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Citizens Watch Newsletter January 2005

Act Now to Stop Plutonium Programs at Livermore Lab

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2005 Citizen's Watch newsletter

The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) completed a study last year on the security of plutonium at the Dept. of Energy's (DOE) Livermore Lab, and found it deficient. Following Congressional testimony from the GAO and others, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced that the DOE would study whether to terminate plutonium activities at Livermore Lab and remove bomb-usable quantities of the material from the site.

However, the DOE's draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for the Lab doesn't include removal of plutonium as an option. Instead the report proposes doubling the current plutonium limit at Livermore ?- from 1,540 pounds to 3,300 pounds of this deadly, radioactive material. This would be enough to make more than 300 nuclear bombs; here, at Livermore Lab, on an earthquake fault.

According to experts, the plutonium at Livermore Lab is vulnerable to terrorist attack. A major accident or earthquake could also produce catastrophic results.

Keeping thousands of pounds of plutonium in Livermore risks the health and safety of workers and nearby communities, including the 7 million people who live within a 50-mile radius of Livermore Lab.

Please tell the Energy Secretary to terminate activities with plutonium at Livermore Lab, not add more. The DOE is scheduled to make a final decision on plutonium limits at Livermore Lab in early 2005, so the Department must hear from you today.

Take Action

Tri-Valley CAREs is working with allied organizations, including Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and California Peace Action, to terminate plutonium activities at Livermore Lab. You can send a message to DOE Headquarters and to your local elected officials by using either of these two links:



If you are not web capable and want a sample letter to mail or fax to DOE ? or if you can volunteer to help with this campaign in any way ? please call the Tri-Valley CAREs office at (925) 443-7148.

U.S. Tries to Unseat IAEA Chief

Act to Support El Baradei

by Inga Olson
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2005 Citizen's Watch newsletter

The Bush Administration is mad at Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And, so, in typical Bush Administration fashion, it is now seeking to change the rules in order to prevent ElBaradei from standing for reelection.

Elections are generally a straightforward process. According to IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky, candidates for Director General in this election cycle are scheduled to be approved at the IAEA board meeting in June 2005. This would be followed by an election by the general conference in Sept.

Even though no new nominations for Director General were received by the deadline, which was last Dec. 31, the U.S. has made it clear it doesn't want the current chief, Dr. ElBaradei, to stand for a third term. The U.S., joined by a few other western nations, has called for a two term limit for UN officials. However, former Director General Hans Blix served four terms and before that Sigvard Eklund served five terms.

Countries on the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors will attempt to reach a common position before deciding whether to reelect ElBaradei. Diplomats report this could take several months given Washington's opposition to Dr. ElBaradei.

Recently, the Washington Post and New York Times revealed that the U.S. tapped Director General ElBaradei's phone in order to intercept conversations he had with Iranian diplomats. The intercepts produced no evidence of inappropriate conduct. However, they do reveal the lengths to which some in the Bush Administration have gone to try to replace the 62 year-old Egyptian lawyer.

The Bush crowd has a long history of dissatisfaction with ElBaradei. It began with his refusal to back U.S. allegations that Saddam Hussein had revived his clandestine nuclear bomb program. Recently, the U.S. advocated that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Iran because of suspected nuclear weapons development activities.

Instead, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution on the implementation of an agency safeguards agreement with Iran, based on a detailed report by ElBaradei.

Still, it is likely that Dr. ElBaradei most egregiously irked the Bush Administration when he made pointed references to the nuclear weapons states' hypocritical policies. He said, for example: "We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use."

Tri-Valley CAREs often educates disarmament staff at the U.N. about nuclear weapons activities at the Dept. of Energy, including at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. In doing this, we challenge the same double standard that ElBaradei has addressed.

In addition, we find that Dr. ElBaradei's experience and expertise reinforce his ability to stand by UN findings in the face of tremendous political pressure. He has served two decades in high-level positions at the IAEA, and his diplomatic service and work in fields of international law span four decades.

Take Action

We urge you to support the reconfirmation of Dr. ElBaradei by sending letters to key governors on the IAEA board. You can do this through Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at

The direct link is:

You can also fax a letter to all 35 governors of the IAEA board at:

If you are not web capable and would like to receive a sample letter and the 35 fax numbers, call us at (925) 443-7148.

Watchdog "Davids" Slay Pu-AVLIS, Again

by Loulena Miles
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2005 Citizen's Watch newsletter

Tri-Valley CAREs has recently obtained a memo from U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) Headquarters containing a formal determination that Livermore Lab will not be permitted to revive its controversial Plutonium-Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (Pu-AVLIS) program. According to the memo, Pu-AVLIS has been defunded and will be withdrawn from consideration when the final Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) on Livermore Lab operations is released, later in 2005.

Kudos to all of our readers who attended public hearings and submitted written comments on the draft SWEIS to oppose this dangerous project. Your voices made a difference.

The cancellation of Pu-AVLIS is our first victory in the struggle to stop numerous polluting and proliferation-provocative nuclear weapons programs outlined in the SWEIS. It also represents the culmination of a lot of good work by Tri-Valley CAREs and colleague organizations.

In Feb. 2003, the draft SWEIS was circulated to the public. Included in its 2,500 pages was the plan to raise the previously-dead Pu-AVLIS project from its ashes.

The proposal involved Livermore Lab first converting plutonium oxides to metal using a furnace. Then, the plutonium metal (containing a mixture of isotopes) was to be heated in a crucible until it formed a hot vapor cloud. Specially tuned laser beams were to be shot through the vapor to selectively ionize out, or separate, the desired plutonium isotope(s) from the mix.

The Pu-AVLIS process could have been employed to separate out Plutonium-242 for use in certain above-ground weapon design tests for the "stockpile stewardship" program. Or, Pu-AVLIS could have been used to produce weapons-grade concentrations of Plutonium-239, the isotope needed for nuclear bomb cores.

In addition to the obvious health and environmental risks, the plan to revive, and ultimately perfect, Pu-AVLIS technology posed a huge nuclear proliferation problem.

For, if it had gone forward, this Livermore Lab project could have given international would-be bomb builders a wholly new method for obtaining weapons grade material from the mixed plutonium isotopes that can be found in an irradiated fuel rod from a civilian nuclear power plant or research reactor. And, Pu-AVLIS would have been more compact and less detectable to outside observers than existing technologies for separating nuclear bomb materials.

Livermore Lab first planned to perfect Pu-AVLIS technology in the 1980s. Due to opposition by non-governmental organizations, including Tri-Valley CAREs, and allies in Congress, the project was halted by the early 90s. Probably due to an anticipated renewal of massive public opposition, Livermore Lab first tried to revive Pu-AVLIS under cover of deepest secrecy.

When the Notice of Intent to prepare the draft SWEIS was published in the Federal Register there was not any mention of Pu-AVLIS, only a vaguely-worded reference to an unnamed "Defense Nuclear Technology Classified Project." Moreover, the Notice said the project would be described in a classified appendix, unavailable to the public. One of Tri-Valley CAREs' early successes was to initiate opposition to this excessive secrecy. Ultimately, word leaked out that the secret project was Pu-AVLIS. And, the project was described in the draft SWEIS for all to see.

Tri-Valley CAREs then filed several Freedom of Information Act requests and found that the Lab was positioning itself to conduct plutonium vaporization as early as 2005. A handwritten note on one DOE document revealed that the agency had consciously decided to avoid conducting a legal review of the project. This became clear because DOE had tried to classify it with the words, "contravention of statute" written on the cover.

From other DOE documents, we learned that Pu-AVLIS would have been used to vaporize 220 lbs. of plutonium every year. The process could have resulted in significant worker exposure, routine airborne releases of plutonium into surrounding communities, more plutonium moving around on our nation's highways to and from the Lab, and increased dangers associated with a natural disaster (e.g., earthquake), or a terrorist attack.

During the past year, Tri-Valley CAREs has spoken at dozens of meetings, rallies and hearings against this project, while also enlisting a formidable cast of experts in the fight. They include Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, Arjun Makhijani from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, and Chris Paine and Geoff Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Each of these groups opposed the resurrection of Pu-AVLIS at a public hearing held at DOE Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Additionally, Tri-Valley CAREs took the issue to the global community, discussing it at the United Nations and thus educating diplomats, NGOs and the media. Further, Tri-Valley CAREs was poised to sue in Federal Court if DOE chose to give final approval for this project.

We are now archiving the documents we obtained during our efforts to stop Pu-AVLIS. This will serve as a safeguard against any future proposals to revive it yet again. We are celebrating this victory, but we plan to remain vigilant!

NIF Budget Cut

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2005 Citizen's Watch newsletter

When the Dept. of Energy sent its budget request to Congress this past year, it tried to hide another 4-year schedule slip at the National Ignition Facility mega-laser in the fine print, essentially delaying attempts at reaching ignition until at least 2014. Congress was not amused.

DOE and Livermore Lab officials hastened to say they would meet the 2010 deadline, albeit by using an unproven target design. Congress was not mollified, and it cut the project's fiscal year 2005 budget by $25 million.

The NIF project originally went to Congress with a $1 billion price tag and a completion date of 2002. Present day estimates put its construction at upwards of $5 billion, and its completion date has been postponed to 2008. Fusion ignition experiments are not slated to begin until 2010, and now maybe not until 2014.

For one thing, Livermore has yet to design a target that can demonstrate more than an ice cube's chance in hell of igniting, meaning to produce a sustained fusion reaction that puts out more energy than it takes in.

Livermore Lab officials told reporters that they will need to lay off or internally transfer 300 employees due to the $25 million cut. George Miller, who heads the NIF program, said that he will now have to postpone a "substantial amount" of work.

That's interesting because DOE's 2005 budget request for its inertial confinement laser fusion program was $492 million, with $381 million going to the NIF project. Therefore, it seems suspicious that Lab management is rushing to offer a relatively small budget cut as the sole reason for lack of forward momentum in the NIF project. It looks like NIF is still mired in technical problems.

Livermore Lab's prescription appears to consist of having Gov. Schwarzenegger write a letter to Pres. Bush asking for more money for NIF. Congress would do better to pull the plug on NIF altogether in 2006.

Heartfelt Thanks

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 2005 Citizen's Watch newsletter

As we begin this new year, we would like to thank you, our members and friends who keep our group going. We offer our sincere appreciation for your generous financial support, for the activities you have undertaken to promote peace, justice and a healthy environment, and for your clear and consistent vision of a better tomorrow for our earth and all of her children.

Special thanks are due also to the foundations that have supported our work this past year: Ploughshares Fund, Public Welfare Foundation, the John Merck Fund, Town Creek Foundation, the Tin Man Fund, Ben & Jerry's Foundation, New-Land Foundation, Colombe Foundation, New Voices, Compton Foundation, the Citizens' Monitoring and Technical Assessment Fund, and the Victor & Lorraine Honig Foundation.

Our work has also been awarded a technical assistance grant from the U.S. EPA and a health ethics partnership grant through Syracuse University.

These funds help pay our staff, publish our newsletter, produce key policy analyses, sponsor community events -- and much, much more.

We are deeply grateful to you, one and all.

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