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Citizens Watch Newsletter July 1999

Wrong Medicine Prescribed for What Ails Weapons Labs

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Wat

Let no one say that politics does not offer up a bounty of irony.

The nation's nuclear weapons design labs at Livermore and Los Alamos are embroiled in a scandal over U.S. nuclear secrets that have allegedly been leaked to China. Yet the individual scientist at the center of this particular maelstrom has not been charged with any crime let alone convicted as of this writing.

It is well understood by weapons physicists and their critics alike that the term "nuclear secrets" is a bit of an oxymoron. When any of the nuclear-armed states makes a significant advance in its weaponry, the how-to information becomes known to other interested nations within five years. So says Edward Teller, co-inventor of the hydrogen bomb and co-founder of Livermore Lab, to give but one example.

Weapons design data leaks out in numerous small dribbles: in the publication of unclassified papers on nuclear phenomena relevant to weapons advances, in the margins of discussions between scientists at international seminars and conferences where one mistakenly believes the other already knows a piece of information, and so on. Furthermore, once an interested nation knows that a particular advance in a warhead design is possible, its physicists can postulate pathways and conduct experiments to come up with the same result independent of leaked information.

These facts have enormous implications when one considers the nuclear proliferation risks of the U.S. "Stockpile Stewardship" program.

It is a central goal of "Stockpile Stewardship" to attract more University and other researchers to weaponeering by providing facilities, like the National Ignition Facility and supercomputers, along with the financial means to conduct unclassified experiments that yield data of interest to the nuclear weapons program. Weapons designers call this "spin back" as non-military sources are used for military purposes, the opposite of "spin-off." Common sense tells us that anything of use to the U.S. nuclear weapons program is likely to be of some interest to other countries with a technological base (e.g., a nuclear reactor) and nuclear aspirations.

Moreover, the U.S. government has been, and is now, officially sharing our "nuclear secrets" selectively with other countries. Exactly with which countries we share what information shifts over time as our geopolitical goals and alliances change. "Stockpile Stewardship" will exacerbate the situation. Our government has made promises, both formal and whispered, regarding NIF and other "Stewardship" data to a number of countries. This needs to be called by its real name - nuclear proliferation.

Practically the only thing that can be said for certain about the security scandal at the labs is that current U.S. nuclear weapons policy will lead to more nuclear proliferation, with or without espionage. Yet, "Stockpile Stewardship" is just about the only angle not being covered by the mainstream news media, the pundits or Congressional hearings.

Cold Warriors and agendas

Witness the hearings going on now in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Testifying in the Senate on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board Report, the chair of the panel that produced the report, former Republican Senator Warren Rudman characterized the weapons labs as having a "culture of arrogance" that contributed to security leaks and needed to be reformed. A chorus then went up from Rudman and Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and John Kyl (R-AZ) to reward that arrogance by giving Defense Programs and its weapons labs semi-autonomous status and increased authority within DOE- making the scandal-ridden bureaucracy even more self-regulating and less accountable than at present.

Later in that day, when Rudman appeared before the House with his same autonomy message, Rep. Dingell (D-MI) brought a small measure of reality to the discussion when he declared: "None of us wants to use these serious security problems as an excuse to put the inmates in charge of the asylum."

Watchdog groups including Tri-Valley CAREs were quick to respond, charging the Republican proposals to "reorganize" DOE were really an attempt to go "back to the future," returning the agency to the bad old days when Defense Programs was in charge of its own environment, safety and health programs - and massive contamination in communities across the nation, including in Livermore, was the result.

Then, almost as if scripted to underscore our objections, Domenici offered a reporter the name of someone he thought might run the new, semi-autonomous weapons agency, James Schlesinger. Schlesinger directed the Atomic Energy Commission, the notorious predecessor agency to the DOE. More recently, he has been writing editorials advocating a return to full-scale nuclear testing.

The truth is that DOE's Defense Programs, which still generates huge volumes of plutonium and other nuclear waste, as well as chemical waste, has been unable and unwilling to protect the environment and the public. Past scandals connected to nuclear weapons programs have included milk supply contamination from above ground testing, radiation experiments on humans and the dumping of nuclear wastes directly into streams, rivers and the ocean floor.

The best way to address mismanagement at the nuclear weapons labs is more oversight, not less. Weapons programs need to be held accountable to the public. Unfortunately, that is not the tenor of discussion going on this month in the hearing rooms and halls of Congress.

In a related development, the head of Defense Programs, Vic Reis, was rumored to be a supporter of the Republican proposals. This put him in direct conflict with his boss, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who has been testifying against the reorganization proposals - and in favor of his own plan - at every opportunity. Reis resigned, effective July 30.

On June 25, the FBI put forward its own proposal to benefit from the spy scandal. The plan calls for a separate FBI division for counterintelligence to root out spies and protect our nation's nuclear secrets.

One wonders, what if the morning papers reported some fine day that the FBI has arrested the entire U.S. weapons establishment for sharing sensitive "Stockpile Stewardship" data?

Naw, probably not.

(Copies the Rudman report, letters, press releases and more are available on request.)

Megalaser Officials Cheer Proliferation

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

Picture an elaborate stage, a video screen and newly laid artificial grass dotted by 800 chairs, mostly filled with Livermore Lab employees and officials from various federal agencies, like the Strategic Air Command. As backdrop, visualize a huge, 130 ton spherical target chamber designed to contain thermonuclear, or fusion, explosions suspended behind the stage. The sphere spans 30 feet across. Its aluminum-alloy walls are 4 inches thick, constructed of 18 welded plates. The sphere is pockmarked by 118 holes of various sizes intended to accommodate 192 focused laser beams and a plethora of sophisticated diagnostic instruments. Eerily, as the giant object's dedication ritual begins, Lab laser chief Mike Campbell compares it to the Death Star from Star Wars. On this day, June 11, 1999, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) target chamber is pure theater.

Soon, however, it will be lowered into a hole 3 stories deep. The sphere is the reactor vessel, the "business end" of NIF. Pellets stuffed with radioactive tritium and deuterium will be placed in its bowels, one at a time, to be detonated by an intense x-radiation field generated by NIF's multiple lasers.

The football stadium-sized NIF machine will stand about 8 stories tall at its peak. The installation of the target chamber now marks the half-way point in NIF construction. It will be completed in 2003, says the Lab. NIF will be used to advance nuclear weapons design knowledge and to train a "new generation" of nuclear weaponeers, according to Lab and Dept. of Energy documents.

Furthermore, these enterprising young weapons scientists will not all work for the U.S. government; some will be employed by the nuclear establishment of Great Britain and some by France.

Generally speaking, when one nation shares information and technology that could allow another nation to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, that is called nuclear proliferation. Yet, during the NIF target chamber dedication, staged to boost Lab employee morale and garner "gee whiz" science publicity, the sharing of nuclear weapons secrets-to-come "shows the importance of international cooperation," according to U.S. Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson.

Graham Jordan, acting Chief Scientific Advisor to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence and Jacques Bouchard, Director of Military Applications for the French Atomic Energy Commission stood on the ceremonial center stage with Richardson and Livermore Lab Director Bruce Tarter.

Jordan called NIF an "international resource." The U.K. will invest several million dollars in NIF, and will share directly in its nuclear experiments, he confirmed. British money will make it possible to increase the number of "shots" using the current target chamber, he said. Moreover, his country will look into the feasibility of also building a second target chamber, in order to increase NIF's "flexibility." A second target chamber has long been the desire of U.S. weapons designers. NIF's rising price tag, now standing at $1.2 billion for construction alone, had made Lab and DOE management leery of asking Congress for this expensive "add on." Apparently, they found an alternate funding source.

Bouchard said France has anted up 200 million Eurodollars to share in NIF. This Fall, the Parliament will take up the question of funding the French Laser Megajoule, a near replica of NIF to be built in the Bordeaux region. The French megalaser effort is dependent on the U.S. sharing key technologies, including, say news reports, a computer prohibited as too "sensitive" for export by the U.S. Commerce Dept.

This tri-national nuclear cooperation "is going to be the key to preventing proliferation in the future," Secretary Richardson, told the crowd.


Governor Fails Important First Test

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

Last month, newly-elected Governor Gray Davis made his first big decision under our state's key environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This law is California's equivalent of the federal National Environmental Policy Act. CEQA governs decisions made by state agencies, and was enacted expressly to protect public health and our communities.

The Governor's decision?

Davis' senior staff reportedly pressed the state Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to grant Livermore Lab a final permit to build and operate a new $32 million hazardous and radioactive waste treatment facility. Further, the governor's office and DTSC decided it was not necessary to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before making the permit determination, instead relying on information provided by the Lab that is years old, inaccurate and/or incomplete.

The published rationale?

According to the permit decision, the state certifies that Livermore Lab's hazardous and radioactive waste operations could not possibly have a negative impact on workers, the surrounding community or the environment. This, at a site that sits on the EPA's Superfund list as one of the most heavily polluted places in the nation. This, at a major nuclear weapons research & development center with 880 pounds of plutonium (enough to make nearly 100 modern nuclear weapons), 440 pounds of highly-enriched uranium and a multitude of other radioactive and toxic materials on hand. This, at place with a long - and continuing - history of accidents, spills to the environment, employee injuries and safety violations involving hazardous and radioactive wastes.

Tri-Valley CAREs' response?

Our organization, with the assistance of a fine team of attorneys, will file a petition appealing the permit decision before the July 2nd deadline. The DTSC will consider our petition, and the Lab will be prohibited from going forward with construction during the process. The state usually responds to appeals in a reasonably quick time frame, about 30 days. One very important point: based on our appeal the state can, if it chooses, reverse its current decision, revoke the Lab's permit and require an Environmental Impact Report before any new decision is made to grant or deny the Lab a permit. If the state rejects our appeal, we will have the further option of filing a lawsuit.

What do we urgently need?

Over the next 30 days we have an opportunity to convince the governor's office and DTSC of the wisdom of reversing their decision. Write a letter today to Governor Gray Davis, Attn: Lynn Schenk, Chief of Staff, State Capitol Bldg., Sacramento, CA 95814. The fax for Ms. Schenk is (916) 445-4633. She may be reached by phone at (916) 445-2841.

AVLIS Shuts Down

by Rene' Steinhauer
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

After 26 years and $2 billion dollars of the taxpayers' money, the Flash Gordon ray-styled Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (AVLIS) project, conducted in the main at Livermore Lab, is shutting down. The idea began as a method to heat uranium ore to a vapor state, and then shoot toxic-dyed laser beams through it as a way to separate the isotopes to produce the slightly more-potent, uranium 235-enriched fuel that is used in nuclear reactors.

Tri-Valley CAREs sued the Dept. of Energy in the early 1990s to obtain an Environmental Impact Statement on the AVLIS demonstration plant at the Lab. During the course of the lawsuit, the original operation was privatized and transferred in 1992, under the Energy Policy Act, to the newly-formed United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). While AVLIS was still very heavily subsidized by DOE--a situation that remained true at least until USEC went public with its stock offering last year--the court ruled that our suit was moot. No EIS was performed on AVLIS, a troubling situation due to its toxic emissions and wastes.

Environmental effects aside, AVLIS was a financial drain--since last July alone, USEC spent about $100 million (about $10 million per month) on the program.

Despite known technical problems, USEC began selling stock last year; at one point as high as $16 per share, then dropping to $10.25 by last May after a "disappointing" first quarter earnings report. This is one more proof that advanced nuclear technology is not the path for "smart money" investors! Still, USEC plans to investigate other technologies to enrich uranium to fuel-grade.

One hope now is that the Lab's other big boondoggle laser project, NIF, will suffer the same fate. DOE, not being a private company, however, is eager to keep spending money as long as it can.

Citizen's Alerts (Calendar)

from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Saturday, July 10
Abolition 2000 Northern California
9:30 AM - 4 PM, Monan's Rill,
between Santa Rosa and St. Helena
(707) 538-1502 for directions
(925) 443-7148 for more information

Abolition 2000 Northern California is made up of individuals and organizations working together to eliminate nuclear weapons. Building on the principles of the global Abolition 2000 movement, we meet quarterly to swap stories, inspire and support one another and carry out action plans to stop nuclear weapons in our region.

Thursday, July 15
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 South Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Together we will share, discuss and accomplish great things. Come and hear the latest on our challenge to the Lab's new nuclear waste treatment facility. Get up to the minute scoop on security and other scandals at DOE. Share plans for Hiroshima Day. Learn more about the National Ignition Facility and why it endangers the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Bring your ideas for stopping NIF and converting Livermore Lab to peaceful purposes.

Friday, July 16
National Call-in Day:
Support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stop the DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship" program
Senate Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

The World's first nuclear test was detonated on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. This July 16, we ask you to call our California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and ask them to do two things: (1) press for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which has been stalled in the Senate for two years now, and (2) end the $4.5 billion annual funding for the Dept. of Energy's "Stockpile Stewardship" program, including the National Ignition Facility at Livermore Lab. Speak with each Senator's defense aide, if possible. Be sure to give your name and address so the Senator knows you are a constituent. Call us at (925) 443-7148 if you want more information.

Thursday, August 5
Pizza and a Movie
"Test Anxiety: Should America Ratify the CTBT?"
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' offices
2582 Old First Street, Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Come and see this video on the CTBT, produced by the Center for Defense Information. Pizza and sharing our CTBT organizing stories from over the years will top off the evening.

Friday, August 6
"End the Nuclear Threat"
Hiroshima Commemoration and Demonstration at Livermore Lab
2:30 PM, East Ave. & Vasco Rd.
(925) 443-7148 or (510) 832-4347

This is a time to look back in sadness and horror at the dropping of the atomic bomb and say, "never again." It is also a time to look forward to the day when all nuclear weapons are abolished. There will be speakers, entertainment, banners and art. We will be joined by participants of "bikesummer."

Saturday, August 28
Tri-Valley CAREs' strategic planning
9:30 - 4:30, San Damiano's retreat center, Top of Highland Dr., Danville
(925) 443-4372 to sign up

This is a very special retreat for Tri-Valley CAREs' members, board and staff. We will look back at our accomplishments in 1998/99 and set our goals and priorities for the coming year. At last year's retreat we said we wanted to find comfortable space in downtown Livermore in which we could grow as an organization and become more fully integrated into the community. A task force was formed, and the perfect space was found! Many other wonderful things have happened as well. What heights shall our efforts lead us to in the new millennium?

Job Opportunity:
Match Avocation & Vocation at Tri-Valley CAREs
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tri-Valley CAREs' administrative assistant, Roxanne, is leaving soon for graduate school in Oregon. All of us have appreciated her wonderful contributions to the group, which began about two years ago with a student internship and grew from there.

We are seeking someone with initiative and great organization and communication skills to run the day to day operations of the office and provide support to staff, under the supervision of the executive director.

Typical duties include light typing, written correspondence, answering phones, tracking down information from the web and other sources, creating and maintaining office filing systems and assisting the public with use of our library, reports and other materials. Computer experience, writing ability and people skills are a must, light bookkeeping is a plus.

The administrative assistant position is currently 30 hours a week, but can be adjusted for the right applicant. Please mail us your resume' along with a writing sample and three references. Interviews will be conducted in August. Women, people of color, students with flexible schedules and peace-lovers are encouraged to apply.

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