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Citizens Watch Newsletter January 2003

Livermore Bio-Warfare Gets Green Light

By Marylia Kelley

Thumbing its nose at the nation's environmental laws, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) on Dec. 16 granted itself the go-ahead to construct and operate a bio-warfare agent facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The agency signed a "finding of no significant impact," opening the flood gate to the importation of live anthrax, plague and other deadly bio-agents to the Bay Area nuclear weapons lab - all without benefit of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the dangers and alternatives. In making its determination, the DOE ignored nearly 100 letters calling on the agency to conduct an EIS and hold public hearings. (See the Aug. & Dec. 2002 editions of Citizen's Watch.)

The DOE plans to buy a 1,500 square foot, prefabricated building and place it on a cement slab in the middle of the Lab's one and one-half square mile site. After sealing and testing it for air tightness, DOE says it could have it up and running by this summer.

The bio-warfare facility would be a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3), so it will require double sets of doors and a special ventilation system. Workers will wear protective suits with masks and gloves. The bio-agents (e.g., germs, viruses, bacteria, bio-toxins and genetic mods) will arrive by various means, including courier truck and the U.S. postal service.

In addition to its obvious health, environment and security risks, the proposed BSL-3 has been harshly criticized by a broad range of scientists and policy analysts for its potentially devastating impact on the global control of bio-weapons, and on the treaty banning them.

Barbara Rosenberg, chair of the Federation of American Scientists' working group on biological weapons considers it risky to locate a BSL-3 facility inside a working center for the creation of weapons of mass destruction. "It makes a handy excuse for why there can't be any kind of verification that the biological defense work in the lab is in compliance with the ban on biological weapons," she told the Stockton Record.

Tri-Valley CAREs is working with independent scientists and allied groups across the country to oppose the facility. Further, we are investigating the possibility of bringing litigation to compel DOE to conduct a thorough environmental and nonproliferation analysis before operations can begin. Stay tuned!

Sick Lab Workers Get Ally

By Inga Olson

Our U.S. Representative, Ellen Tauscher, has done her homework on the need for a permanent resource center for employees from Livermore Lab and other Dept. of Energy (DOE) facilities in California to help them apply for the Energy Employees Occupational Injury Compensation Program (EEOICP). Many Lab workers are sick due to on-the-job exposures to radiation, beryllium, silica, and other toxic substances. In a recent letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Tauscher wrote, "... there is no permanent center to assist ex-DOE employees who have been exposed to radiation in the course of their work at any of the 20 DOE sites in California, some of which are the biggest in the nation." She goes on to say, "the Bay Area alone is home to some 48,000 nuclear-weapons workers and their families."

California appears to be the only major DOE facility state without a permanent resource center. Even Alaska -- where that nuclear facility has been closed for 20 years -- has a full-time resource center. Dozens of letters have been sent by members of Tri-Valley CAREs' sick worker support group to Shelby Hallmark, the Dept. of Labor official who has the authority to make a new resource center happen.

Atomic workers and their survivors face numerous problems throughout the application process. A resource center, staffed by a strong worker advocate, could be a huge help. Gnarly problems confronting local workers include: 1) Sick nuclear workers cannot apply for the EEOICP compensation if they worked at the former nuclear laundry in Pleasanton or the Hunters Point Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory-which worked hand in glove with DOE -because these facilities are not covered. 2) The machining of beryllium is one cause of pulmonary fibrosis, yet this is not a covered illness for family members of deceased workers. 3) Many Lab workers were not aware of the health dangers of beryllium, or of the existence of a beryllium sensitivity test developed in 1993, yet workers who have not taken that test (since 1993) have an uphill struggle to receive compensation. 4) The DOE often claims it does not have the records the employee needs to apply for compensation, and the employee is forced to find alternative ways to prove his/her employment and exposure.

Tauscher has also co-sponsored H.R. 5493, an amendment to the original Compensation Act of 2000, to provide coverage for some additional atomic workers, enable an ombudsman and establish payout deadlines and other administrative improvements. On Nov. 25, 2002, H.R. 5493 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

New Tritium Health Review

By Marylia Kelley and Abel Russ

Two of the largest tritium accidents in the history of the United States happened at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Tritium is radioactive hydrogen, the element that boosts the destructive power of modern nuclear weapons. In 1965, an LLNL accident resulted in an airborne release of 350,000 curies of tritium. A 1970 mishap sent 300,000 curies into the environment. One curie is a large amount of radiation, equal to 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second. Additional tritium has been released in numerous, smaller accidents.

Last year, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) published a draft "health assessment" that contains serious flaws and understates the risks posed by LLNL's 1965 and 1970 accidents. Tri-Valley CAREs and its health project partners have won a grant from the Citizen's Monitoring and Technical Assessment Fund to retain independent scientists to review ATSDR's draft document.

Our project will evaluate how well the ATSDR is dealing with the public concern expressed about tritium releases from LLNL, and specifically how well they assessed the question of risk. Our technical advisors are evaluating the assessment methods used by ATSDR staff as well as the overall quality of their report.

The assessment breaks down into two major components, exposure and risk. Exposure is modeled as a function of (a) release of tritium from the facility and dispersion of the airborne plume, (b) the deposition of tritium on the ground, and (c) the potential exposure of people through inhalation or ingestion of tritium in air, water, and food. ATSDR chose to model a maximum exposure scenario; this ends up being someone hypothetically sitting at the Lab fence one mile from the point of tritium release. Our analysis will also explore the maximum calculated adult dose (we will suggest that the ATSDR estimate should be somewhat higher) and estimate a maximum neonatal dose, not estimated by ATSDR. We will also look at an alternative approach, which will estimate the total dose received by the downwind population.

The second part of the ATSDR report is a discussion of the health risks of the estimated doses. We believe that the ATSDR does not adequately present or incorporate available scientific evidence that low doses of radiation can be harmful. A quantitative estimate of the risk of any size dose is feasible and was discussed by an expert review panel convened by the ATSDR during the preparation of their report. However, the recent draft report from the agency is instead based on the outdated concept of a threshold below which no health effects are expected. We disagree with this approach and our scientific experts will estimate the health risk for both the maximally exposed individual and the other, numerous, less exposed individuals.

Our technical experts include Dr. Robert Goble of the Dept. of Physics at Clark University in MA, and Abel Russ, a researcher with the George Perkins Marsh Institute, also at Clark University. They will present their preliminary findings at an informal "roundtable" presentation for our interested group and community members at 7 PM on February 6 and at a second meeting for LLNL and agency officials at 10 AM on February 7. Call our office.

PRINT BITES: All the News that Fits to Print

By Marylia Kelley and Inga Olson

  • No Case for War. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, told reporters on the eve of the new year that the U.N. inspectors in Iraq "are able to carry out their work in an unimpeded manner." Therefore, he said, there is no basis for launching a war at present. The chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, will submit his first full report to the UN on Jan. 27. In the fashion of modern political surrealism, this and other articles describing a lack of evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction being found appear side by side in U.S. newspapers with stories depicting the buildup of U.S. troops and increasing readiness to wage war, including with U.S. weapons of mass destruction.

  • U.S. Special Forces Enter Iraq. About 100 U.S. special forces soldiers and more than 50 CIA officers have been operating inside Iraq for at least four months, according to news accounts. Australian, British and Jordanian commandos may be involved as well. The military personnel have been looking for missile launchers, monitoring oil fields and helping pilots locate air defense systems. Intelligence officials and military analysts told reporters that these operations can be seen as part of "the opening phase of a war." Others may see this as an act of war itself.

  • U.S. Citizens Stand With the People. In recent weeks an number of peace delegations have gone to Iraq, from celebrities (like actor Sean Penn) to Pax Christi (the Catholic peace organization) to Voices in the Wilderness (a secular group that provides medical supplies to the Iraqi people). One of them is Charles Liteky, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1968 when he carried 22 wounded soldiers to safety in heavy combat in Vietnam. "The principal thing for me, for my soul, is to identify with the victims," he told the SF Chronicle. Explaining his continuing presence in Iraq, Liteky said: "I may be able to save a child... or administer first aid to somebody... with the skill I learned in Vietnam." These are acts of peace.

  • Half a Million. UN officials estimate that as many as 500,000 Iraqis could sustain serious injury in the early stages of a war. The total includes 100,000 combatants and 400,000 civilians. About 900,000 Iraqis are expected to become refugees. The UN report was prepared in December, but had been kept confidential. A Cambridge University group recently obtained a copy and posted it on the web.

  • More Acts of Peace. In Israel, the nephew of the country's ultra-nationalist foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in jail. Jonathan Ben-Artzi, like other young people, is refusing to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces based on his moral and political beliefs. Ben-Artzi is a pacifist and also has made known his opposition to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip on political grounds. He has already spent more than four months behind bars, and in mid-December, was sentenced to a sixth consecutive prison term for refusing to enter the military. It is estimated that are more than 1,000 public "refusniks" in Israel at this time, including some senior military. More than a dozen are believed to be behind bars today.

  • More Bush League. On Dec. 17, the Bush administration formally announced its decision to field a missile defense system. The program is moving ahead in the face of continuing technical problems. In Dec., an $80 million test failed, the third in as many years. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) charged Bush with violating common sense. Analysts point out as well that the proposed system would have violated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush terminated in June of last year.

  • A Valiant Effort. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and 31 colleagues filed suit to prevent the President from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty without the consent of Congress. Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled recently that the lawmakers lacked standing to bring the suit. An appeal is being considered.

  • Homeland Security

    By Marylia Kelley

    In Nov., Congress established a Dept. of Homeland Security, which is expected to employ more than 170,000 people when the legislation is fully implemented. The Bush administration is touting it as the biggest reorganization of the government in 50 years. It may also prove to be the most ill considered, dangerous and anti-democratic legislation of the past 50 years.

    One thing is certain -- the new law is hundreds of pages long and begs for a reasoned analysis followed by action to oppose and change many of its most corrosive provisions.

    The DOE nuclear weapons complex figures prominently in Homeland Security. In particular, Livermore Lab is positioning itself as the lead lab for the newly created agency. The legislation will impact the weapons complex in three areas: 1) limiting public access to information, 2) boosting research and development on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (in the name of countering them), and 3) increasing the weapons labs' role in broadly defined "emergency response" activities.

    Tri-Valley CAREs has contracted with Dr. Robert Civiak, a former White House budget examiner with jurisdiction over DOE's weapons program, to produce a report analyzing the impacts of Homeland Security on the weapons complex. The study will also contain our recommendations for change.

    The new Dept. of Homeland Security is slated to begin operation in March 2003, and our report will be available then. We see it as a valuable tool for helping the public understand the new Department's dark underbelly, namely the slide into a "Homeland Security State" and concomitant loss of our basic democracy.

    We will be using the report in meetings with Congress and other decision-makers and in our community and campus organizing activities. If you are interested in working with us on Homeland Security issues, please call our office.

    Nuke Petition Drive

    By Tara Dorabji

    As the Bush Administration threatens the world with preemptive nuclear strikes, it becomes even more important that the voices of the people - supporting peace - are heard. To this end, Tri-Valley CAREs is circulating a petition. To date, we have collected about 4,000 demanding a reversal of Bush's nuclear policy, an end to the further development of nuclear weaponry and adherence to our nation's disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    We have shared copies with Senators Feinstein and Boxer and have meetings planned with other Members of Congress. Now, more than ever, we need to demand they find the political courage to reject Bush's nuclear policy.

    Join us and collect petition signatures at the Jan. 18 rally in SF, or any other time. Copies of the petition are available on our web site. Or, call our office and we will mail them to you.

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