Reading Room

May 1999 Citizen's Watch newsletter

Shared Vision and DC Days

from the Tri-Valley CAREs' May 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Marylia K

Six Tri-Valley CAREs members and 75 colleagues who live near the major U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons facilities gathered together last week in Washington, DC for the 11th annual "DC Days," from April 25 to 28.

Sponsored by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability to raise awareness about nuclear weapons issues amongst elected and administration officials, our collective need to be there, and to speak "truth to power" from the perspective of communities impacted by nuclear weapons sites was never more apparent. Even as we were arriving, the relationship between our two governments was growing increasingly tense in the wake of the U.S.-led NATO bombings in Yugoslavia.

Beginning with a press conference Monday morning and continuing through three days of top-level meetings with Congress, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) and other agencies, we, the neighbors of both nations' nuclear complexes, spoke from a deeply-held, shared vision on matters of disarmament, safe storage of nuclear materials, cleanup of polluted sites and the public's essential right to know and participate in decision-making. Further, the group advocated for immediate government action to protect nuclear systems from Year 2000 computer problems, referred to as Y2K.

Because not all computer chips will recognize the Year 2000, and because the U.S. and Russia both have their deadly, massive nuclear arsenals on a hair-trigger alert - designed to "launch on warning" of an attack with only about 15 minutes for humans to verify data and make decisions meaning life or death for countless millions - the potential that a computer glitch in either nation's early warning systems (e.g. satellites and radar installations) could result in a nuclear exchange is simply too great to ignore. The possibility of nuclear war due to misunderstanding or miscalculation, particularly if international tensions are still high, must be dealt with in advance of December 31.

The activists recommended de-alerting all nuclear weapons, a mutually reciprocal U.S. - Russian move that would buy valuable time before a launch and build confidence and security in both countries. (See also the December 1998 and April 1999 editions of Citizen's Watch.) Recommended as well is the resumption of high-level government to government cooperation on Y2K problems. In particular, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, whose district includes Livermore, pledged to check the status of the joint Y2K program and to work as necessary to keep it on track.

In meetings with DOE officials and others, activists pressed for cancellation of the National Ignition Facility at Livermore, and called for a thorough analysis of the proliferation risks of the "Stockpile Stewardship" program, in which NIF plays a major role.

Additionally, the Tri-Valley CAREs members spoke with decision-makers about the ongoing Superfund cleanup program for polluted soil and groundwater at Livermore Lab. Since Livermore's technical results to date have been quite good, and the cleanup is proceeding with modest overhead compared to other DOE facilities, we recommended that the Lab be considered a "model," and its cleanup activities fully supported.

We asked DOE to analyze why some of its sites, like Livermore, were so much more efficient, dollar for cleanup dollar, than others and to apply any "lessons learned" across the complex.

(Ironically, if DOE or Congress were ever to impose an efficiency requirement on NIF dollars, where construction costs alone have already doubled, that project would collapse of its own "pork" weight.)

Join us at the Tri-Valley CAREs meeting Thursday, May 20th to hear from some of the returning activists. And, stay tuned for individual stories in future editions of Citizen's Watch.

"Stockpile Stewardship:" Check Under the Hood

from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
by Paul Carroll

The Dept. of Energy's chief nuclear weapons official, Vic Reis, is fond of using the metaphor of a car to describe why the so-called "Stockpile Stewardship" program is needed. He argues that the future nuclear weapons arsenal will be older than any in the past, and will not have been tested. This, he says, would be like keeping a car in the garage for twenty or thirty years and having to be confident that it would start whenever you needed it to.

There are two fundamental problems with this analogy. First, the current arsenal, or car if you will, has been tested. In fact, it is the result of over fifty years of nuclear weapons design knowledge and is arguably to most intensely tested set of weapons the U.S. has ever had in an active arsenal. This makes it the safest and most reliable of any past arsenal. Moreover, the average age of nuclear weapons the U.S. stockpile is about 15 years. In the past, the U.S. has kept weapons in the arsenal for over 35 years, retiring them not ever because there were any aging "problems," but simply to make room for the newest design. Hence, the B61-11 replaced the many decades-old B53.

Second, and even more to the point, how do you choose a mechanic for your car? Do you look for the most expensive one who has a wide variety of tools that have no use in fixing actual problems your car might have? Or do you shop around and find the mechanic with the best set of skills that are applicable to your situation. In other words, you take it to a tire dealer for new tires, not a transmission specialist, right?

DOE's proposed Stockpile Stewardship program has not gone through the most basic and common sense steps that any of us would take in choosing the right mechanic for our cars. In DOE's case, though, the "car" in question is the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. And the mechanics are the national weapons labs, including Lawrence Livermore. The implications of choosing the wrong mechanic for the job are enormous - in both dollars and security risks.

Tri-Valley CAREs is currently preparing a report about the possible options available for conducting an appropriate maintenance program for the nuclear weapons stockpile. Rather than looking at DOE's plans as the only viable method, the report will offer a number of alternatives that can be used to adequately look after the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons.

For example, one option might be called "re-manufacturing." This alternative would equip the DOE to rebuild all the components of the existing arsenal within a specified time period. Another approach, "curatorship," would monitor the arsenal and fix any problems that arose via a modest refurbishing capacity. In either scenario, no new research facilities would be needed, but the capacity to rebuild parts to their original design tolerances would have to be assured. Another option might be to simply monitor the arsenal and remove problem warheads or even whole designs if and when problems arose. This "passive disarmament" approach would require nothing new, but would have to assure that sound monitoring methods were carried out and that good technical judgements be made about the significance of any problems.

The current program is far and away too expensive, calls for facilities that go well beyond any reasonable requirement for true stewardship, undermines nuclear non-proliferation efforts by advancing U.S. technical know-how, and embarks on new areas of nuclear weapons science such as pure fusion technology.

What is needed is a sincere examination of the requirements for a stockpile maintenance and repair program. Options can be laid out, each with its different costs and capabilities. Then, an informed public debate can determine how the taxpayers money should be spent with respect to the "mechanics" for our nuclear weapons.

Hague Appeal:
Groups to Present Internation Appeal to Stop Fusion Weapons Research

from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch by Sally Light, with excerpts from the HAP press release

As bombs rain on Kosovo and the images of terrified refugees fleeing their home fill television screens around the world, over four thousand people will gather in The Hague, Netherlands to develop strategies for the peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts. Known as the Hague Appeal for Peace, the conference will run from May 11th to May 15th.

Tri-Valley CAREs will be represented at the Hague Appeal by its nuclear program analyst, Sally Light, who will participate in the conference's activities - with an emphasis on sessions related to disarmament.

While Tri-Valley CAREs deals with all aspects of nuclear weapons, Sally will focus on the National Ignition Facility (NIF), now under construction at Livermore Lab. The NIF, if completed, would become the world's largest laser; a football stadium-sized, high energy machine, intended to create nuclear fusion explosions. The NIF, along with the Laser Megajoule, a similar project in France, may be illegal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which France and the U.S. have signed.

The CTBT explicitly bans "any nuclear weapons test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." A fusion explosion is, by definition, nuclear. The NPT commits the nuclear-armed nations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. The NIF and Laser Megajoule move the U.S. and France in the opposite direction, away from the promised disarmament. Tri-Valley CAREs, along with two colleague groups from the U.S. and France, will present an international appeal that urges both nations to immediately halt the NIF and Laser Megajoule, and to declare a moratorium on any such programs.

"I am excited and honored to be a delegate to the Hague Appeal for Peace," Sally commented. "It's a unique opportunity to take this issue to an international level."

At a recent press conference in New York to publicize the Hague Appeal, Cora Weiss, veteran peace activist and conference organizer spoke on the crisis in Kosovo, which serves to underscore the need for society to exercise a number of creative diplomatic measures rather than resorting to the use of force in the face of humanitarian crises.

"The program and agenda of the Hague Appeal include a virtual blueprint for building peaceful societies. At the end of the bloodiest century in history, the work of this conference cannot be ignored," Cora stated. A number of panels at the Hague Appeal will address the conflict in Kosovo.

These sentiments are shared by an impressive roster of political figures scheduled to attend the conference including: foreign ministers from Mexico to Ireland, South African First Lady, Gra? Machel, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and several Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Scores of representatives of international organizations, ranging from Amnesty International to the World Federalist Movement, will also be there, marking an unprecedented collaboration between government and civil society that is being viewed as a new diplomatic model for addressing issues of war and violence. Organizers point to the signing of the 1997 Ottawa Landmine treaty as an example of the impact and power of "new diplomacy."

The agenda of The Hague Appeal is based on four basic themes: Prevention, Resolution and Transformation of Violent Conflict; Disarmament and Human Security; International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and Institutions and Root Causes of War/Culture of Peace. Each theme will be explored in depth through panels and workshops, which will outline the challenges and propose concrete ways to prevent violent conflict.

Several Bay Area groups will be participating in the conference, and local follow up activities are planned. We will discuss how we can best bring the goals of the conference "home" during the next Tri-Valley CAREs meeting on May 20.

The Dysfunctional DOE

by Daniel S. Greenberg

Note from Ti-Valley CAREs: As the revelations continue about nuclear weapons secrets leaking out of the Labs, Tri-Valley CAREs has shone its light on the key fact that as long as the U.S. continues to advance its nuclear weapons design capabilities through the "Stockpile Stewardship" program it will only be a matter of time before that data becomes known by other interested nations, which may, if they so choose put it to use in their arsenals. Thus, our focus has been on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and its inherent nuclear proliferation risks. This piece, from the April 30 Washington Post by Daniel S. Greenberg, takes a look instead at the agency in charge of weapons design--the U.S. Department of Energy. Read on...

"It's not the theft of secret nuclear-bomb data that should worry politics. The big secret of the bomb is that a half-century after Hiroshima, there is no secret, whatever the reality is behind disputed reports of China receiving computer codes stolen from the bomb-designing Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"The real problem is that the chief custodian of the American bomb industry, the U.S. Department of Energy, is a legendary sinkhole of bungling and confusion that long ago outlived its original purpose. Ironically, some of the country's top scientists and research managers work for DOE but are embedded in an ironbound system that defies reform.

"Nuclear espionage, if such occurred, could speed the sophistication of China's nuclear arsenal. But with or without stolen data, China is capable of advancing on its own, as have other members of the nuclear club. The theft stories - and DOE's shifting and contradictory responses - are simply another episode in the history of America's most dysfunctional government department. Except, that is, in its role as the preeminent pork barrel of national politics.

"DOE dispenses $18 billion a year to 11,000 employees of its own plus 118,000 contractor employees and 50 facilities in 35 states. Among them is the Los Alamos laboratory, often recommended for severe shrinkage or even termination as an obsolete leftover from the Cold War, but politically immortal because of the $1 billion a year it provides for impoverished New Mexico. The laboratory survives as a peculiar hybrid of classified bomb work, university-style basic science and desperate hustling for commercial industrial research contracts. Bomb research also thrives at the rival Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, despite repeated recommendations for merging the weapons work of the two laboratories.

"If change could be wrought by shocking reports from blue-ribbon panels and hard-nosed government auditors, DOE would long ago have been reorganized out of existence, with its important functions distributed to government agencies that competently manage research. From 1980 through 1996, the General Accounting Office recently reported, DOE squandered $10 billion on 31 projects that were terminated before completion.

"Among DOE's surviving projects, the GAO found, '27 had cost overruns averaging over 70 percent and 16 were behind schedule.' DOE's legacy of aborted projects includes nearly $3 billion expended on the Superconducting Super Collider, terminated by Congress in 1993 after cost estimates rose from $5.9 billion to $11 billion and the foreign money promised by DOE never materialized.

"The GAO noted, 'For years, DOE's culture encouraged employees to complete projects but not to question the need for them or to raise management issues.' In 1995 a DOE-commissioned study chaired by Robert Galvin, former CEO of Motorola, recommended new management methods, consolidations and goals for the department's vast research empire. Four years later, the GAO found, DOE's laboratory directors conceded that no significant changes had occurred. The GAO added that experts in DOE affairs were almost unanimously pessimistic about the potential for change. One was quoted as saying, 'DOE's organization is a mess. You cannot tell who is the boss.' The GAO concluded that 'fundamental change remains an elusive goal' at DOE...

""The reports of data theft by a Los Alamos scientist long under suspicion have evoked pious recriminations and new, stultifying security regulations. Everyone involved is hopped up and calling for reform. The problem that really needs attention is the senseless permanence of the DOE dinosaur."

Events Calendar

from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch
Monday, May 17
International "NiX MOX" Action Day
White House comment line:
(202) 456-1111

Join people around the world on this second annual "Nix MOX" day to oppose the use of plutonium in nuclear reactors. MOX stands for "mixed oxide fuel" and is made by mixing uranium (the common fuel source in nuclear reactors) with plutonium. The U.S. and Russia are embarking on a dangerous path: using surplus nuclear weapons plutonium in their reactors. Vice President Al Gore has been the chief U.S. negotiator, and the resulting agreement, in which U.S. money goes to support the Russian MOX program, is causing problems in both countries. Call the White House comment line and ask Al Gore to support a program for immobilizing plutonium (e.g., in a ceramic matrix) and keeping it out of the environment instead of MOX. Tell Gore that putting plutonium in civilian reactors increases proliferation risks. "Nix MOX" day is sponsored by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and many other organizations. Call Tri-Valley CAREs if you would like to receive a "Nix MOX" fact sheet or action kit.

Thursday, May 20
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
1000 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Calling all peace-makers and environmental advocates. Come and learn, share and work together to create a healthy community-and a more peaceful world. Sally will share her experiences at the Hague Appeal for Peace where 4,000 activists will be joined by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the U.N., and others to explore topics of disarmament, conflict resolution and human rights. Marylia will be freshly returned from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting at the U.N., and she will detail disarmament initiatives and opportunities. A discussion of local activities will follow. Also hear about "DC Days" and what's new at the Lab.

Thursday, June 3
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Definitely, the social event of the month. If you can affix labels, munch on snacks and chat with other wonderful people-then you are invited. Call for more info, or just come and join the "party."

June 3 - 4
Nuclear and Toxic Waste
Central Internet DOE Database
National "Stakeholder" Forum
(925) 443-7148 for details,
This is part of the lawsuit settlement won by Tri-Valley CAREs and 38 other plaintiff organizations. The Department of Energy will be putting together a comprehensive database on its wastes and contaminated facilities, including Livermore. This first public forum is designed for those of us monitoring (and being affected by) DOE activities. This is an opportunity to tell DOE what we would like to see included in the database, and what the Department can do to make the database useful to us, the public. Deadline for your application for travel subsidy is May 14. Registration deadline is May 19. Call us for details or access DOE's Internet registration here.

June 21 - Day of Global Healing

Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of a Lakota sacred medicine bundle, is, for the 4th straight year, calling for people everywhere to pray for peace on June 21, either with him or at sacred places in their own communities. According to Lakota prophesy, we are currently in a time when the world, faced with its greatest challenges, needs everyone to use prayer and peaceful cooperation to resolve the moment of crisis. Arvol has successively visited East, West, & North points in the Western Hemisphere over the last 3 years on June 21, which is also the summer solstice in the European calendar. This year, Arvol will be in Costa Rica, the South point of the 4 directions. According to Arvol, June 21 is a significantly beneficial time of the yearly cycle to have as many people around the world pray at sacred sites simultaneously (10 am Central time). Consider holding your own local event, and participating in any manner that feels comfortable for you. Or, to be a part of a medicine wheel on Mt. Tamalpais, call Sally Light at (925) 443-7148.

Back to Citizen's Watch Index