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Citizens Watch Newsletter March 2004

Request to Congress: More Money, More Nukes, More Pollution

by Tara Dorabji
from the Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Department of Energy (DOE) budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2005 funds dangerous new nuclear weapons programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and throughout the DOE complex. In a nutshell, the budget request adds another layer of fat to an already-bloated infrastructure for nuclear weapons development - and creates more nuclear waste at already-contaminated sites. The budget requests $6.6 billion for nuclear weapons activities, an increase of $335 million over the 2004 appropriation.

The Bush Administration's proposal to increase nuclear weapons spending in fiscal year 2005 dismayed many, including some conservatives like Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio). "With all the proliferation threats we now face with countries like Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, are we really sending the right signal to those countries and the rest of the world when we embark on nuclear weapons initiatives?" Hobson asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Feb. 12 hearing.

Some of the most dangerous new weapons plans, if funded, will be carried out at LLNL. This includes research on high-yield nuclear "bunker busting" bombs, on low-yield, so-called mini-nukes and on new technologies to produce plutonium bomb cores (called pits) for a wide variety of weapon types.

The DOE budget request includes $28 million in 2005 for a new, "bunker busting" bomb, called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). In 2004, the DOE funding request for RNEP was $15 million, which Congress cut in half. In response to the increased funding requested in 2005, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Livermore) said: "That's a waste of money on a weapon the military has not asked for, is of highly questionable utility, and will undoubtedly start a new global nuclear arms race."

Scientists an LLNL and Los Alamos have been "competing" to develop the RNEP, with each lab choosing its preferred design. The 2005 budget request reveals that $485 million is projected to be spent developing RNEP over the next 5 years. That is, unless we act to stop it!

The potential for a new global arms race is further stoked by a Congressional vote in 2004 that overturned the ban on mini-nukes, defined as nuclear weapons with yields of less than 5 kilotons. The DOE's 2005 budget request jumps on that new weapons development opportunity, asking for $9 million to fund "advanced concepts teams." These teams are dedicated to the research and development of mini-nukes.

There is $336 million overall for DOE's Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign. This budget line supports the production of "replacement" plutonium pits at Los Alamos Lab for the W88, a submarine-launched nuclear weapon.

In addition, the 2005 budget would give LLNL funds to dabble in new pit manufacturing techniques; that is, new methods to make the plutonium metal cores for nuclear bombs. DOE's 2005 request includes $51 million for the Modern Pit Facility (MPF) and Pit Manufacturing Capability. This compares to a $21 million appropriation in 2004 and $5 million in 2003. Livermore Lab is slated to get the lion's share of the Modern Pit Facility money in 2005. (Please see the enclosed insert for more information on plutonium plans at LLNL.)

The funding for LLNL to conduct extensive plutonium pit manufacturing activities stands in shocking contrast to DOE's announcement a scant month ago that it has indefinitely postponed plans to move ahead with the Modern Pit Facility, including the decision on where to locate it. (See the Feb. 2004 Citizen's Watch for details on the MPF.)

Again, we see how funding at the DOE weapons labs, namely LLNL, underlies and promotes the entire nuclear weapons cycle. In this case, the 2005 MPF money at LLNL would go toward working the bugs out of new, experimental plutonium pit production technologies that, once developed, will then drive a renewed effort by DOE to site and construct the full-scale bomb plant. The Modern Pit Facility (also known as the new Rocky Flats), if completed, could run enough shifts to produce up to 900 plutonium pits a year, bringing the U.S. back to cold war production rates. Stopping the activities at LLNL that enable the MPF must become a national priority for peace and environmental groups this year.

At LLNL alone, the DOE fiscal year 2005 budget request contains $963 million to conduct nuclear weapons development activities.

The DOE budget request also includes $30 million for "enhanced" readiness to conduct full-scale nuclear tests. The budget request explicitly ties the money to a DOE initiative to reduce the time frame for the weapons labs to conduct a full-scale nuclear test underground in Nevada from the current two to three years to 18 months, putting the U.S. on a "slippery slope" to a return to testing.

A boost in spending is proposed in 2005 for the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump, located adjacent to the Nevada Test Site (both of which sit on Western Shoshone ancestral lands). This funding increase comes despite growing scientific criticism of the Yucca Mountain dump and the fact it has yet to obtain licensing approval.

As the DOE ramps up its nuclear weapons programs, it continues to play games with its cleanup funds. The DOE claims that its 2005 funding request to clean up the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons is "up." In reality, the "increase" masks a "slush fund" that withholds $350 million pending approval of a controversial scheme to let DOE walk away from its contaminated sites in the coming years - leaving vast amounts of toxic and radioactive pollution in the environment.

Locally, the LLNL main site and site 300 cleanup budgets have not been cut in the 2005 request. However, the DOE "Risk-Based End States" approach to cleanup, if implemented, will dramatically reduce cleanup levels at LLNL, just as it will around the country.

The proposed increase in DOE nuclear weapons activities and long-term plans to walk away from cleanup at LLNL and other sites may spark a contentious budget battle in Congress this spring and summer (we hope!). A delegation of eleven Tri-Valley CAREs members will travel to Washington DC in late March to participate in "DC Days" - and we will demand an end to these destabilizing nuclear weapons programs. Stay tuned for more news when we return!

Next month's Citizen's Watch will feature an in-depth analysis of DOE's weapons budget by Dr. Robert Civiak, a former White House Budget Examiner. [Webmaster note - the full analysis is also posted here on our web site in PDF format.]

Contamination at Pit 7 - Public Meeting

by Inga Olson
from the Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

What: Public Workshop on Contamination at the Livermore Lab Site 300 Pit 7 Complex

When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 18th, 2004

Where: Tracy Community Center, 300 East 10th Street

Who: Presentation by DOE/LLNL on Superfund Plans for Cleanup of Radioactive and Toxic Pollution at the Pit 7 Complex; Additional Commentary by Tri-Valley CAREs

Why: Opportunity for the community obtain information and to insist on an adequate cleanup

Located at the Livermore Lab's site 300 in Tracy, the Pit 7 Complex encompasses over 3,200 acres and has operated since 1955 for use in weapons explosives experiments on seven outdoor gravel-covered firing tables. Firing tables are where nuclear bomb prototypes were (and still are) detonated, using materials like Uranium 238 in place of the plutonium cores.

Primary contaminants of concern include radioactive tritium, PCBs, Furans and Dioxins, Uranium 238 and high explosives compounds. It was reported that 22,670 curies of tritium were used at site 300. One curie equals 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second. Livermore Lab has identified 12 pollution release sites within the Pit 7 Complex.

The major areas of contamination include: three separate groundwater tritium plumes, three separate groundwater Uranium 238 plumes, three firing tables with contaminated surface soil, two springs, and ten areas of subsurface soil contamination. Recent studies indicate the entire Pit 7 Complex has surface soil contamination. Maximum concentrations of tritium were measured at 2 million picocuries per liter of groundwater. The Safe Drinking Water Act sets the Maximum Contaminant Level at 20,000 pCi/L, which is 100 times lower than the tritium pollution at site 300.

The massive pollution at the Pit 7 Complex has made it a focus of Tri-Valley CAREs' efforts to obtain an adequate cleanup of site 300. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen and is used in thermonuclear or H-bombs. Tritium in liquid phase (as is the case in the site 300 groundwater) is, basically, radioactive water. If ingested, it will behave like water in the body, essentially permeating every cell.

There are several leaking pits in this complex, and so far, after years of study and debate, nothing has been done to either stop the leaks or to halt the migration of the contaminated groundwater plume. For example, within the Pit 7 Complex are Pits 3 and 5 where tritium was released in the early 1980's due to a rise in the water table that saturated the landfills and washed radioactive tritium into the groundwater aquifer. This area is re-contaminated during rainy years. As a result, the tritium plume there is two-miles long and still spreading.

The Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for Pit 7 (called the RI/FS) will be a major topic at this public meeting. The RI/FS document should be made to adequately characterize the site and present options for cleaning it up.

Major issues at the Pit 7 Complex yet to be resolved include:

  • Will the tritium plumes be allowed to expand? What steps can be taken to halt them?
  • To what extent will computer modeling be relied on in view of the complex geology and hydrology of site 300?
  • What level of cleanup will be negotiated?
  • How will the influx of money and expanded weapons work at site 300 impact the environment, employee health, and Tracy's drinking and irrigation water?

The March meeting will review the Pit 7 Complex RI/FS that is required by the Superfund Cleanup Act. Although DOE previously prepared draft plans for this area, after many halts and starts, it decided to go back to the drawing board to study the area anew. Site 300 near Tracy, like the main site in Livermore, is a Superfund cleanup site, meaning that it is one of the most contaminated locations in our nation.

Give us a call at Tri-Valley CAREs to get more information or to obtain a copy of our talking points for this March 18 public workshop. See you there!

Nuclear Whistleblower to be Released

by Ann Seitz
from the Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

We received a recent letter from Ashkelon Prison, Israel. "I hope I can visit you (in Livermore) soon," it said. Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician serving time in prison for blowing the whistle on his government's secret nuclear weapons program, penned these words. A prisoner of conscience for 18 years, Vanunu's release is scheduled for April 21, 2004.

His letter goes on: "Even here I have news of a demonstration near Livermore Laboratory, a nuclear weapons industry, and I saw photos with my brother Meir on Hiroshima Day. I want to be there to contribute to our mission to abolish nuclear weapons and counteract G. Bush, who began again the nuclear weapons race with his huge budget for research and building."

Vanunu, repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the recipient of the Nuclear Free Future Award, is one of 11 children of Moroccan Jewish parents who immigrated to Israel in 1963, when he was 9 years old. Vanunu served in the Israeli army and then went to work as a young man in the Dimona nuclear "research center" in the Negev Desert near his home at Beersheba. The facility harbored an underground plutonium separation plant operated in strictest secrecy. As the years went by, Vanunu grew increasingly troubled as he realized his work was part of Israel's nuclear bomb program. In 1985, before leaving Dimona, he took photographs inside the factory in order to document the truth.

Vanunu's discoveries, published October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power. Despite the years of isolation in prison, Vanunu remains steadfast in his belief that what he did was necessary and right. His writings from prison include these lines from his prose I Am Your Spy: "I am doing my duty." And, "I have no choice... I've heard the voice of my conscience, and there is nowhere to hide."

Will Israel's nuclear whistleblower's imprisonment be extended by "administrative detention?" Will Vanunu be permitted to leave Israel? Will he be allowed to fulfill his wishes to "get married," or "teach history," and "lead a quiet life at first"?

On Wednesday, April 21 a celebration vigil or protest -- depending on the outcome of Vanunu's pending release -- will be held at the corner of Powell and Market Streets in San Francisco. Call Jeanie Shaterian at 510-548-3048 for vigil directions. For other details contact Felice Cohen-Joppa by email: or by calling 520-323-8697.

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