Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter May 2000

Aid Pledged to Sick Workers

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson pledged his Department would reverse over 50 years of denial that it caused injury, illness and death amongst its employees in U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and factories.

"Justice for nuclear weapons workers is finally happening. The government is, for a change, on their side," Richardson proclaimed in an April 12th press conference to announce his support for a new initiative to provide compensation to some current and former workers exposed to toxic and radioactive contaminants on the job.

Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels said workers at Livermore Lab suffered exposures to plutonium, tritium, beryllium and other deadly materials. These workers will be eligible to file claims, he said.

Admitting responsibility is an historic first step in the long journey of reparation, but there are serious limitations to the DOE compensation plan. Justice for workers and others made sick by the bomb-building enterprise remains a still-elusive glimmer.

The DOE proposes to grant only a small number of claims nationwide. Michaels estimated that 3,000 workers would be eligible. He said there are perhaps 1,500 workers with radiation-induced cancers, 750 cases of beryllium disease and 750 workers with other illnesses caused by their employment.

Despite pronouncements by Richardson and Michaels that their agency would no longer battle and belittle the workers' claims, it is worth noting that most of the injured will have to prove exposure to be eligible for compensation. That will present a difficult if not impossible hurdle for many.

In some cases the workers' medical records are missing, in others their files were altered after they became ill, leaving them without recourse to even the state-run workers compensation programs. A number of Livermore workers have spoken to us over the years about the "black holes" in the official records, where information about exposure goes in - but nothing comes out. We believe the problem to be widespread.

We also know of cases at Livermore and elsewhere where the workers were too intimidated to report the exposure to their supervisors. One contractor who experienced "flu-like symptoms" after becoming enveloped in toxic gas told us he was afraid of losing his job. If they become ill as a result of their exposures, these workers will likely not be able to get help.

DOE knows that this is a problem. Michaels said that the agency would take a sick worker's job description into account, but for most workers the burden of proof still falls heavily on their shoulders.

Even in cases where exposure was severe and demonstrable, the worker's eligibility hinges on whether he or she suffered the specific illness on the DOE list for that contaminant. For example, a worker exposed to beryllium dust who develops lung disease may be eligible, but the worker standing next to him suffering the same exposure will not receive any compensation if he becomes ill with cancer. While there is a strong correlation between beryllium exposure and cancer, that disease is not on the DOE list for that contaminant.

Moreover, the DOE initiative does not acknowledge or help the plight of nuclear plant neighbors, some of whom suffered exposures as high as the employees.

In Washington they call it the "Hanford mile," and many of its neighbors have developed cancers and other rare diseases. In Livermore, a study by the California state Department of Health Services found Lab workers suffered a 400% increased incidence of malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. The study correlated the increases in cancer with five workplace factors. In 1995, the state completed a thirty-year study of Livermore's young - and found that children who were born here suffered a 640% increase in malignant melanoma. Children who were merely moved here while young had a 240% increase. And the list goes on.

Under the Energy Department's plan, eligible workers, or their survivors, could receive a lump-sum payment of $100,000. In other cases, sick workers could get medical costs and lost wages, a package that could potentially exceed $100,000.

DOE estimated it would need $120 million annually for the first three years and then about $80 million a year after that. It is unclear as yet whether Congress will appropriate those modest dollars.

The good news is that some who were made sick may receive aid. As one ill worker, retired from Livermore Lab told us, "I'm dying. I want to know that my wife will have enough money to pay off my bills and to live."

The bad news is it is not enough. Not nearly enough.

If you or a family member may have a DOE job-related illness, you can call a new toll-free number set up by the Department at (877) 447-9756. (Webmaster note Feb. 2006: The Department of Labor is now overseeing the program, and this number has changed. The DOL toll free number for assistance with this program is 1-866-888-3322.) We at Tri-Valley CAREs are compiling a data base of residents and workers who believe their illnesses could be Lab related. Please call us at (925) 443-7148.

More Subcritical Nuclear Tests Planned

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

The Department of Energy (DOE) has detonated 11 underground subcritical nuclear tests at its Nevada Test Site (NTS) since the first such test in mid-1997. Tri-Valley CAREs, along with its colleague organizations, opposes these tests.

A subcritical test is not a full-scale nuclear test. Fissile materials such as plutonium are involved, but the nuclear chain reaction is halted before it becomes self-sustaining. Each subcritical test consists of high explosives being blown up along with plutonium, while sophisticated monitoring equipment records the detonation in great detail. The data gathered from the test are later fed into DOE's computers to update nuclear weapons computer codes.

While DOE claims that these tests are performed in the cause of maintaining the stockpile's "safety" and "reliability," Tri-Valley CAREs and others counter that the tests, which are part of DOE's Stockpile Stewardship program, are done to further the research and development of nuclear weapons.

Livermore Lab has prepared 7 of the 11 tests carried out so far (the other 4 were prepared by the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico). Livermore is currently completing a series of 16 subcritical tests code-named the Oboe series. Oboe 1 was detonated at NTS last year. Three Oboe tests have been performed so far in this fiscal year, and reportedly up to 5 more such tests are planned by the end of September, with the balance of the Oboe tests to be done in fiscal year 2001.

Located on beautiful desert land belonging to the Western Shoshone Nation, NTS is an island of pockmarked, radioactively-contaminated desolation caused by decades of U.S. nuclear weapons testing. The subcritical tests further degrade the environment. It was confirmed recently that plutonium from past explosions has been moving with the area's underground aquifer towards the NTS fence line.

Subcritical testing also has serious, negative international repercussions. Other nations see them as proof that the U.S. has no intention of complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even though the U.S. has signed it and has an obligation under the Treaty's Article VI to take steps to discontinue its nuclear weapons activities and to achieve nuclear disarmament


Subcritical tests also undermine the trust among nations needed to accomplish the sensitive international ratification now underway of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear weapons tests. The subcritical tests by DOE have been cited by some countries as an impediment to ratification of the CTBT.

U.S. tests have been answered by Russian subcritical tests. Russia has been conducting subcritical tests over the last two years. We and others have been warning the U.S. that such tests at NTS risk starting another nuclear arms race, or, at the very least, keep the competitive fires burning in the style of the Cold War. We see the responsive Russian subcritical tests as proof of that risk.

In the Bay Area, every time a subcritical test is performed, we local groups respond with an action at noon on the day of the test. The actions are in San Francisco at the international headquarters of the Bechtel Group, the corporation that holds a multi-billion dollar contract with DOE to operate NTS. These protests are part of an international response to the U.S. tests - actions also take place in Nevada, Japan, Australia and Europe.

Call us for more information -- or to be placed on the notification list for upcoming actions.

Local Activists Take Message to Washington, D.C.

by Marylia Kelley and Bob Schaeffer
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

A delegation of seven Tri-Valley CAREs members will visit Washington, D.C. from May 6 through May 10 to discuss issues of pressing concern to communities in the shadows of U.S. nuclear weapons plants with members of Congress and Clinton Administration officials.

While in Washington, the activists will meet with Senators and Representatives from California, leaders of Congressional committees that oversee nuclear issues, and key staffers. Additionally, the group's Executive Director, Marylia Kelley will meet with Deputy Secretary T.J. Glauthier and other top Department of Energy officials.

The Tri-Valley CAREs delegation will be working with colleagues from more than a dozen other states who are participating in the twelfth annual Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) "DC Days."

Tri-Valley CAREs and other ANA representatives will also meet with department heads at the Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Health and Human Services Department, and the White House, in addition to the Energy Department.

One objective of this year's "DC Days" will be to counter the state of denial so prevalent in our nation's capital about the dangers posed by the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. For, while DOE has recently proposed some assistance to sick workers who were contaminated by bomb-building activities, there is no plan to help the residents on the other side of the fence line who were exposed to the same contaminants.

Further, while some politicians are balking at paltry compensation for desperately ill workers and the widows of those who have died, they are boosting spending for weapons research and testing schemes, such as the National Ignition Facility at Livermore whose cost overruns and still-escalating price tag are a national scandal.

For Tri-Valley CAREs' member Jo Ann Frisch, this will be her second "DC Days" foray into the halls of power. "I am going in order to make policy-makers recognize that they must help all those who have been hurt by past nuclear weapons activities, clean up the Cold War legacy of poisons before even more people are hurt, and stop dangerous new nuclear weapons projects like NIF, which will generate even more radioactive wastes," she vowed.

Jo Ann and Marylia will be joined by our Board President Janis Kate Turner and long-time members Joanne Dean-Freemire, Ilene LaLand, Barbara Dyskant and our group's former intern - and computer guru - thirteen year-old Erek Dyskant.


by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Seven years after George Bush and Boris Yeltsin signed START II, the treaty was ratified by the Russian Duma on April 14.

During the past few years, ratification of the agreement had been stalled in Russia due to the U.S. bombings in Iraq and Yugoslavia as well as other behaviors.

The START II Treaty has already been ratified by the U.S. Senate. Once fully implemented by both countries, the agreement will reduce the number of strategic, long-range warheads to 3,000-3,500 on each side, down from the 6,000 allowed under START I.

The Duma's ratification vote is good news and a key step. Not surprisingly, however, the Duma conditioned its ratification on the maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which is in jeopardy because of U.S. plans to build a national missile defense system.

Moreover, it is true that even if the ratification process runs smoothly, changes in the U.S. arsenal will be minimal. Though deployed strategic weapons will be reduced to 3,500, the U.S. will maintain around 500 strategic spares, 1,000 tactical weapons, 2,500 weapons in its "reserve" force, and 2,500 weapons as part of a "hedge" force, ready to be reconstituted quickly if Russia engages in sudden aggressive behavior. Russia currently maintains around 20,000 nuclear weapons in active and inactive reserve, and uses a similar rationale to justify the high numbers.

These huge stockpile levels maintained by both nations run counter to disarmament obligations and pose many risks -- the risk of nuclear war by accident or by design, but also more subtle risks such the deleterious proliferation impacts of the continued legitimizing of nuclear weapons as instruments of foreign policy.

Russia, at least, followed its ratification vote on START II with a vote to also ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a move rejected last year by the U.S. Senate. Perhaps we can spark a treaty race? Are you listening, Senate? The Russians are ahead.

The New Agenda Coalition Plays a Lead Role at NPT Review Conference

excerpted from Mexico's statement
reprinted in Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) is a post-Cold War set of countries that has proposed a practical program for nuclear disarmament, including interim steps like taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. The NAC is made up of Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Egypt, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden. On April 24, Mexico formally presented NAC's Working Document on Nuclear Disarmament to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

To give you, our reader, a taste of both the diplomatic language and the deep frustration felt by many nations at the NPT Review Conference, we offer this excerpt from Mexico's presentation. Mexico introduces itself:

" address some issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation that we think are important to ensure that the purposes of the preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realized. ...The singular goal of the States Parties to the NPT is the total elimination of nuclear weapons. This requires bringing to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects, an imperative that was the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice.

"... Yet, in place of such determination we continue to witness re-statements of policies and postures which reaffirm the central role of nuclear weapons in strategic concepts and the possibility of fighting war with the use of nuclear weapons. In short, we are witnessing a re-rationalization of nuclear weapons in an age when the context which gave rise to the original proliferation of nuclear weapons among the five nuclear weapon states has long disappeared.

"... We are committed to this treaty. But no treaty can be upheld, if the bargain which originally gave rise to it is not being fulfilled. This is a critical moment for the NPT. This Review Conference may be our last and best opportunity ..."

Copies of the statement & Working Document are available on request.

Citizen's Alerts -- Calendar

May 12 - 15
Spring Gathering
"Honor Our Mother Earth"
Nevada Test Site
(702) 647-3095 for details

This Mother's Day gathering honors the Earth at one of her most wounded places. There will be speakers, workshops, ceremony, sweat lodges, music and nonviolent direct action. The annual Spring Gathering is cosponsored by Citizen Alert, Poo-Ha-Bah traditional healing center, Seeds of Peace and the Shundahai Network, whose number is listed above.

Thursday, May 18
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Don't miss this meeting! Hear first-hand accounts of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN. Learn about our meetings with Ambassadors, and what various countries really think. Find out about prospects for disarmament-who are the players, and what key roles can non-governmental organizations play?

We will also hear from members newly returned from the nation's capital. What are your representatives saying about nuclear weapons? How did activists from all across the country mobilize to have an impact? What's next?

Thursday, June 1
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
Tri-Valley CAREs' office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148

Enjoy an evening of "light work" preparing our June edition for the post office. Affix labels & make friends.

Back to Citizen's Watch Index