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Citizens Watch Newsletter May/June 2004


Public Hearings Challenge Planned Expansion of Nuclear Weapons Activities and Materials at Livermore Lab

by Marylia Kelley, Loulena Miles and Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May/June 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On April 27, 2004, they came by the hundreds. The public hearing room filled up, and then overflowed into the aisles, doorways and hall. Anxious-looking Department of Energy (DOE) officials scrambled to secure a larger room and called a recess to set it up.

More came and the larger room filled, too. Grandparents, students, scientists and community members offered testimony ? sometimes softly spoken, at times blistering, often eloquent, always heartfelt ? opposing DOE plans to ramp up nuclear weapons work at Livermore Lab and dramatically increase the use of nuclear materials there.

More than 500 people participated in three days of public hearings, held in Livermore, Tracy and Washington, DC. And, according to DOE estimates, about 2,000 have already submitted written comments on the Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) on Livermore Lab operations over the next ten years.

Overwhelmingly, the people are challenging DOE?s vision of an increasingly dangerous, weaponized future ? and offering positive alternatives.

In Tracy, a man who had worked in Livermore Lab?s plutonium facility for a quarter-century came and listened to DOE explain its plans to more than double the plutonium storage limit from 1,540 pounds to 3,300 pounds, enough for more than 300 nuclear weapons. Richard asked a few questions of DOE and then left shaking his head. "Those proposing this don?t know a glovebox from a breadbox," he later said.

At the Livermore hearing, Tri-Valley CAREs? staff attorney, Loulena Miles, decried DOE?s plans to revive a nuclear materials program that had been canceled a decade ago because it was dangerous and unnecessary. Called Plutonium Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (Pu-AVLIS), the program would involve 220 pounds of plutonium feed material each year. It would begin with plutonium oxides, convert them to plutonium metal, heat the radioactive metal in a crucible until it vaporizes and then shoot multiple laser beams through the hot vapor to separate the various isotopes. "I want you to think very hard about the Pandora?s box you will be opening if we have an earthquake while you are vaporizing plutonium," Loulena warned DOE officials.

Resurrecting the Pu-AVLIS program is one reason that DOE wants to increase the amount of plutonium it can use in a single room at the same time from the current limit of 44 pounds to 132 pounds, three times higher, according to the SWEIS. The other reason involves manufacturing prototype plutonium bomb cores at Livermore as part of a technology development program for a new "Modern Pit Facility." (See also the Feb. and Apr. 2004 editions of Citizen?s Watch.)

The SWEIS contains dangerous, new plans for the National Ignition Facility mega-laser at Livermore Lab ? which drew the concern and ire of many hearing participants, including several retired Lab scientists.

One DOE proposal would add plutonium, highly enriched uranium, lithium hydride and more to the mix of materials that could be used in experiments at the NIF, some time after its construction is completed in 2008. These materials would join deuterium, tritium and low enriched uranium, already planned in NIF experiments. The SWEIS makes clear that NIF would then be used for both fission and fusion experiments, increasing its utility to nuclear weapons design and development.

Ray Kidder, a former senior scientist for three decades at Livermore Lab and the founder of its laser directorate, spoke to the point at the hearing in Livermore: "Fusion-explosion experiments with these fissile materials [e.g., plutonium] could be important to the design of new nuclear weapons of a type different from any in the stockpile," he said. Ray went on to tell DOE that its nonproliferation review for NIF, conducted in 1995, had been made moot by these new plans and must be redone.

Marion Fulk, a former staff scientist at Livermore Lab and group leader in its chemistry and nuclear materials directorate, focused on the increased tritium (radioactive hydrogen) emissions that will accompany DOE?s new NIF plans. Attendng both the Livermore and Tracy hearings, he challenged DOE?s proposal to manufacture the tritium targets for NIF on site at Livermore Lab. Those plans will cause a nearly 10-fold increase in the amount of tritium that will be used at a time, from the current 3.5 grams to 30 grams, according to the SWEIS. That idea, said Marion, is unconscionable and "will inevitably lead to more worker and public exposures."

Patricia Moore, a medical social worker and Tri-Valley CAREs member, added her concerns. "It is illogical to assure us of our safety given the history of the Lab?s spills, releases and leaks," she testified.

During the hearings, many Tri-Valley CAREs members and friends offered well-thought, informed comment ? speaking at various times to specific proposals in the SWEIS, to worker and community health issues and to the overarching goals of global nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and peace. Several of our members spoke to the criticisms that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has leveled at Livermore?s plutonium facility and to the General Accounting Office testimony and other reports outlining the vulnerability of plutonium stored there. (See also the two articles on page 4.)

Other members emphasized the dangers of DOE plans to operate a bio-warfare agent facility at Livermore Lab as well as the ongoing work to develop a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or "bunker buster" bomb. Some offered comments on the civilian science research that could productively engage Livermore?s scientists. All of our members and friends who participated in the hearings and submitted written comments deserve our kudos and deepest thanks.

Moreover, dozens of great organizations brought their voices to the hearings, from the local chapter of the Sierra Club to the Tracy Regional Alliance for a Quality Community to national groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. Of special note, three students from the "Greenlaw" program at the University of Washington School of Law came with a detailed critique of the SWEIS. They also shared their perspectives as folks who live near the DOE?s Hanford plant. "Waste is being shuffled from one DOE site to another, never solving the problem," said Greenlaw?s Sasha Sajovic. Proposals in the SWEIS will increase radioactive materials shipments in and out of Livermore Lab ? potentially including to and from Hanford, Washington and Savannah River, South Carolina and to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Since the hearings, Tri-Valley CAREs has been joined by dozens of groups and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in requesting a 30-day extension of the public comment period for the SWEIS. The deadline for written comments was scheduled to end on May 27, 2004. The DOE has told us that it will continue to accept comments past that date, but the agency has yet to officially extend the deadline and reopen the public comment period. A formal announcement is expected soon.

So, if you have not yet commented on DOE?s plans for Livermore Lab, please do so today. Email your comments to tom.grim@oak.doe.gov. Or, use the postal address: Tom Grim, U.S. DOE, Livermore Site Office, 7000 East Ave., Livermore, CA 94550.

For details, call the Tri-Valley CAREs office at (925) 443-7148 or visit our website at www.trivalleycares.org. We have a sample comment letter posted as well as our more comprehensive (64-page) SWEIS comment and analysis letter. Together, we will stop these nuclear weapons programs.


Feds Find Flaws in Lab Plutonium Safety

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May/June 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Recently, federal investigators found serious safety flaws in Livermore Lab?s plutonium facility, which houses up to 1,540 pounds of plutonium and is slated to increase its inventory to 3,300 pounds of the nuclear bomb material if DOE gets its way. (See also the article on page 1.)

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), which reports to the U.S. Congress on Dept. of Energy (DOE) nuclear facilities, issued a scathing report outlining major deficiencies in the Lab?s safety procedures and accident calculations. The DNFSB determined that more radiation was likely to escape from the plutonium facility due to a fire than the Lab calculates.

The DNFSB examined the model that Livermore Lab uses to calculate the consequences resulting from accidents inside the plutonium building, such as a plutonium fire. Livermore Lab?s model says that leakage (called a leak path factor) from a plutonium fire will be limited to 5 % of the radioactivity involved. Not so, says DNFSB, which called the Livermore Lab accident calculations unduly optimistic and "unrealistic."

The federal board pointed out that the Lab?s accident model assumes the plutonium building remains completely sealed, and so fails to account for the radiation leakage that will occur when the employees crash out through the emergency exits.

Further, the Lab calculated only the short-term release of radiation from a half-hour duration fire and did not look at the potentially much greater levels of radiation that would escape the building over many hours, days and even weeks. During a fire, says the DNFSB, radioactive particles that are initially trapped within the building would leak out.

Finally, the Lab ignored written warnings from the model?s manufacturer to conduct specific analyses before running the model to ensure that input parameters used by the Livermore Lab would result in realistic calculations.

Tri-Valley CAREs? review of the DOE?s Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) on Livermore operations over the next ten years shows that the same flawed modeling assumptions were used in the SWEIS, including the 5% leakage calculation. Livermore Lab and DOE are using discredited calculations in an effort to assuage worker and public concern over planned increases in plutonium activities at the Lab. We are insisting that DOE re-do the accident calculations in the SWEIS and recirculate the document so that the public can see the results and comment on them.

The DNFSB report also assailed the Lab for downgrading key safety features in the plutonium building. The DNFSB chairman, John Conway, cited a "new approach" adopted by the Lab "to allow the unfiltered release of radioactive materials from the facility during certain accident scenarios." This approach, says Conway, "reduces the margin of safety." Portions of the ventilation system in the plutonium facility have been downgraded, says DNFSB. Concurrently, the DNFSB has deployed a full-time investigator to Livermore. Stay tuned!


Books Not Bombs

by Tara Dorabji, from Tri-Valley CAREs' May/June 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Everywhere you look, you see school budgets cut, libraries closed and social programs gutted -- yet funding for nuclear weapons continues to rise. In the City of Livermore, two schools will close while money for nuclear weapons increases at the nearby Livermore Laboratory.

The Livermore nuclear weapons lab has long been the appropriate site for creative, nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons. It is fitting that we will gather there on Sunday, August 8, 2004, to mark the 59th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On that day, Tri-Valley CAREs and allied groups will host a major rally and march to say: "Books not Bombs."

In the U.S., billions have been, and continue to be, spent on the invasion of Iraq, shrouded by claims that we sought to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. WMD?s were not found in Iraq. However, right here in the Bay Area, scientists are developing new and modified nuclear weapons at Livermore Lab. They are modifying the B83, hoping to make it a "bunker buster" called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.

Stopping the programs at Livermore that enable the creation of new and modified nuclear weapons is essential to achieving global nonproliferation and disarmament. Our August action is part of an international series of events. Join us and tens of thousands around the world to say "NO" to nuclear weapons and U.S. nuclear policy. Say "YES" to changing our priorities.

The "Books Not Bombs" rally will take place August 8 at 1 PM at Jackson Elementary School, 554 Jackson Ave., a couple blocks off East Ave. in Livermore. The rally will be followed by a march to the Livermore Lab at 3 PM. This year we are demanding: the abolition of nuclear weapons, the demilitarization of education and an end to a war economy that funds bombs over school books for our children.

Bring water, sunscreen, signs, banners, musical instruments, friends and family members! Children and their books welcome! To volunteer, contact Tara at (925) 443-7148 or tara@trivalleycares.org


Lab Plutonium Vulnerable

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May/June 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On April 27, the Dept. of Energy began public hearings in Livermore on its plan to more than double the Lab?s plutonium storage limit. That same day, the General Accounting Office and the Project on Government Oversight testified before a Congressional subcommittee that the plutonium at Livermore Lab was vulnerable to theft or terrorist attack. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story on security deficiencies at Livermore Lab?s plutonium facility.

Tri-Valley CAREs helped provide some of the background information used in the hearing and the article. As a result, on May 2, the LA Times published an editorial titled, "A Ringing Nuclear Alarm," calling for the shutdown of Livermore Lab?s plutonium facility.

Then, on May 7, the Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, gave a speech on security issues. In it, Abraham promised to "consider" removing special nuclear materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) from Livermore Lab. In essence, he ordered a study and said he will make a decision in 2005.

The Livermore Lab main site, where the plutonium and highly enriched uranium are housed, is a compact 1.3 square miles with buildings crowded next to each other and more than 8,000 employees. Add to that a steady stream of contractors, from Fed Ex to hazardous waste haulers. Further, the City is build right up to the Lab gates, with homes and apartments right across the street.

Livermore Lab security officers and others have told us that the Lab?s plutonium facility is difficult if not impossible to defend against a determined, motivated assailant (not to mention a disgruntled employee scenario). Moreover, Livermore Lab and its plutonium facility are in the flight path for airports. And so on...

The truth is that vulnerabilities for plutonium stockpiled at the Lab are intrinsic to the site, and will remain even if better training for guards and other easy fixes are employed. The plutonium at Livermore Lab is vulnerable under various scenarios to theft, to the detonation of a radiological "dirty bomb" and to a nuclear criticality explosion. Further, the area is riddled with earthquake faults, and a natural disaster could have the same deadly impact as a "terror attack."

We have called on DOE to conduct an analysis of a "no plutonium" future for Livermore. This analysis should include a careful review of activities at the Lab's plutonium facility that are unnecessary and/or duplicative of activities already occurring at other DOE sites. Currently, DOE has two "full service" plutonium facilities, one at Livermore and the other at the Los Alamos Lab, which is wasteful and contrary to disarmament goals.

We believe that Livermore?s plutonium facility can and should be shut down ? without increasing the work at Los Alamos. In fact, it is reasonable to reduce Los Alamos? plutonium mission even while terminating Livermore?s entirely. Further, before plutonium is moved, DOE should engage in an open process with the proposed host community. We must make sure that DOE does not build itself a new plutonium facility somewhere else.

We have included this analysis in our comment on the DOE?s Draft SWEIS.

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