing plant in Tokaimura on Sept. 30th.

  • Leaky Shield. The U.S. efforts to develop a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system remains plagued by inadequate testing, spare parts shortages and management lapses, according to an advisory panel appointed by the Defense Dept. If further delays persist, the panel suggested Clinton postpone making a "go - no go" decision on the concept this summer. What the panel didn't say is that BMD is a fundamentally flawed and dangerous idea to begin with.

  • Spawn of Leaky Shield. On Nov. 3, Russia tested a short-range interceptor missile for a Moscow-based ballistic missile defense system. Analysts believe the Russian move is intended to send a signal to Washington not to go ahead with BMD. The U.S. has been pressing to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so as to legitimize U.S. BMD schemes. Russia has warned that such a move could unravel decades of arms agreements and unleash a new arms race.

  • Nix MOX News. Japan's Kansai Electric Power Co. decided to forgo using mixed oxide plutonium-uranium fuel, called MOX, after it became known that the supplier, British Nuclear Fuels, Limited, falsified safety data to cover up skipped inspections on its MOX fuel. Meanwhile, the British government expressed its "very grave concerns" over the forged data. In domestic MOX news, a Michigan Judge cleared the way for the Dept. of Energy to move a MOX load from the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico to Canada. Environmentalists and members of First Nations on both sides of the U.S. - Canada border vowed to continue to fight the plutonium shipment.

  • No Certainty. At the beginning of 1999 researchers concluded that radiation from Hanford did not cause excess thyroid disease in local residents. On Dec. 14, nearly a year later, a team of experts refuted the conclusion, thereby validating families who had insisted that the study did not reflect reality. Due to the community's willingness to speak up, the Centers for Disease Control asked the National Research Council to review the data. The Council found the original conclusion of no harm to be "overblown," and that the researchers had failed to disclose the measure of scientific uncertainty involved in the conclusions. (See also Risky Business in this edition.)

  • It's Personal. Livermore Lab whistleblower David Lappa was back in federal court this month to uphold the public's right to know. The Lab had retaliated against Lappa when he refused to sign a report on Lab plutonium safety violations because it submerged evidence the violations were deliberate. This latest court fracas was due to the Dept. of Energy's insisting that the inspection notes written by the Lab team were their personal property and therefore exempt from disclosure.

Citizen's Alerts -- Calendar Section

from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Monday, January 10
Public Workshop on Livermore Lab's site 300 cleanup
6 PM, Tracy Community Center
300 East 10th Street, Tracy
(925) 443-7148 for details, directions

Located in the hills between Livermore and Tracy, site 300 is Livermore Lab's high explosives testing range. Contaminants in the soil and groundwater include radioactive tritium, uranium, RDX (a high explosive compound) and other chemical contaminants such as TCE. Site 300 was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" list of most contaminated sites in the country in 1990. At this public workshop, Livermore Lab will present options for cleanup of the hazardous and radioactive pollutants. This is not a formal public hearing, but it does provide an opportunity to ask questions, and to tell the Lab and the regulatory agencies your priorities and why cleanup matters. Call us at the number above for fact sheets, a draft list of community acceptance criteria and other information. Your participation is important.

Thursday, January 20
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 So. Livermore Ave. (at Pacific)
(925) 443-7148 for details

Greetings at the dawn of the new millennium. We invite you to join us in our first meeting of Year 2000, and in all of our efforts to make this a nuclear weapons-free 21st century, a time when peace & justice prevail and an era to act together to protect the Earth. New friends and "old-timers" alike are welcome.

Saturday, January 22
Abolition 2000 Northern California
10 AM - 4 PM, Friends Church
1600 Sacramento St., Berkeley
(925) 443-7148 for details, directions

Abolition 2000 Northern California is made up of organizations and individuals working together to eliminate nuclear weapons. Building on the principles of the international Abolition 2000 movement, we meet quarterly to strategize, inspire and support each other. You are invited. Bring a bag lunch and a drinking cup.

Monday, January 31
Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets
7:30 PM, Janis Kate's home
749 Hazel St., Livermore
(925) 443-4372 for details

Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets quarterly. Current Board members are Janis Kate Turner (President), Francis Macy (Secretary), Martha Priebat (Treasurer), Don King, Will Easton and Marylia Kelley. We are interested in expanding the Board in the future. If you may be interested in serving the group in this way, please contact Janis at the number above for more information.

Thursday, February 3
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details, directions

Want to help Tri-Valley CAREs, but don't know how? Come to a mailing party. It's easy and fun. Help put labels on next month's Citizen's Watch while enjoying good company and a few snacks.

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