Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter January 1999


U.S. to Produce Bomb Material in Civilian Reactor

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Consider this scenario. It's just before Christmas. The U.S. is threatening to rain more bombs and destruction on Iraq, alleging it might, perhaps, be using civilian facilities to make nuclear bomb materials. Slow pan to the U.S. Dept. of Energy headquarters, where, on Dec. 22, the Clinton Administration announces that it will produce new radioactive tritium to boost the explosive power of U.S. nuclear weapons in a civilian electrical power reactor - abrogating the 50 year separation of U.S. civilian and military facilities.

This U.S. decision is sure to have far-reaching, negative consequences for all good faith efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons abroad and constrain their continued modernization at home. Specifically, the DOE said it will use the Watts Bar nuclear power plant, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority and located near Nashville, to produce tritium for the arsenal. Another TVA facility, the Sequoyah plant near Chattanooga, will serve as backup. DOE declined to say how much it expects to spend, but TVA has requested $85 million per year.

Options for producing tritium that were not chosen include building a new accelerator at the Savanna River Site in South Carolina and using the Fast Flux Test Reactor at the Hanford Reservation in Washington. Additionally, TVA had wanted DOE to pay construction costs for its proposed civilian nuclear plant in Alabama. Each of these was also a bad idea, and each carried its own disastrous financial and nonproliferation costs.

Tritium has not been produced in the U.S. since 1988 when DOE shut down its military reactor at Savannah River, due to numerous accidents, leaks and safety problems.

Tritium gas decays at the rate of 5.5% per year. Currently, tritium is "recycled" by taking it out of dismantled bombs and injecting it back into weapons still in the arsenal.

Continued recycling is the obvious solution to the supposed "tritium problem." For, as long as the U.S. continues to down-size its arsenal - even at a very modest pace of 5.5% per year - there will be no "need" to produce more tritium. (A separate disarmament-based argument can be made for discontinuing the use of tritium-boosted bombs completely.) A Congressional requirement to maintain an out-of-date, START I-level arsenal is pushing the demand for tritium.

What can be done now

Congress can rescind its mandate requiring the DOE to provide tritium for a START I-level nuclear force of around 6,000 active warheads. Even using DOE's estimate, if the force requirement was set at START II-levels, there would be no "need" for tritium until 2011 at the earliest. Under a START III scenario of 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons, a new source would not be "needed" before 2020.

In addition, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) has vowed to "reintroduce legislation which would establish a general prohibition against civilian reactors being turned into bomb factories." The Markey-Graham amendment to accomplish that prohibition passed last year in the House but was replaced by a "compromise" in the Senate which merely barred funding in 1999 while Congress studies the question. Thus, DOE needs Congressional approval before implementing its tritium decision.

Over in our action alerts section, you will find an action alert asking you to call your Rep. and urge him or her to co-sponsor the Congressional Resolution to restrain the DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship" program- which Rep. Ed Markey is also reintroducing this session. You can "feed two birds with one phone call" by asking your Rep. to support efforts to ban tritium production in civilian reactors at the same time.

Groups Win Landmark Nuclear Weapons Cleanup Victory

by Bob Schaeffer and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

To settle a lawsuit brought by 39 environmental and peace organizations, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has signed a landmark agreement which will increase public oversight of its efforts to address severe contamination problems in the nation's nuclear weapons complex. Tri-Valley CAREs worked long and diligently on the case, and was one of several organizations participating on the lawsuit "steering committee."

The settlement ends nine years of litigation charging that DOE failed to develop its cleanup plans properly. DOE faced a contempt of court hearing before Judge Sporkin in federal court in Washington, DC for not complying with a previous legal agreement in the case.

"From the perspective of protecting the nation's water, air and land, this settlement is superior to the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement DOE had originally agreed to prepare," said David Adelman, a Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer who represented Tri-Valley CAREs and the other plaintiff groups. "We now have the data, the resources and the processes necessary to make DOE's environmental work more accountable to the public." The Washington, D.C. law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein also provided pro bono litigation counsel.

What we won

Key elements of this historic settlement include:

  • ** Creation of a regularly updated, publicly accessible database including details about contaminated facilities and waste generated or controlled by DOE's cleanup, defense, science and nuclear energy programs, including domestic and foreign research reactor spent fuel, listing characteristics such as waste type, volume, and radioactivity, as well as transfer and disposition plans;
  • ** DOE funding for at least two national stakeholder forums to assure the database is comprehensive, accurate and useful;
  • ** Completion of an environmental analysis, with public input, of plans for "long-term environmental stewardship" at contaminated DOE sites to ensure protection of workers, the public and surrounding communities;
  • ** Establishment of a $6.25 million fund for non-profit groups and tribes to use to monitor DOE environmental activities and conduct technical reviews of the agency's performance;
  • ** Payment of plaintiffs' legal fees and expenses incurred to litigate this case; and
  • ** Continuing federal court oversight to assure adherence to the agreement.

In sum, this is a major victory both for the environment and for public participation. We have won access to the tools the public needs to monitor DOE's compliance with the nation's obligation to address the radioactive and toxic legacy of nuclear weapons production. DOE's "cleanup" program is slated to become the largest environmental project in U.S. history, with an estimated total cost of more than $250 billion.

Further, since the mid-1980s Tri-Valley CAREs and its colleague organizations have been asking for a breakdown of DOE-generated waste by program and facility. Now, using DOE's own data, we'll be able to demonstrate the link between ongoing U.S. nuclear weapons research and production activities and ongoing toxic and radioactive contamination. The cause and effect relationship will become increasingly clear: more nuclear weapons production means more nuclear waste.

How we got there

Many of the groups first sued DOE in 1989, claiming that the agency must conduct a thorough analysis before moving ahead with plans to (1) address the radioactive and toxic legacy of nuclear weapons production and (2) modernize its weapons facilities. The next year, DOE signed a legal agreement promising a full public review of its proposals. In 1994, however, DOE leaders decided to abandon the Environmental Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement process without consent of the plaintiffs or Judge Sporkin, who had approved the initial settlement. In April, 1997, plaintiffs went back to Judge Sporkin seeking enforcement of the original agreement.

In a series of court hearings, Judge Sporkin made it clear that he expected DOE to abide by its commitments. Earlier this year, he ordered DOE to "show cause" why it should not be held in contempt for failing to conduct the environmental analysis. In depositions taken by the plaintiffs, former Energy Secretary James Watkins and other former senior DOE officials strongly backed plaintiffs claims. The discussions which led to today's settlement were conducted at Judge Sporkin's urging.

What's next

Tri-Valley CAREs and the other organizations and attorneys on the "steering committee" are continuing to work together via regular conference calls to ensure full implementation of the settlement gains. As outlined in the agreement, we are moving forward to hire a firm to administer the $6.25 million grant fund.

Simultaneously, we are drafting criteria with an eye toward getting funding as equitably and effectively as possible into the hands of community-based organizations and tribes across the country who are affected by DOE operations. Too, we are working with DOE to achieve broad-based public participation in the upcoming national stakeholders' meetings to guide the waste data bases. Details will follow in future editions of Citizen's Watch.

As you, our readers, know, the cleanup "count" in the lawsuit, for which we just achieved this big, big win, is one of two "counts." The other deals with the inadequacy of DOE's environmental review of its modernization or so-called "Stockpile Stewardship" plans to build and operate a new nuclear weapons complex into the mid-21st century.

As we reported previously in Citizen's Watch, we have won some gains in the "Stockpile Stewardship" part of the lawsuit as well. For example, DOE and Livermore Lab must prepare a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on the construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), due to the court order we obtained after construction crews dug up a large, undocumented toxic waste dump with over 100 PCB-laden capacitors. Further, that court order mandates additional environmental investigation in the NIF construction area. Those analyses, carried out by Livermore Lab, have just uncovered more PCB-contaminated soils. (Please see the article that follows for details.)

We will publicize the date, time and place of the public hearing on NIF construction as soon as it is available, most likely in Spring 1999. Your attendance at the hearing will be important.


More PCBs Discovered at Livermore Lab

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On Dec. 24, Livermore Lab announced the discovery of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in soil in the eastern sector of Livermore Lab - just inside the east gate, near the National Ignition Facility construction site.

PCBs have been linked to liver and other organ damage as well as cancer in humans, and since 1976 their use has been banned. Further soil testing at Livermore has been ordered to determine the extent of the contamination, which is in an area called the east traffic circle.

According to the Lab, in October about 300 cubic yards of dirt was removed from the east traffic circle to correct a drainage problem. The soil was tested, and on Dec. 17 the Lab learned that one sample had 98 parts per million of PCBs, while another sample contained 120 ppm. The EPA limit is less than half that, at 50 ppm, and many cleanups are done to a level closer to 1 ppm.

The traffic circle is included in a special environmental review stemming from a court order won by Tri-Valley CAREs and 38 other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship" program. The order was signed by Federal Court Judge Stanley Sporkin after a backhoe accidentally uncovered a toxic dump in the NIF construction site containing over 100 large electrical capacitors laden with PCB-contaminated oils (and, ironically, buried at the conclusion of another Livermore Lab fusion program).

The additional environmental analyses were ordered to determine whether there may be more toxic threats in the area. This new PCB discovery answers that question in the affirmative.

A new, Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and a public hearing on the hazards of NIF construction are pending.

++ News Flashes ++

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' January 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • ++ Nuclear Fuel Rods and Good News. Tri-Valley CAREs has learned that the Limerick nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania is still having a difficult time readying the shipment of nuclear fuel rods for the Vallecitos Nuclear Center in Pleasanton. At first the radioactive shipment was slated to arrive in late 1998, then in January 1999, according to a power plant spokesman. Now, however, the plant says the shipment may not come until this summer -- or later. However, as Vallecitos has been involved in more than 50 shipments of nuclear rods since 1977, we are following up to determine whether a shipment is planned from another nuclear plant in Limerick's stead. Too, we are continuing our call for public meetings before any more shipments. Call our Community Organizer, Rene' Steinhauer, for details.

  • ++ Nuclear Tests and Bad News. The Dept. of Energy is planning its sixth underground "subcritical" nuclear test in February. The test, code-named Clarinet, is being developed by weaponeers at Livermore Lab. Called subcritical because the plutonium and high explosives will not create a sustained nuclear chain reaction, the test will supply new data for weapons "codes" and allow the Lab's weapons designers to continue their deadly pursuits -- modifying and designing new nuclear bombs without test-detonating them at full-scale. The subcritical nuclear test will take place underground at the Nevada Teat Site. We will publicize the test date as soon as it is available.

    Tri-Valley CAREs will sponsor a vigil at Livermore Lab from 4PM to 6PM on the eve of the test. Meet at the corner of East Ave. and Vasco Road. On the day of the test, we will demonstrate at NOON at Bechtel Headquarters in SF at 50 Beale Street, near the Embarcadero BART. Bechtel manages the Nevada Test Site for DOE. For details, call our Nuclear Program Analyst, Sally Light.

  • ++ Nuclear Tit for Tat. In related news, Russia has followed the lead of the U.S. nuclear program and announced recently that it detonated five underground subcritical nuclear tests in Novaya Zemlya during the closing months of 1998. The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent letters to Russia and the United States denouncing the tests.



Citizen's Alerts

Wednesday, February 10
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, TVC office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for directions

Nukes make you puke? You need to join our mailing party and help prepare next month's Citizen's Watch for the post office. It's fun. It's easy. And, it'll make you feel better. Really.

February 12-15
Ward Valley Action Camp
Occupation One-Year Anniversary
(760) 326-6267 or (415) 752-8678

You are invited to join the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance and other environmental activists for four days of workshops and traditional ceremony. Help save sacred Indian land, the desert tortoise and the Colorado River from a proposed radioactive waste dump. Bring a tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, utensils and water. Call for details, directions.

February 13-15
Abolition USA
Planning session for a national campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons
Santa Barbara, CA
(925) 443-7148 for details, costs

Building on the principles of the global Abolition 2000 movement, the goal of this conference is to organize an effective campaign that will focus on nuclear weapons in the USA. The conference organizing committee has sent invitations to numerous groups across the country. An additional ten spaces are being held open on a "first come - first served" basis for peace activists who are able to represent a group or constituency (e.g. tribe or community) in campaign decision-making. For more information, call us at the number above.

1999 U.S. Congressional Resolution to Stop "Stockpile Stewardship"
-- Your Help is Needed!

Marylia Kelley
Tri-Valley CAREs
(Communities Against a Radioactive Environment)
2582 Old First Street
Livermore, CA USA 94550

(925) 443-7148 - is our phone
(925) 443-0177 - is our fax

Working for peace, justice and a healthy environment since 1983, Tri-Valley CAREs has been a member of the nation-wide Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in the U.S. since 1989, and is a co-founding member of the international Abolition 2000 network for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

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