Reading Room

May 2007 Citizens Watch Newsletter

Dirtier Bombs at Site 300

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' may 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Livermore Lab has recently reapplied for permits to dramatically increase open air explosive testing at Site 300. These tests could contain large quantities of radioactive and toxic materials; some of which the Lab acknowledges would be released into the air and water in surrounding areas.

Site 300 is located on Corral Hollow Road, and covers 11 square miles in the hills near I-580 between Livermore and Tracy. Site 300 has been operating as a high explosives testing range since 1955.

According to the permit application submitted on April 4, 2007, the Lab wants to increase its annual explosives limit 8-fold, from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds, and its daily limit more than 3-fold, from 100 to 350 pounds. If the application is approved, the Lab could detonate up to 4,500 pounds of depleted uranium each year in open-air bomb tests with no control technology to reduce airborne emissions.

The Lab says this will have no significant impact on the environment, area residents or endangered species at the site.

According to retired Livermore Lab staff scientist Marion Fulk, uranium-238 (also called depleted uranium) can be very dangerous to living systems. "Because of its properties, uranium-238 is a triple threat to human health. Its properties as a heavy metal create health damage once inside the body. Its properties as a hazardous chemical catalyst cause additional health risks. And its properties as a radioactive material offer a third route to cellular and DNA damage, illness and premature death in humans and animals," said Fulk.

The Lab's application also seeks permission to release 20 milligrams of tritium (radioactive hydrogen) in these open-air tests. This is about 200 curies. A single curie is a large amount of radiation, equal to 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second. Tritium is associated with a wide range of health effects, from cancer to birth defects and more.

Livermore Lab first obtained a permit to increase outdoor bomb blasts at Site 300 from the San Joaquin County Air District in November 2006. At that time, the Lab failed to notify the air district that any radioactive materials would be in the test explosions (let alone the more than 4 tons of depleted uranium planned, along with the tritium). The Lab's application also failed to note most of the 60 other hazardous and toxic substances that will be in the explosions.

Local business owner Bob Sarvey, with assistance from Tri-Valley CAREs and Earthjustice, appealed the blast permits on the basis that the Lab's application was deceptive and incomplete.

Due to the appeal, and an outpouring of community concern, the air district reexamined the Lab's application and canceled the permits early in 2007. At that time Livermore vowed to reapply -- which it has.

Over the years Site 300 has become extremely contaminated with radioactive and toxic debris. In 1990, Site 300 was placed on the EPA's Superfund list of most contaminated sites in the country. Site 300 has a 2-mile long underground water plume polluted by depleted uranium and tritium. Full cleanup is estimated to require hundreds of years.

The Dept. of Energy, which owns the Lab, has stated in budget documents and other communications that it is considering a "phase out" of explosive tests at Site 300 because the site is unneeded, duplicative of other facilities and too near a growing population. An 8-fold increase does not sound like phase out.

Now is the time to let the Air Pollution Control District and your elected officials know that you don't want radioactive substances like depleted uranium and tritium, along with 60 other toxic materials, being blown up and allowed to drift in the wind near I-580 and Tracy. Go to our website and sign a letter opposing the permit and any increase in outdoor blasts at Site 300.

Note: Site 300 is also on the Dept. of Homeland Security's "short list" of locations being considered to host a massive bio-lab, known as the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility. This is where bio-weapon agents will be studied on animals in a half-million square foot facility the size of 5 Wal-Mart stores.

Homeland Security's site selection team visited Site 300 last month. The agency is slated to decide whether to name it as a "finalist" candidate in June. Stay tuned.

Bio-war Agents Vulnerable to Attack

by Loulena Milles
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Assessment Admits Terrorism Risk but Fails to Analyze Consequences

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) wants to operate a deadly bio-warfare agent research facility (called a Biosafety Level-3, or BSL-3) in a 1,500 square foot portable building.

Due to a lawsuit brought in 2003 by Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, the DOE was recently forced to analyze the potential health and environmental consequences of a terrorist attack on the facility. (For more on the underlying litigation, go to www.trivalleycares.org.)

A "suicidal plane crash could breach the facility's containment," admits the newly revised Environmental Assessment. However, following this admission, the DOE's "assessment" drifts off into fantasyland.

First, DOE assumes that the airplane crashing into the portable will miraculously miss releasing the vast majority of deadly pathogens that are stored there, while hitting only the much smaller percentage of agents involved in active experiments at the time of the crash. Further, the assessment posits a major fire to kill the few bugs that it admits the plane will hit (page 59). So, no harm, says DOE.

Additionally, the assessment admits that a saboteur could cause a ?catastrophic? breach of containment. Instead of carefully analyzing the outcome, however, the DOE suggests that terrorists would be more interested in finding deadly bioagents in infected ewes than in stealing or releasing them from a government bio-lab (page 62). If this were actually true, no security measures would be needed at any government bio-lab though sheep would be restricted by high fences, armed guards and a nearby squadron of fighter jets.

It might be funny if it weren't serious.

According to DOE documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch, the Livermore BSL-3 could house 100 liters of concentrated, dangerous biological weapon agents such as live anthrax, Q fever and bubonic plague. Included in the mix would be up to 25,000 discrete samples of potentially-fatal pathogens. Moreover, the DOE assessment states that researchers will genetically modify bio-warfare agents in the facility, possibly creating novel diseases.

In the event of a rupture of the bio-facility, whether by terrorist attack, a disgruntled employee or severe earthquake, it could threaten the entire Bay Area. During the summer months, the winds move across Livermore and the metropolitan East Bay to San Francisco. Under those conditions, a moderate containment breach and release involving live anthrax could cause more than 7,000 deaths. In the winter months, the prevailing winds are toward I-580 and Tracy, putting the Central Valley at risk.

The DOE assessment blithely suggests that residents "could be inoculated to prevent infection or treated to recover from exposure to a known biological agent" (page 60). Not only would mass inoculation itself be a major impact on our lives, it is simply not true that it would effectively prevent negative health outcomes. For example, with chronic Q fever, 65% of the sufferers die following treatment.

The DOE assessment also contains new information on earthquake hazards, including that the USGS has determined there is a 62% chance that one or more magnitude 6.7 earthquakes will rock Livermore in the next 30 years. The DOE assessment also admits that other studies predict earthquake-generated MM 10 shaking in the Livermore area (very violent -- on a scale of 1 to 10). Yet, these hazards are merely noted in the document, not fully analyzed as they should be.

The DOE quietly released this court-ordered assessment on April 11, 2007 and offered zero public hearings, no advance notice and only a 30-day public comment period. Tri-Valley CAREs is asking for a hearing and an extension of the public comment period for 30 more days -- from the present comment deadline of May 11, 2007 to a new deadline of June 11, 2007. Therefore, we ask you to email DOE requesting an extension of the public comment period (particularly since you will receive this newsletter after May 11). Tell DOE that you have a right to be heard.

Visit our website for talking points and a fact sheet to help you get started. Send your comments by email to samuel.brinker@oak.doe.gov. Thank you.

Livermore's New H-Bomb Faces Cuts

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

But, No "Knock Out" Yet

A team of ten Tri-Valley CAREs members, joined by our colleagues in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, is just returning from Washington, DC as this newsletter goes to press. We conducted 100 meetings with the Bush Administration and Members of Congress and their staff.

We found the Dept. of Energy scrambling for fresh talking points to promote its dangerous new nuclear weapons program, mis-named the ?Reliable Replacement Warhead.?

The first new H-bomb design, called the RRW-1, is already under development at Livermore Lab. The DOE and Livermore Lab plan to complete the design and have RRW-1 ready to be fitted atop Trident missiles on U.S. submarines within 5 years.

We found many in Congress with doubts about the RRW program. Our arguments that a new H-bomb is proliferation-provocative, unneeded, costly and counter to our disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty resonated effectively in the halls of power.

Some Members of Congress pledged to oppose the RRW and the underlying ?Bombplex? plan to transform the weapons complex in order to churn out 125 new H-bombs each year. Others promised to slow the bomb?s progress while initiating a comprehensive debate on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee that funds DOE weapons programs, called the DOE request for a 3-fold increase for RRW in the coming year ?putting the cart before the horse.?

Our Rep., Ellen Tauscher, while not opposing RRW, is of the ?go slow? opinion. Tauscher chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

Her subcommittee?s ?mark up? of the DOE budget request cuts $45 million from the RRW program, including $20 million of the $88.8 million requested by DOE for RRW and $25 of the $30 million requested by the Navy to begin fitting the new warhead onto the missiles.

This action essentially stymies the Navy, but leaves the DOE with $68.8 million to continue developing the new H-bomb, plus untold additional millions hidden in other DOE budget lines to support the RRW program.

The other congressional committees with jurisdiction over DOE weapons spending have yet to ?mark up? their budget bills, and particularly important in this regard will be the Senate Armed Services committee and the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

Following our meetings with Members of Congress and staffers, we believe that the Appropriations committees may cut deeper into the RRW program than Tauscher has. Still, no committee is likely to entirely zero out the RRW funds this year.

Tauscher?s subcommittee ?mark up? contains two other items regarding the DOE budget and nuclear weapons. One, the mark completely cuts to zero the $24.9 million requested by DOE to design a new plutonium pit factory as part of Complex 2030 (Bombplex). And, two, it calls for a congressionally-appointed, bipartisan commission to ?reevaluate? U.S. nuclear posture.

The DOE nuclear weapons budget will continue to be ?marked up? in its various subcommittees and committees, and then debated on the floor of the House and Senate throughout spring 2007 and likely through the summer months as well. We urge our members and friends to get involved in the process.

Do not be silent. Remember, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, silence is complicity!

For your convenience, we have prepared an ?action alert,? available at www.trivalleycares.org. Or, simply write your elected officials to let them know where you stand on the issue of new nuclear weapons and proliferation.

Please join us in congratulating

... our former Outreach Director, Tara Dorabji, and her partner Pedro Reyes on the birth of their twin girls, Ixchael and Kali. We welcome them into the world. And, we delight in presenting our new Outreach Director, Jedidjah de Vries. We are also excited to introduce you to our special outreach projects coordinator, Susan Liu. Learn more on our website. Click on ?About Us.?

Alerts 4 U

Thursday, May 17
Tri-Valley Cares meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 3443-7148 for details

Join us. Hear what we learned in Washington, DC. Get the latest info on bomb blasts at Site 300, efforts to stop the so-called "Reliable Replacement Warhead," new developments in our campaign to prevent mixing "bugs and bombs" --and much more. Tri-Valley CAREs is strongest when YOU participate. Make it a priority to attend our May meeting. New and long-time members welcome.

Sunday, May 27
Peace Meditation
A special workshop for Tri-Valley CAREs members and friends
1 - 4 PM, Livermore Garden Rec Room
5720 East Ave., Livermore
RSVP: (925) 443-7148
Photo is of "Amma, the Hugging Saint."

Leena St. Michael, a friend and supporter of Tri-Valley CAREs, will instruct the course and provide us with handouts and meditation exercises. Leena is trained in the peace meditation method called "Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique," named after Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as Amma. This workshop is for everyone interested in peace, meditation and focusing one?s energy to enhance creativity, relaxation and health. Experienced meditators and the newly curious are equally welcome. General info at http://amma.org. RSVP to Tri-Valley CAREs, please.

Tuesday, June 5
Tri-Valley CAREs' board meets 7:30 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore

Tri-Valley CAREs' Board of Directors meets quarterly and guides the organization?s budget, finances and structural development. If you are interested in serving on next year?s board, contact the Tri-Valley CAREs office at (925) 443-7148 for details.

Saturday, June 9
Livermore Rodeo Parade
Tri-Valley CAREs' peace entry
10 AM, exact lineup still TBD by parade committee
To join us: (925) 443-7148

Your chance to give peace a parade! Here, in the community where Livermore Lab is creating a new H-bomb, Tri-Valley CAREs will create a fun and fabulous peace entry in the Livermore Rodeo Parade. Join us ?our parade entry will call for an end to plutonium and weapons development at the Lab. We need 15 volunteers?including YOU. Volunteer to carry a sign, hold a banner or leaflet the crowd. Children and babies welcome. Call Ann at (925) 443-7148.

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