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Citizens Watch Newsletter September 2000


Federal Audit Chronicles National Ignition Facility Deception, Tri-Valley CAREs Seeks Criminal Investigation

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

A General Accounting Office (GAO) report, released August 17, details a clear pattern of deceit, fraud and abuse by top officials intent on covering up the budget hemorrhages and technical problems at the National Ignition Facility under construction at the Livermore Laboratory.

Over the past 8 years, Tri-Valley CAREs has researched and publicized the serious scientific, technical, budgetary, environmental and nuclear proliferation risks posed by NIF construction and operation.

In August 1999, we uncovered evidence of cost and schedule overruns at NIF and called on Congress to look into the matter. Those efforts culminated in the House Science Committee's request to GAO, resulting in the just-released study.

A careful reading of the study reveals that a full criminal investigation may now be warranted. According to the GAO, institutions and individuals have engaged in cover-up, looked the other way and lied to Congress.

"The chronology of events shows that the NIF deception has involved top management at Livermore Lab, at the University of California, which manages the Lab, and at the Dept. of Energy, the Lab's parent agency," said Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley. "Further, it's we taxpayers who are continuing to pay for this fraud."

The federal auditors found that the Lab and DOE edited a report on NIF before sending it to Congress - and touted it as an "outside" analysis that gave NIF a rave review. Moreover, the GAO said that Lab and DOE management displayed a similar, long-standing pattern of dominating scientific panels with their own staff, while publicizing the results as "independent."

The report also describes how DOE and Livermore Lab lowballed the NIF's costs. Officials admitted to GAO they lied to Congress from day one "in the belief that the Congress would not fund NIF at a higher cost," and that they allowed their personal feelings regarding NIF's importance to a single lab to overshadow their concerns about presenting Congress with an "unrealistic budget" for the project.

GAO paints an ugly picture of NIF's spiraling technical difficulties, cost overruns and schedule slippages. Further, the audit shows that these problems were well known internally -- and covered up. For example, by mid-1998, Lab managers and others suspected that NIF was over budget. Before the year's end, laser officials had confirmed that the NIF's cost overrun was substantial and that construction was falling behind. Yet, the following year, Livermore Lab's director testified twice before Congress that NIF was "on budget and schedule."

DOE now admits that NIF's construction schedule has slipped more than a half-decade, from 2002 to the 2008 timeframe, with the first ignition attempts to commence two years after that - in 2010.

The GAO looks at NIF's pre-completion costs and says they will top $3.9 billion, which is somewhere between double and triple earlier DOE projections, depending on what date you start counting from. Moreover, the report states that "technical uncertainties persist," and therefore costs could very well continue to rise.

Livermore Lab, UC and DOE tried to put a "happy face" on the GAO study, claiming that all of NIF's troubles are in the past. Thus, the scandal continues as the program's managers and top officials still attempt to conceal the mega-laser's very serious technical problems and still-escalating cost.

It's time for Congress to act to restrain the project. An investigation into potential lawbreaking is called for here, not further construction.

Some Quotes From the GAO Report

"DOE and Lawrence Livermore now estimate that NIF will eventually cost about $3.3 billion and will be completed in 2008... However, based on our analysis of figures from DOE and Lawrence Livermore, we estimate that NIF's cost is closer to $4 billion because DOE's estimate does not include all research and development costs from other program areas that are needed to support NIF. Furthermore, since significant research and development activities to support NIF remain to be completed and technical uncertainties persist, the cost of NIF could grow even higher and completion could take even longer." (p.4)

"[B]ecause DOE has not determined how it intends to pay for NIF's cost overruns, the potential impacts on other science programs are unknown." (p.6)

"To ensure that DOE has an effective independent assessment of NIF, we recommend that the Secretary of Energy arrange for an outside scientific and technical review of the technical challenges remaining for NIF that could affect the project's cost and schedule risks." (p.6)

"According to DOE plans, about 85% of the facility's experiments will be for nuclear weapons physics. The remaining experiments will be for nuclear weapons effects and basic and applied sciences." (p.8)

"DOE's actions may have compromised the contractor's independence... We discovered that a DOE manager and the Laboratory's NIF Project Manager edited the contractor's draft report before it was sent to Congress." (p.19)

A complete copy of the GAO report is available from our office on request.


National Missile Defense Deployment Delayed

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

On Sept. 1, President Clinton announced that he would not move forward with deployment of a National Missile Defense (NMD) system, leaving that decision instead for the next administration. "I cannot conclude we have enough confidence in the technology," he stated.

Importantly, this means that Clinton will not undertake the construction of a new anti-missile radar station in Alaska, which would have put the U.S. in the position of abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

This is cause for celebration. A scant month or so ago, the signals coming out of the White House were tending toward early deployment. This welcome change of direction is due in no small measure to the vocal, sustained protests from Russia, China and a number of European nations. Grassroots groups and others whose members wrote letters, made phone calls and publicly demonstrated in opposition to the scheme are to be congratulated also.

However, it is important to note that Clinton, in the same speech, affirmed his support for NMD. The likely date for deployment, he said, is 2006 or 2007, instead of the 2005 originally envisioned. Clinton further vowed to continue with "a robust testing program."

The last two tests, in January and July, resulted in failure. The next NMD test, according to a recent Associated Press story, will probably take place in January 2001.

Also, many proponents of missile defense have rushed into the breach, clamoring for more research on their pet Theater Missile Defense schemes. This could mean additional monies going to Livermore Lab and other facilities for exotic, space-based weaponry. For example, the space-based laser weapon, already in development, is part of TMD.

Missile defense is born of a nation's desire to not only defend, but also to strike with impunity. Whereas the path of peace leads nations to global nuclear disarmament, missile defense leads to the construction of shields by one nation, causing others to build up their nuclear and other armaments in order to overwhelm it. The end product of missile defense is more dangerous weapons in the world, not less. We must continue to call for cancellation of all ballistic missile defense plans.

October 7, 2000 is an international day of protest to stop the militarization of space. See the Calendar Section below for more information.


Protect the Desert, Convert the Nevada Test Site

by Marylia Kelley
for Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On August 18, scientists from Livermore Lab once again took their handiwork out into the Nevada desert, and blew it up nearly 1000 feet underground.

Called "Oboe 5," this was the latest in a series of Livermore-designed subcritical nuclear tests. The underground experiments involve plutonium and high explosives but do not create a sustained nuclear chain reaction, hence the term "subcritical."

Livermore Lab plans to conduct 12 experiments in its "Oboe" series. Then the Lab will move on to a bigger, more powerful test series, code-named "Piano."

These tests are part of the Stockpile Stewardship program. While the Lab and the Dept. of Energy discuss these tests by using terms like, "providing information on the behavior of plutonium in a strongly-shocked environment" or, "studying the effects of aging on plutonium," the simple truth is that these experiments are heavily instrumented. The information captured when the high explosive goes off and impacts the plutonium pieces in a subcritical test is used to feed into and "improve upon" nuclear weapons codes, the software that is at the heart of new weapons design.

These tests violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They impede global acceptance of the CTBT and, with their underground blasts, complicate verification of the Treaty. Moreover, subcritical testing is antithetical to the U.S. disarmament obligation enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The U.S. has conducted 12 subcritical nuclear tests since signing the CTBT in Sept. 1996. More recently, Russia has begun its own subcritical testing program in response.

Join us in protesting subcritical nuclear tests by signing and mailing our postcards. You will find downloadable original art and text in order to make your postcards on our website [coming soon!], or call our office (925-443-7148) for copies already made up on cardstock and ready to mail.


Hiroshima at Livermore Lab

by Ann Seitz
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Fusako DeAngelis, who as a child experienced the terror of "carpet bombing" raids in Japan, recounted her personal story at the annual Hiroshima Day action, on August 6 at Livermore Lab. As the 120 who gathered that day contemplated the horrors of so-called conventional weapons, and the dropping of the first atomic bombs in war, all were sobered and determined to rekindle their efforts for peace.

The commemoration included a 70-foot banner listing U.S. nuclear tests. Several passers-by looked truly surprised and horrified at seeing the extent of the list, over 1,000 nuclear blasts. Other eye and ear-grabbing endeavors included a 50 foot-long inflated Trident missile replica, brought by Peace Action, and the direct action world rock rebel music of the always-tuneful Clan Dyken.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, spoke about the future plans of the U.S. to weaponize space by the year 2020. Marylia Kelley explained Livermore's continuing role in designing nuclear weapons, including the Lab's completion of a new design for submarine-launched nuclear weapons. Sally Light read statements sent by Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey.

Several wonderful speakers offered personal thoughts on the meaning of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Barbara Lubin drew connections between the atomic bombings and the deaths of children due to the sanctions against Iraq. Antinuclear stalwart, Father Bill O'Donnell, though recovering from a recent stroke, took the stage and delivered the call to action.

Protesters then marched to the Lab's west gate and were greeted by UC police in full riot gear. Peaceful arrests, handcuffing, and the issuing of citations followed. A few officers tried to talk Pauline E. Thompson, who comes every year from San Francisco in her wheelchair, out of risking arrest. A study in fidelity to peaceful purpose, Pauline crossed the line at the gate and was rolled away by police to the makeshift jail inside. Perseverance will create a nuclear weapons-free world.


What's New at Tri-Valley CAREs?

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

  • Fundraising Appeal

    Tri-Valley CAREs actively advocates for peace, justice and a healthy environment. We "watchdog" our nuclear neighbor, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, revealing the ugly underbelly of ongoing nuclear weapons work. We have achieved astounding victories -- stopping incinerators, curtailing weapons activities, and winning additional funding for cleanup of the Lab's contaminated soil and groundwater. Today, we stand on the cusp of what may be our most important success, halting the National Ignition Facility -- the biggest nuclear weapons project in Livermore Lab's history.

    We have been successful over the last 17 years largely because of you -- our members and supporters. Your financial gifts and your participation in Tri-Valley CAREs' work keep us going. Twice a year, we send you an appeal letter requesting your support. Our summer appeal has just been mailed. Please look for it, and respond to the best of your ability. Your gift of any amount is greatly appreciated and will be put to good use. Together, we are making a difference. Thank you.

  • Personnel Updates

    Over the years, we have been blessed with wonderful volunteers and motivated, caring staff. Let us take a moment to reflect on some recent changes. Sally Light, our nuclear program analyst, has accepted a new position as executive director of Nevada Desert Experience. Congratulations. We wish you all the best in your new job, and look forward to continuing our work together on mutual endeavors like stopping subcritical nuclear testing in Nevada. Peter Strauss, our Technical Advisor on the Lab Superfund cleanup for ten years, has recently gotten married. Congratulations. Way to go, Peter! We would also like to announce the return of our teen intern extraordinaire, Erek Dyskant. Beginning in October, Erek will be helping in the office. Additionally, he will be available to present on Tri-Valley CAREs' activities in schools and other venues. Please call our office if you would like to book this young, dynamic speaker. A warm welcome back, Erek. In October also, our Community Organizer, Rene' Steinhauer, will be leaving to pursue another of his passions -- the world of electoral politics and political campaigns. Rene', we will miss you, and we wish you well in your new endeavors.

  • National Award

    Tri-Valley CAREs has just received the first national award given to a non-governmental organization by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The award recognizes our efforts to achieve a comprehensive, complete cleanup of radioactive and chemical pollution stemming from Livermore Lab activities. We were first nominated for the award by our local EPA Region IX, and chosen as the winner by EPA headquarters. Thank you, EPA. While the work goes on, it is indeed an honor to have our efforts and achievements recognized. Very special kudos go out to our technical advisor, Peter. Congratulations go also to many members and friends reading this. The award reflects your participation over many years with Tri-Valley CAREs -- conducting research, attending public meetings, handing out fliers, translating fact sheets into Spanish, doing mailings for the group and more. Therefore, we have linked to the EPA Announcement from this site; copies of the award letter can be requested from our office. (And, if you stop by our offices, you can see the plaque on the wall.)


Citizen's Alerts: Calendar Section

from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

September 7 - October 28
Fallout: Complicated Lies, Simple Acts of Heroism
Meridian Gallery
545 Sutter St., 2nd floor (at Powell), SF
(415) 398-7229 for gallery hours, or AFSC for details (415) 565-0201

Subtitled, "4 artists' anti-nuclear reactions in art," this unique exhibit offers the special works of William T. Wiley, Judy Hiramoto, David Jones and Robert Hernandez. Six evenings of anti-nuclear perspectives are planned as well. Call for details, dates.

Thursday, September 21
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 South Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Come and help us celebrate winning the EPA national award for our efforts to obtain cleanup of contaminated soils and groundwater around Livermore Lab's main site and site 300. We will also discuss upcoming events, report on our strategic planning retreat and provide updates on NIF, missile defense schemes and other issues.

Saturday, September 23
"Redefining National Security"
10 AM - 1 PM, UC Clark Kerr Campus
2601 Waring St., Berkeley
(415) 333-2736 for details

Join Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Rear-Admiral Eugene Carroll (USN-rtd.) and a number of local and national guest speakers to discuss what happened to our "peace dividend."

Tuesday, September 26
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Public Meeting on nuclear transport
6 PM - 10 PM, Oakland Federal Bldg.
1601 Clay St., downtown Oakland
(925) 443-7148 or (301) 415-1642

The NRC is considering revisions to its regulations for the transportation of radioactive materials. Call for details.

Thursday, September 28
3rd Annual "Nix MOX" Day
(925) 443-7148 or PSR (202) 898-0150

Many groups and individuals will take action on this day to protest the use of weapons-grade plutonium in commercial nuclear reactors. Called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, here are some actions you can take to oppose it: write a letter to the editor, educate your elected officials about MOX or, simply, act now to obtain more information for yourself and your friends. Call Tri-Valley CAREs or Physicians for Social Responsibility and get a free "Nix MOX" info kit.

Thursday, October 5
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs offices
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for directions

We need a few good volunteers, preferably a dozen or more, to affix mailing labels on our next edition. Join us.

Saturday, October 7
International Day of Protest
to Stop the Militarization of Space
Local actions at Vandenberg AFB, Beale AFB, Stockton and more
Tri-Valley CAREs (925) 443-7148
Global Network (352) 337-9274 for info

Celebrate a partial victory as the decision is postponed on National Missile Defense. Come demonstrate your opposition to all militarization of space. Space-based laser weapons are being designed today for U.S. Theater Missile Defense schemes and NMD tests will continue. Therefore, we will gather to tell the leaders of the world that space must be kept for peace. Call for details.

Tuesday, October 17
An evening with Brian Watson
7:30 PM, Mt. Diablo Peace Center
55 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek

(925) 443-7148 or (925) 933-7850

Brian was one of nine people arrested blocking the Bangor Trident Submarine Base. The verdict: Brian's actions were necessary and required to prevent nuclear war. This legal finding was based on U.S. treaty obligations, the Nuremberg principles and the World Court decision on the illegality of nuclear weapons. Come and hear Brian's inspiring story. Call us for directions, details and fliers.

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