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Citizens Watch Newsletter June 1999

Lab to Build Nuclear Waste Complex Without Environmental Review

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

Despite Livermore Lab's long history of toxic and radioactive spills, leaks, accidents and releases, the state of California has just given the Lab a green light to build a huge, new nuclear waste treatment complex in Livermore.

Further, the state regulatory agency, called the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), rebuffed Tri-Valley CAREs' request that it undertake a stringent, independent environmental review of the Livermore Lab's hazardous waste practices before making its decision. Our goal was two-fold: to ensure that the affected community had ample opportunity to be heard in the decision, and, equally important, to improve conditions at the Lab in order to protect workers, the public and the environment from additional contamination.

Instead, DTSC approved a permit for Livermore Lab to construct and operate a new hazardous and radioactive waste treatment complex, and to do it without undergoing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the appropriate review procedure for this type of state-level decision.

Specifically, on May 27, 1999, DTSC issued a final "Hazardous Waste Facility Permit," also referred to as a Part B permit, in essence giving its blessing to the nuclear waste facility, after conducting only a preliminary "Initial Study" on Livermore Lab's permit application. According to DTSC records, the Initial Study relied on an old 1992 Lab report - which had been done by the Dept. of Energy, the Lab's parent agency. On that flimsy, and hardly independent, basis, DTSC issued a "negative declaration," certifying that a new nuclear waste facility at the Lab could not possibly have a negative impact. The permit is a "federal equivalent," meaning DTSC, as the state agency, has the final authority.

Our "Watchdog" Efforts

Tri-Valley CAREs has been active on this issue since 1985, when we offered comments to the state at the first public meeting ever held on hazardous waste at Livermore Lab. Since that time, our research has uncovered numerous volumes' worth of evidence- showing the dangers, contamination incidents and worker injuries that have happened as a result of the Lab's waste treatment and storage operations. While our monitoring efforts have led Livermore to curtail certain practices, such as the use of a semi-trailer for dumping "unknown chemicals," many problems remain unresolved. These present and future health threats are why we must continue to insist that a comprehensive, independent review be performed before a new waste complex is built.

In 1997, Tri-Valley CAREs, with 40 of its members and friends, commented extensively on the Lab's proposed new waste facility. DTSC has now released its "Response to Comments" from that public hearing and comment period. We are in the process of studying the 170-page response document carefully, but some things stand out immediately. Nearly every member of the public offered clear and compelling reasons why DTSC should do an Environmental Impact Report before making a permit decision.

Shockingly, this DTSC response, found on page 7, is typical: "An EIR is not appropriate where an Initial Study has determined no significant impacts to the environment. It is speculative to assume that the management of hazardous waste in storage and treatment units will be a potential source of releases..."

Hardly. Tri-Valley CAREs members presented ample evidence that DTSC should consider just such a situation. Our testimonies listed dozens of recent accidents involving hazardous or radioactive wastes, including: an underground tank leak sending radioactive tritium into the soil and groundwater; a worker who lost part of his thumb when doctors extracted a sliver of plutonium; two workers who were contaminated with tritium while packaging radioactive wastes; three workers contaminated during a filter shredding operation, including one who received internal contamination; twenty five workers who had to be evacuated when a waste bulking operation resulted in reddish fumes filling the room; fourteen hazardous releases above wastewater permit levels to the City's sewage treatment plant over a one year period, and on and on.

DTSC responded that, "these accidents do not support a fair argument that significant impacts to the environment may occur from the permitting of the specific hazardous waste management facilities covered by the Part B Permit" (page 69). The state comes very close to saying the accidents would have had to occur in a facility that hasn't been built yet in order for them to be deemed relevant.

Specifically regarding the filter shredding accident, DTSC says: "The shredder involved in this occurrence has been taken out of service because it was heavily contaminated with radioactivity. A new shredder will be installed as part of the Project." (page 73). DTSC misses the point, here.

In the end, DTSC made only a few changes in the permit language to address what are truly major problems.

What the Permit Allows

According the "Hazardous Waste Facility Permit" signed by DTSC, Livermore Lab will be able to store up to 808,000 gallons of hazardous and radioactive mixed waste on-site at any given time (page 12). Further, Livermore would be allowed to build new facilities and "treat" about 300,000 pounds of solid and 400,000 gallons of liquid hazardous and radioactive mixed waste each year of operation (Table 1).

The permit's Table 2, "Typical Waste Streams," includes: radioactive acidic rinse waters, radioactive halogenated solvents, scrap metals with transuranic (plutonium) activity, highly dissolved solids from cleanup of chemical spills and leaky drums, and so on in a list that goes on for 13 pages.

Typical treatment facilities, according to the permit, will include such things as: Solidification Unit, Shredding Unit, Centrifuge Unit, Freezer Unit, Roll-Off Bin, Tank Farm, Reactive Waste Processing, Pressure Reactor, Water Reactor, Amalgamation Reactor and Uranium Bleaching Unit, among others.

The new Waste Treatment Facility will be built just north of the National Ignition Facility construction site, near Greenville Road, and will involve about a dozen buildings, storage pads etc.

The DTSC permit covers hazardous and mixed radioactive wastes caused by Lab operations. Livermore Lab also generates "purely" radioactive wastes that are not counted in the numbers listed above because they are regulated by the Dept. of Energy, and not by the state. DTSC, in its public statement, notes that the Lab has been generating these wastes for years. While true, the state again begs the point.

The Lab's history of problems, combined with the continuing dangers, should compel DTSC to conduct additional environmental review, not reward bad practice with a permit!

Tri-Valley CAREs is evaluating its next course of action. If you are interested in helping - whether you can hand out leaflets, use a law library or offer financial support - call Marylia at (925) 443-7148.

Newly Discovered Accidents Give Lie to Lab Safety Claims

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

Just as our California state regulators hand Livermore Lab the go-ahead to construct a major, new nuclear waste treatment and storage facility, Tri-Valley CAREs has discovered two previously unpublicized accidents, both involving violations of regulations governing the handling of hazardous wastes. These accidents belie the state's claim that everything is safe at the Lab, and that, therefore, giving the Lab a final permit without doing an environmental report is all right. (See related story -- Lab to Build Nuclear Waste Complex -- also in this month's newsletter.)

We believe these incidents further demonstrate the presence of ongoing problems at the Lab and underscore our call for an Environmental Impact Report.

The first accident came to our attention when we received the May 6, 1999 issue of Operating Experience Weekly Summary, (published by the Dept. of Energy's Office of Nuclear and Facility Safety). The section titled "Final Report - Chemist Receives Chemical Burns When Container Overpressures and Ruptures," outlines the incident. To quote directly from the report:

"On April 1, 1998, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a chemist received chemical burns to his head when a plastic bottle ruptured and sprayed its contents on him and throughout the hazardous waste radiological laboratory he was working in. The injured chemist was one of two chemists assigned to work on the samples. The previous day, they began mineral acid digestion of six oil samples. While these samples were in the initial stages of digestion, the chemists realized that they had already been analyzed.

"One of the chemists added the samples to a transient waste collection bottle for disposal. This bottle was an empty hydrogen peroxide bottle that was being used to collect spent acids at the work station... The next morning, one of the chemists entered the laboratory, noticed that the bottle was bulging, and heard it hissing. Before he could react, the bottle ruptured.

"Some of the contents of the bottle splashed on the chemist... The chemist washed the acid mixture off his face in the men's restroom. He did not use the safety shower in the room he was working in because the room was filled with acid vapors... Medical personnel noted that some acid mixture was still in his hair, so they shampooed and showered him, treating the chemical burns, and released him..."

The chemical burns resulted in what the report termed "12 restricted work days" for the injured employee. Lab investigators determined that the direct cause of the accident was the inappropriate storage of the acid mixture, and that gas generation caused the container to pressurize and rupture. Further, the DOE report cited deficiencies in worker training, and stated the root cause of the accident was the failure of the Lab to follow proper procedures for waste disposal.

The second accident was caused when the Lab mislabeled hazardous wastes, an all too frequent occurrence. According to an internal Livermore Lab memo dated March 15, 1999, two containers in storage at the Lab's Hazardous Waste Material Area last June were both issued an identical container number, W131763.

One container was filled with a federally-listed hazardous waste and the other with a different, not federally-listed, waste. According to the memo, the two containers were accidentally combined via a bulking process into a roll-off bin. The federally-listed hazardous waste (now mixed with other waste) was then mistakenly sent to a disposal facility where it was placed into a landfill without treatment.

The pre-bulking concentrations of lead and chromium in the federally-listed waste exceeded both hazardous waste limits and land disposal restriction (LDR) treatment standards, according to the memo. However, when the container number duplication was detected eight month later, the Lab recalculated the concentrations based on the total weight of solid waste in the roll-off bin and found them in aggregate to be below LDR treatment standards.

On March 5, 1999, Livermore Lab held a management meeting to review this event. To quote the memo, "Upon review, the consensus of upper management and legal counsel regarding the inadvertent and inappropriate consolidation was that no further notifications are required or warranted." Thus, the Lab management intentionally failed to notify regulatory agencies or the public of the mixing incident, or of their improper disposal of hazardous waste.

These kinds of accidents at Livermore Lab, and management's resulting attempts to cover them up, are not isolated incidents. Instead, they are sadly familiar. Workers are hurt, the environment is polluted, and the community is continually at risk.

On the Job: Three Reports From DC

by Janis Kate, Rene' Steinhauer and Joanne Dean-Freemire
from Tri-Valley CAREs' June 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Rene' Steinhauer, Paul Carroll, Marylia Kelley, Joanne Dean-Freemire, Francis Macy and Janis Kate represented Tri-Valley CAREs at the annual Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) "DC Days" from April 25 - 28. Last month's Citizen's Watch discussed some of the issues we presented to decision-makers: stopping the National Ignition Facility, cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, and taking nuclear weapons off alert status, to name just three. Here, several of the team members reflect on their experiences from a more personal perspective.

Janis' tale:

On that first Sunday, during the training session, I saw the map of the United States with all the DOE sites and affected communities listed. I had seen that map before, but being together with 70 wonderful people who are from all those places on the map -- it really came home to me. I loved ANA and what it stands for, and I'm proud that Tri-Valley CAREs is a member. This was my first time going to "DC Days." I found that Congressional offices are aware of Tri-Valley CAREs' work. Several staffers mentioned they read the newsletter. A highlight for me was when our Representative, Ellen Tauscher, said she relies on Tri-Valley CAREs to monitor the Lab, and to provide her with information.

Rene's impressions:

I have been to DC several times in the past, mainly on business. To go this time as a representative of Tri-Valley CAREs was humbling and, at the same time, inspirational and refreshing. As an organization, we at Tri-Valley CAREs rightly struggle with government agencies, in particular the DOE and DoD. Still, I believe there is an implicit fairness in the country that can be cultivated by us and brought to bear on disarmament and other issues. This strikes all the more home to me as a foreign-born resident who became a U.S. citizen in the mid-60s. That step was a deliberate choice and despite the ups and downs since, I am not disappointed. Therefore, it was a special pilgrimage for me to be in DC making these visits.

I would like to mention one particular meeting -- with Rep. Ellen Tauscher. During our meeting, there was constant pressure regarding scheduled votes on different Kosovo bills. Tauscher made a point to be present with us, to listen to our views and to commit to carrying out certain requests we made. She had the integrity to indicate where she disagreed with us, and made her points strongly, forcefully, bluntly. It is clear we have differences of opinions. But, over the years, I have been "schmoozed" by a lot of officials, and I prefer Tauscher's brand of honesty.

Joanne's report:

I felt we had our best successes where our agenda intersected with legislators' areas of interest. Some who were concerned about potentially stolen weapons codes could begin to see the danger in the National Ignition Facility, since data from its experiments will enhance nuclear weapons codes, will likely leak to other nations through various means, and may well lead to the development of advanced new weapons concepts.

I have attended "DC Days" before, and I always enjoy it. The high point of my 1999 experience was meeting Representative Ed Markey, who is sponsoring a Congressional Resolution to stop the DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship" program. I feel very strongly that Markey's Resolution is important. The meeting with our Congresswoman had highs and lows. Ellen Tauscher is very supportive of Livermore Lab cleanup efforts, but continues to feel NIF is needed to satisfy Congressional "hawks."

Stay tuned. Next month, space permitting, Marylia Kelley will report on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting, held in May at the United Nations, which she attended on the group's behalf following on the heels of her "DC Days" experiences. Tri-Valley CAREs is "on the job."

On the Job: A Report From the Hague

by Sally Light
from Tri-Valley CAREs' June 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

While NATO's bombs were falling on Yugoslavia, about 9,000 people from around the globe attended the Hague Appeal for Peace (HAP), May 10-17, in the Netherlands, a NATO member nation. Ironically, just across the courtyard from HAP, the UN World Court was simultaneously hearing opening arguments by Yugoslavia as to why the bombing violates international law. Many of us at the HAP felt a grave responsibility as peace delegates to address the war, and to denounce all of its forms of violence. We hoped that, while at the HAP, we could make a statement by holding a demonstration. Our peaceful yet strong rally did take place but unfortunately, with the chaos of multiple panels and sessions, not all of the delegates got the message in time to participate.

It was an intense week of more than 400 planned workshops, panels and cultural events, as well as a multitude of last-minute events. I saw many familiar faces including some from the Bay Area, and was also glad to meet many international activists I'd only known before via e-mail. Copies of our book on Livermore Lab's National Ignition Facility were very popular -- all those I brought were gone within 3 days!

The international petition prepared by myself and two colleagues (from the U.S. and France), opposing both NIF and the French Laser Megajoule, was also well received. Additionally, I spoke about NIF on a panel devoted to stopping the modernization of nuclear weapons. (The petition is on our web site at, please download, sign and circulate.)

I also attended the annual meeting of Abolition 2000, the global movement to eliminate nuclear weapons, of which Tri-Valley CAREs is a co-founder. The day after HAP ended, I and 500 others walked together from The Hague to Delft (about 10 miles) on the first leg of the great Abolition 2000 peace march organized by For Mother Earth (from Belgium). This was a favorite part of my trip, as we were able to mix and mingle while walking along. We were accompanied by two Dutch mounted policemen riding large, beautiful horses -- a breed specific to Holland. I amused myself by imagining this kind of police security at Bay Area demonstrations!

The peace march then proceeded to the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, some 200 miles away. Although I had to say good-bye at Delft, at least the cloth and bamboo flag I had made continued on with the marchers.

Citizen's Alerts - Calendar

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

Saturday, June 12
Livermore Rodeo Parade
9 AM (approx.), downtown Livermore
Call Rene' for details, (925) 443-7148

Tri-Valley CAREs is seeking volunteers to help with our giant puppet, hand out leaflets, etc. in the annual Livermore Parade. Our theme focuses on the plutonium found in city parks, and on our desire for a healthy community and environment. Kids are welcome to participate, as are parents and other adults! Our community organizer, Rene' Steinhauer, will be delighted to hear from you. Call him at (925) 443-7148 for details; they are still being confirmed as we go to press.

Thursday, June 17
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore main library
1000 So. Livermore Ave. (at Pacific)
(925) 443-7148 for details

Let us personally invite you to a Tri-Valley CAREs meeting. New folks and long-term members are welcome. You will learn what's going on at the Livermore Lab that affects your life and your world, and what you can do to help create positive change. This June meeting will update you on the Lab's permit for a new Waste Treatment Facility, as well as the National Ignition Facility and other priority topics. If you have ideas for the Aug. 6th Hiroshima commemoration or our other projects, bring them to the meeting to share.

Thursday, July 1
Tri-Valley CAREs
"Pizza and a Movie" party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Join us for some informal, lively conversation on nuclear issues. Oh yes, and have some pizza, too. Vern Brechin will show a newly released film on underground nuclear tests -- detonated in five states. Vern assisted the filmmakers in preparing this documentary.

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