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Citizens Watch Newsletter March 2000

Missile "Defense" Puts the United States, Whole World at Risk

by Rene' Steinhauer
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

It's baaack! After a series of projects -- and project names -- the same tired, tax-eating, failure-ridden proposal comes up again. It started with Reagan's "Star Wars" (or SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative), sold vigorously to the president by Edward Teller, co-founder of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Afterwards, along the way, we've had Brilliant Pebbles, THAAD (the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system), and now, NMD (a National Missile Defense system, utilizing rockets as "smart rocks"). These projects have all had the same objective: to intercept and destroy incoming nuclear ballistic missiles in mid-flight, but their operational scope has evolved.

Originally, under Star Wars, the project was conceived as a defense against a barrage of superpower-launched intercontinental missiles. But starting even further back, there exists in the Anti-Ballistic Missile or ABM Treaty, a mutual agreement not to create "defensive" nuclear weapon rings around key sites in Russia and the U.S. The underlying concept was that if the major cities of either nation believed they could make themselves invulnerable to retaliation by building protective systems around them, then that nation might feel "safe" enough to launch a nuclear attack against its enemies: a very tempting and dangerous state- of-mind!

But the reality of the presence of "holes" in any such defense system ensured that any one country that launched an attack against the other could still, in fact, be annihilated in retribution. That is part of what the ABM Treaty (signed by Nixon in May 1972) is about.

In consequence of the ABM Treaty, over subsequent years, other treaties have followed, among them the Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe Treaty (INF), START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). All of these agreements were based in part upon the strategic stability provided by the ABM Treaty. Further, the negotiations leading to the START II agreement were also predicated, in part, on the ABM Treaty, and thus the U.S. pursuit of a missile defense system is one key reason that treaty's ratification is stalled in the Russian Duma.

National Missile Defense Today

That is how we arrive at the NMD: at present, a dead-weight 55-inch long, 120-pound, non-explosive defensive "kill vehicle" missile that is carried aloft by a booster rocket, then crashes head-on with an incoming aggressor missile, resulting (theoretically) in the total pulverization of both. That is why it is called a "smart rock," and conceptually, it involves something that not even the old western movies ever tried to sell to the public: blasting in mid-air the bad man's bullet headed for the hero with the hero's own bullet!

In light of the October, 1999 "success" of one such test, John Pike, of the Federation of American Scientists, has said: "What they've done is the equivalent of shooting a hole-in-one. What they have to be able to do is shoot a hole-in-one every time."

The reality of a 100% continued accuracy, of course, is uninsurable, so the October 1999 "success" proves little - especially in light of the fact that a second test in January 2000 was a failure!

For the one "successful" interception of an unarmed missile last year, the warhead mock-up was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast and headed in a westerly direction across the Pacific toward the Marshall Islands into a missile test range some 4,200 miles distant. The intercepting NMD "kill vehicle" was launched from a Kwajalein island silo, in a eastward direction. If the intercept failed, both missiles would fall into the ocean.

Some critics have claimed that the October NMD test was an oversimplified demonstration because (1) the incoming missile was moving slowly and was easy to find and destroy, and (2) the interceptor knew in advance when and where the aggressor launch would take place, so that the detection system of radar and related equipment (at the "Battle Management Center") would not have to first detect the launching or rising activity, determine the nature of the object seen, plot the parabolic path and destination and thus calculate the target interception point, etc.

In any event, that test was only the first of three such tests that must be conducted before the Pentagon prepares a "readiness review" sometime in Summer 2000, which would give the green light to proceed with broader testing. The actual recommendation would come first from Secretary of Defense William Cohen, but President Clinton must make the final decision.

As a first stage of development, 100 such interceptors would be built at a cost of around $13 billion (without counting the research and testing costs thus far) by 2005 (at the earliest), with the reservation of building another 100 at some later date.

However, two of three preliminary tests must result in the successful interception to go on to that next stage. It is therefore of interest that, most recently, in January, the second such test failed.

According to the Washington Post, investigators have determined that the January test, which cost taxpayers $100 million, was foiled by a plumbing leak.

Apparently, a rupture occurred in a small metal tube designed to carry nitrogen gas to refrigerate a pair of infrared sensor panels in the interceptor. The sensors are supposed to serve as the interceptor's eyes, picking out heat signatures and other identifying features coming from a missile. With the sensors out of commission, the interceptor was essentially blind. Or to put it another way, the "smart rock" wasn't.

This coming April, the "tie-breaker" test is scheduled.

Meanwhile, many of the world's nations are nervous about U.S. plans, including a number of European countries considered traditional allies of the U.S. Recently, Russia and China took the position that such tests violate the ABM Treaty and introduced a resolution in the U.N. before the Arms Control Committee of the General Assembly calling upon the U.S. and Russia to abide strictly by the ABM Treaty. It passed by a 54 - 7 vote.

It is clear the Russians are not likely to agree to ABM Treaty revisions involving changes in every substantive article, so moving forward with current policy pushes the U.S. toward the eventual abrogation of that pact.

Thus, NMD will mean the death of one treaty and the potential unraveling of subsequent arms control treaties. It will chill START II to glacial temperatures in the Duma, and would likely prevent the negotiation of START III altogether. NMD could mean a return to an unlimited arms race, again.

The Department of Energy Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Request for Nuclear Weapons Activities

Click here to "follow the money," a special insert from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch.

  • Did you know that the "Stockpile Stewardship" budget is going up -- again?

  • Did you know that only 10% of the money will be used for evaluation and maintenance of the nuclear arsenal?

  • Want to know what new weapons activities the other 90% will buy?

Wait no more.

We offer you a special analysis of the DOE budget, written for Tri-Valley CAREs by Dr. Robert Civiak, formerly a Program Examiner in the federal Office of Management and Budget.

Public Hearing on Site 300 Toxic Cleanup

by Sally Light
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

An important public hearing on cleanup of pollution at Livermore Lab's site 300 will be held on Thursday, May 4, beginning at 6 PM at the Community Center, 300 East 10th Street in Tracy. Site 300's cleanup plan is being developed under the federal "Superfund" law, due to the site's placement in 1990 on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List of most contaminated areas in the nation.

Site 300 encompasses 11 square miles in the Altamont Hills between Livermore and Tracy. Surrounded by open space used primarily for ranching and recreation, site 300 has been utilized since 1955 by the Lab to process and test various high explosives, mainly used in nuclear weapons, and to conduct surrogate nuclear detonations, including blasts that involve radioactive materials. Over the years, there have been significant releases of contaminants into the soil and groundwater, including high explosive compounds like RDX, radioactive materials such as uranium and tritium (radioactive hydrogen), and volatile organic compounds, most often trichloroethene (TCE).

Tri-Valley CAREs has been monitoring site 300 cleanup activities with the help of its Technical Advisor, Peter Strauss. We have continually pressed for good cleanup practices at the site, and recently submitted comments to Livermore Lab on the initial version of the Draft Proposed Plan for site 300 remediation. Among our chief concerns is the tritium-contaminated groundwater plume that is nearly two miles long and is heading toward site 300's fence line. (We have summarized some of our comments for you elsewhere in this edition of Citizen's Watch. Please call us if you would like a copy of them in their entirety.)

The next step in the process will be the release on Monday, March 20, of the final version of the Draft Proposed Plan for site 300. Also, a public comment period will be announced. The May 4th public hearing -- which will be part of the public comment period -- is a very important part of the Superfund cleanup process. We urge you to come to this hearing and give the Lab input. Your ideas, thoughts and concerns about the cleanup of site 300 have value!

Tri-Valley CAREs will have "talking points" available at the hearing to aid those making comments, but we also encourage folks to read the Plan. Copies will be available at the Livermore Lab Visitor Center, Livermore Library, etc. Tri-Valley CAREs also has published its own "Community Guide to Site 300," a general background guide written in understandable, non-technical language. Call us.

Toward Ensuring the Cleanup of Site 300

by Peter Strauss, Sally Light and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

We offer the following comments on the Livermore Lab's Proposed Plan for cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater at site 300 in order to help the Tracy community and other interested folks to better understand the issues and participate in decisions.

As mentioned in the article above, there will be an important public hearing on May 4th. The following eight points are excerpted from our longer comment document, which is available on request.

The cleanup plan and the methods to be used at the Lab's site 300 must include these eight elements -- or the remediation is likely to fail.

We believe:

1) The 2 mile-long radioactive tritium plume must not be allowed to migrate further and contaminate clean groundwater that could be used as drinking water,

2) The major sources of tritium in the unlined dump must be removed,

3) The Proposed Plan should set cleanup standards - otherwise the document will have no teeth,

4) The Proposed Plan should contain both a measurable schedule and performance standards by which the public can measure progress -- otherwise the community will have little meaningful control over the cleanup,

5) On the whole, residential standards should be used for site 300 -- to ensure that cleanup levels decided in 2000 will not dictate how this 11 square mile site will be used in the future,

6) Risk assessment is an imperfect science, and therefore, we advocate using the Precautionary Principle as well (i.e. when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause & effect relationships are not fully established scientifically),

7) Monitored natural attenuation (a.k.a., just watching the pollution) is not appropriate to consider for the unlined dumps at Pits 3 and 5 (the sites responsible for most of the tritium plume) unless and until the groundwater plume is first controlled at the source -- meaning that the pollution is not allowed to continue to increase and migrate in the groundwater, and

8) It is not appropriate to measure the exposure from a hypothetical point at the boundary of the site.

Community Acceptance Criteria: An Essential Part of the Cleanup

by Peter Strauss and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Livermore Lab's site 300 is being cleaned up under the "Superfund" law, which means that the federal EPA (in this case along with state agencies) must "sign off" on the Lab's cleanup plan. "Community Acceptance" is one of the benchmarks the EPA must use in making its decision. We offer the following as baseline criteria for that community acceptance. These points are also appropriate to bring up at the public hearing on May 4th.

  • Complete the cleanup project in a timely manner.

  • Cleanup levels should support multiple uses for the property.

  • Cleanup levels should be set to the strictest state and federal government levels.

  • Remedies that actively destroy contaminants are preferable.

  • Radioactive wastes and the tritium-polluted groundwater plume should be controlled immediately in order to prevent further releases to the environment.

  • Radioactive substances should be isolated from the environment.

  • The ecosystem should be protected and balanced against the cleanup remedies.

  • Decisions should not rely on computer modeling alone.

  • Additional site characterization is needed and therefore must be adequately included in budget planning.

  • A contingency plan should be completed and subject to public review.

  • The public should be involved in cleanup decisions.

  • Cleanup should be given priority over further weapons development.

The above-listed points are summarized from a fact sheet on Community Acceptance Criteria, available in Spanish or English. Call us if you would like one or more free copies.

Citizen's Alerts
The Community Calendar

March 1 - 8
Global Nuclear Abolition Days
Sponsored by Abolition 2000 groups around the world, including Tri-Valley CAREs
(925) 443-7148

Abolition 2000 has designated March 1 to 8, 2000 as Global Nuclear Abolition Days. March 1 is "Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Day," and is the anniversary of the Bikini nuclear test in the Pacific; March 5 is the 30th anniversary of the Non-Proliferation Treaty entry into force; and, March 8 is "International Women's Day." Help us commemorate these anniversaries by taking an action for nuclear disarmament. You choose the action you wish to take. Write a letter, call an elected official, talk to a neighbor about nuclear weapons, attend a protest, read that book about nukes that you have been meaning to get to - you decide.

Thursday, March 16
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore library
1000 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148

Calling all peace and environmental advocates. Join us for updates on nuclear issues. Meet new and old friends. Share ideas. Take action. Take heart. Together, we are making a difference.

Thursday, April 6
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., downtown Livermore
(925) 443-7148

Volunteers needed to prepare our next newsletter for mailing. Come and enjoy good conversation, munch on snacks and affix labels.

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