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Citizens Watch Newsletter September 2006

Hiroshima at Livermore Lab

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On Sunday, August 6, more than 250 peace advocates marked the solemn anniversary of the day the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the people of Hiroshima, Japan by demonstrating for nuclear disarmament at the Livermore nuclear weapons Lab.

People gathered to hear music and speakers and to march to the gates of the Lab. With voices, banners, signs and their peaceful presence, demonstrators demanded that the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war stop its deadly pursuit of new generations of nuclear bombs.

Livermore Lab is one of the nation's two principal design labs for nuclear weapons, dedicating about 85% of its billion-dollar-plus annual budget to weapons. "We gather at Livermore Lab on this 61st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima not only to commemorate the past, but also to make visible and oppose continued U.S. nuclear weapons development," Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, told the crowd.

"This year we face the greatest likelihood that I can remember, that the promise made to the victims at Hiroshima, 'Rest in peace, for the crime shall not be repeated,' may be broken," Daniel Ellsberg said at the rally. Ellsberg is the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war, and he cited the current Bush Administration's contingency plans to use a nuclear weapon against Iran.

Many in the crowd were brought to tears by Keiji Tsuchiya, a survivor from Hiroshima who served as a rescue worker -- and who buried many of the dead. "As I walked toward the blast center, I remember it was so dim in the middle of the day and it smelled of burned flesh everywhere. In front of places on fire, I could hear the screams and see rescue workers with stretchers, aligning bodies in a row on the roadside." Tsuchiya-san continued, "The screams of those people still remain in my ears even now. They cried,... please give me some water, I need water. When they received water, they became very cold from their burning body heat and died."

The event concluded at the Livermore Lab west gate, where many participated in a ritual "spiral dance" dedicated to transforming the mission of the Lab from destruction and violence to peaceful pursuits.


Nagasaki Day at Bechtel

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On Wednesday, August 9, about 200 people rallied at Bechtel Headquarters in San Francisco to commemorate the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Activists gathered at Bechtel to oppose the corporation's management of numerous U.S. nuclear weapons sites, its Iraq war profiteering and its role in fostering myriad forms of violence across the country and the globe. August 9 is also the United Nations' International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

Bechtel built heavy water storage plants for the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government program that developed the atomic bomb. Sixty-one years later, Keiji Tsuchiya stood in front of Bechtel Headquarters and explained why he traveled from Japan for the protest. "Our strong will and actions are needed now to put an end to the use of nuclear weapons on our planet Earth. The kind of experience that the Hibakusha [atomic bomb survivors] had to go through should never, under any condition, be repeated to anybody," Tsuchiya-san stated.

Rally speakers decried Bechtel's growing involvement in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. "Bechtel is banking on Armageddon," Tara Dorabji, Tri-Valley CAREs' Outreach Director, told the demonstrators. "Bechtel has reaped millions of dollars in profits from nuclear weapons testing, production and clean-up. On the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we call on Bechtel to get out of the business of bombs," she demanded.

Other speakers illuminated the impact of nuclear weapons on Native Americans and highlighted Bechtel's role in the abuse of indigenous peoples around the world.

"Native people have been on the beginning and end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Our people were relocated in order for uranium to be mined. Many who worked in the mines died from lung cancer," said Morning Star Gali, a spokesperson with the Sacred Sites Coalition. "Our people that live in the isolated areas of the southwest, such as near Yucca Mountain and other Western Shoshone lands, have been part of what the U.S. government considers the 'national sacrifice'- their existence inconsequential in the need to store [nuclear waste]." Bechtel has managed the Nevada Test Site and is currently a management partner in the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear dump. The Nevada Test Site and the proposed Yucca Mountain facility are on land to which the Western Shoshone Nation holds rights under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.

After listening to speakers, dozens of people risked arrest by nonviolently blockading entrances to buildings where Bechtel has offices. The building was shut down and 7 people were arrested.


Three New Bio-Warfare Research Facilities at Livermore Lab?

by Loulena Miles
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Bio-weapon agent research plans are dramatically expanding at Livermore Lab. Some of the most dangerous diseases known to humankind may be experimented with and genetically modified at the Lab's main site at the eastern edge of Livermore and at its high explosives testing range, called Site 300, near Tracy.

The Lab's plans are historic because, if they move to fruition, it will mark the first U.S. collocation, or "mixing," of nuclear weapon and biological warfare agent research at the same facility. Moreover, the U.S. mail may be used to transport numerous deadly pathogens, along with Fed-Ex and UPS.

Livermore Lab is eyeing 3 new biological research facilities. Concerns abound about the wisdom of this arrangement.

Locals question whether deadly infectious disease research should be done in the highly populated Bay Area or the Central Valley, CA's agricultural heartland. Others object to its location in a classified nuclear weapons lab because it could violate, or raise the perception of violating, the prohibitions embodied in the Biological Weapons Convention. And, policy analysts point out that the profusion of unnecessary biodefense labs, now being built at breakneck speed across the country, may hinder rather than help public safety. Not only will these facilities put us all at greater risk of an accidental infectious outbreak, they could also become training grounds for terrorists -- or become their targets.

New, Dangerous and Different

Basic biological research has a long-standing history at Livermore Lab. The Lab pioneered research into human response to radiation. John Gofman and Arthur Tamplin conducted groundbreaking studies that demonstrated there is no safe dose of radiation exposure while employed at the Lab's "bio-med" department.

Basic biology programs are distinct from the advanced biowarfare agent research that is proposed. For one thing, basic research does not aerosolize bio-weapon agents like live anthrax, nor does it require special, high-containment labs. Moreover, much of the newly proposed bio-weapon agent research at Livermore Lab will be funded by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS).

Livermore Lab is increasingly partnering with DHS to establish a California hub for biowarfare agent research. The infrastructure of the Lab has been reorganized to include Homeland Security in one of the directorates in order to, says the Lab, "better support our major sponsors."

The Facilities

The first of three new bio-facilities was proposed in 2002, and slated to operate at the Lab's main site. It is a 1,500 square-foot Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) intended to aerosolize (spray) deadly agents like live anthrax, plague, and Q fever and to conduct experiments on up to 100 small animals at a time. BSL-3 is the containment level needed for pathogens that may cause serious illness or death.

If this facility becomes operational, there will be approximately 60 shipments of dangerous pathogens in and out per month. Further, Livermore Lab researchers plan to genetically modify bio-weapon agents. Its operation has been forestalled by a lawsuit filed by Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch New Mexico to challenge the adequacy of the government's environmental decision documents. Our lawsuit raises issues about earthquake safety, accident modeling, filter failures and overall poor security. A ruling is expected soon.

The second facility has been named the "Biodefense Knowledge Center," and it is housed at the main site. This facility opened in 2004 to give DHS a national clearinghouse for biological weapons information. The Center provides assessments and responds to information requests for genome sequences, vaccines and potential adversary threat assessments. The scope of activities conducted at the Center has not been publicly detailed and we are researching it via the Freedom of Information Act.

The third new facility was proposed this year by the University of California (UC) and Livermore Lab. It would be housed at Site 300, the Lab's explosive testing range for mock nuclear bombs.

UC rejected our public records act request for a copy of its bid. DHS announced August 9 that the UC/Livermore Lab proposal made its "list" of desirable candidate sites. DHS plans to announce its 3 or 4 "finalist" locations before the end of the year and perhaps as early as October.

Known as the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, this will be one of the world's largest biolabs, a megaplex where a half-million square feet of BSL-3 and BSL-4 lab space will sit on 30 to 100 acres of land. BSL-4 is the designation given to facilities that experiment on pathogens that cause diseases for which there is no known cure, like Ebola virus. (See our August 2006 Citizen's Watch, or our latest fact sheet, for details.)

The perceived "need for speed" in establishing these dangerous facilities has far outpaced logical planning. The DOE's own Inspector General has criticized the agency for not establishing "an orderly mechanism for coordinating its biological agent research and development activities."

How does Livermore Lab plan to address the hazards of conducting advanced biowarfare agent research? According to documents, the Lab will depend on its existing Institutional Biosafety Committee, or IBC, to be its "watchdog" and ensure that all rules, including those codified in the international Biological Weapons Convention are rigorously followed.

Yet, the Livermore Lab IBC meets in secret in a classified area of the Lab. Livermore Lab has refused our requests to have its IBC meet in an open area. The Lab also rejected our requests to have a representative badged in for IBC meetings. Further, the Lab will not tell us (or the media) in advance on what date IBC meetings will be held. The IBC is no "watchdog."

This unaccountable, secret committee has been tasked with deciding when and where the Lab's biological research might blur or step over the line into what could be seen as "offensive weapon" research. The IBC holds review and approval authority for "select agents" at the Lab. By definition, select agents are pathogens like bubonic plague and anthrax that have historical biological weapons applications.

Tri-Valley CAREs has used the Freedom of Information Act to get at some of the minutes from past IBC meetings -- and there has been no mention of concern for treaty compliance and related issues. It is in this environment of lax self-oversight that Livermore Lab is hoping to become a hotbed of new select agent research.

The U.S. is spending record amounts of money on select agent research. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, since 9/11 the Bush Administration has allocated more than $36 billion to biodefense.

In Fort Detrick, MD, the government is building the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), a classified facility that may conduct "red team" exercises on novel bio-weapons to see what might be possible for "terrorists" to accomplish. To make a bad situation worse, Livermore Lab will be working in tandem with the Ft. Detrick folks on various NBACC projects. In fact, documents obtained so far show that Livermore Lab may physically house some of the NBACC bioforensic work.

Like other Livermore Lab proposals to dive into biowarfare agent research, the details of its NBACC collaboration with Ft. Detrick are largely unknown -- and potentially disastrous. The government's biodefense policy is speeding the wrong way down a dark and dangerous road. It is up to us, the people, to call a halt to this insanity. Join us! Circulate our petition, go to our website -- or call us for more info.


Strategic Plans: The Stakes are High, Tri-Valley CAREs is Ready

by Ann Seitz
from September 2006 Tri-Valley CAREs newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Bush Administration gambles with destruction and wagers billions on violence while Tri-Valley CAREs antes-up hope for the future, respect for life, and lays bet that a sustainable community can exist. Tri-Valley CAREs is a major player at the peace table, and this coming year the group will show a few new cards.

On August 19, Tri-Valley CAREs held its annual Strategic Planning Retreat to evaluate its effectiveness over the past year -- and plan priorities for the coming twelve months. Group members, staff and the Board of Directors all participated.

Promoting "green" alternatives to nuclear weapons programs at Livermore Lab, preventing the collocation of nuclear bombs and biowarfare agent research and enhancing Tri-Valley CAREs' infrastructure topped the list of chosen priority programs. Other major priorities will include stopping new nukes and nuclear materials, ensuring the Superfund cleanup of toxic and radioactive contamination at the Lab and helping to build up the "next generation" of activists.

Our day started with big picture questions: what do we believe, what drew us to Tri-Valley CAREs in the first place? In a word, we began with our "values." Participants spoke of peace, mutual respect, community, care for the Earth and for all life, a spirit of service, responsibility and stewardship of the environment, among other positive values.

Executive Director Marylia Kelley then shared a "Looking Back..." analysis that described the group's activities since last year's retreat. She invited us to take a moment to consider the ways in which our work together had made a true difference in the world. Not only did we challenge the Lab's biowarfare agent research plans-effectively halting them so far-but we also helped curtail dangerous nuclear projects at Livermore, most notably the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator bomb.

Moreover, our efforts saved the Superfund cleanup last year from a Dept. of Energy (DOE) scheme to walk away from negotiated agreements and we were instrumental in preventing a Livermore Lab project to use lasers to separate plutonium isotopes for nuclear weapons experiments. That project was called "Plutonium-Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation," and the DOE acknowledged our opposition in its Federal Register notice canceling the program. (A copy of the "Looking Back..." analysis is available on request.)

During the afternoon, we formed "break-out" groups and brainstormed new campaign ideas for our priority programs, which we will implement in the coming weeks and months. Too, we spent time analyzing and evaluating the "tools" we use to win on our issues: research, community organizing, litigation and political advocacy, among others.

Marylia and Martha Priebat, President of Tri-Valley CAREs' Board of Directors, closed the day by acknowledging each participant's unique contributions. Each was awarded a "Turning Lemons into Lemonade" thank you gift, including glass, straw, napkin, original recipe and real lemon. We left the planning retreat revitalized and ready to take the next steps.

Your 2006 strategic planning team agrees - the "game plan" is solid, our members are "aces," commitment is our strong suit, and our continuing success is a smart bet.

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