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Citizens Watch Newsletter September 1998


Tri-Valley CAREs Meets with New Energy Secretary

by Paul Carroll
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Members of Tri-Valley CAREs and a number of other regional peace and environmental groups met with the new Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, on August 27 at Lawrence Livermore Lab. The meeting allowed the groups to brief Richardson on a number of important policy issues, and to request specific courses of action that will reduce environmental and health risks and curtail nuclear weapons development projects.

The groups involved were Tri-Valley CAREs, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pax Christi, Western States Legal Foundation, and the American Friends Service Committee. Representatives of the groups spoke to Richardson about the Livermore Lab public health assessment, the Stockpile Stewardship Program, nuclear safety problems in the Lab's plutonium facility, global nuclear disarmament, and the Superfund cleanup at the Lab's main site and site 300.

During the meeting, Richardson was given a number of documents and background material related to the topics and was given a briefing packet that clearly outlined each of the issues discussed and the actions needed to address them. These actions include:

** Full funding for the Livermore Public Health Assessment, begun about two years ago and mandated under the Superfund legislation;

** Halting construction of the National Ignition Facility and undertaking a balanced study on the most cost-effective, proliferation resistant approach to safeguard the stockpile as it awaits dismantlement;

** Conducting a study with public input on the proliferation risks of the Stockpile Stewardship program and analyzing a less provocative, yet effective, "curatorship" approach to the stockpile;

** Immediately shutting down the plutonium facility at the Lab and conducting a DOE headquarters-level investigation into the recurring safety problems there;

** Advocacy from DOE to de-alert U.S. nuclear forces; champion the elimination of nuclear weaponry and promote ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without provocative programs such as Stockpile Stewardship;

** Completing an environmental restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement as ordered by the federal court in 1990 and abandoning the DOE's current, deeply flawed "Accelerating Cleanup" plan; securing full and stable funding for the cleanup of the Lab's main site and site 300, ensuring that these sites are cleaned up fully, in a timely manner, and in compliance with all regulations.

Although pressed for time, Secretary Richardson showed a commitment to hearing us out on all of the issues, and asked several questions of the group. With respect to the plutonium facility safety issue in particular, Richardson perked up and vigorously stated his serious commitment to nuclear safety at Livermore and throughout the DOE. He left us with the impression that the safety, public health and cleanup funding issues we raised would receive DOE Headquarter's attention. Further, the new Secretary listened closely to our arguments for disarmament initiatives and against NIF and Stockpile Stewardship.

Richardson then voiced his concern over the ability of the public to readily access information and have a role in DOE policy issues. He mentioned the idea of setting up an office of "Consumer Affairs" and asked if we might have input on an approach to doing this. At press time, Tri-Valley CAREs is drafting a follow-up letter to the Secretary to suggest a way to establish such an office that would be effective, rather than simply window dressing.

This was Tri-Valley CAREs' first meeting with the new Secretary, who was sworn in only days before his visit to the Lab. In the past, Tri-Valley CAREs has met with Secretary O'Leary and Secretary Pena. Hopefully, this meeting with Richardson will be the start of a continuing dialog as he takes on his DOE duties. The door was left open by Richardson for communities to communicate with him at any time.

We welcome the new Secretary, and sincerely hope that he will live up to the commitment he displayed at our meeting to listen to affected communities and alternative views on DOE programs and policy.

Copies of the "Briefing Papers" we prepared for Secretary Richardson are available by snail mail on request.


Judge's Decision a Mixed Bag

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Federal Court judge Stanley Sporkin issued his decision-in the form of a Court Order-on the motion for Summary Judgment brought by 39 peace and environmental groups, including Tri-Valley CAREs. To recap, we had asked the judge to order additional environmental review for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore Lab due to recently declassified documents that reveal plans to use plutonium, uranium and large quantities of lithium hydride in NIF experiments-contrary to Dept. of Energy (DOE) claims made during previous public hearings on the mega-laser. Plaintiffs also requested more environmental study of DOE's plutonium bomb core (called "pit") production plans at Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico.

National Ignition Facility

First, for the good news on the NIF, the judge definitively ruled that DOE must complete a supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) before conducting any experiments on NIF with plutonium, weapons grade uranium or more than 50 grams of lithium hydride.

However, simultaneously, the bad news is that the decision is worded to allow DOE until Jan. 1, 2004 to make a final decision regarding those experiments. Further, the Order does not require the environmental analysis to come before any significant expenditure of federal monies, as is ordinarily required by law.

In other words, the judge's Order could allow DOE to spend our tax dollars to actually build into the NIF the capabilities needed to conduct these additional, dangerous experiments while still withholding its formal decision-and thus avoiding the environmental review-until after the construction is complete in 2004.

Plutonium Bomb Cores

The judge also ordered more analyses of earthquake hazards at Los Alamos Lab, along with a reexamination of the potential for building-wide fires at that Lab's main plutonium facilities. Too, the judge's Order requires a supplement to the existing PEIS prior to any action by DOE to install extra plutonium pit manufacturing capability above the previously analyzed limit.

Overall Gains & Next Steps

In addition to any specific environmental analyses ordered by Judge Sporkin, our lawsuit has been a successful tool with which to shine light on the dark underbelly of the NIF and other elements of DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship and Management" (SSM) program. The lawsuit compelled DOE to reveal formerly classified plans to continue nuclear weapons design activities using NIF and other SSM facilities. It forced the revelation that bomb grade materials-in addition to the radioactive tritium-deuterium fuel-are being proposed for NIF. These facts have made their way into respected scientific and ecological journals, and are an important part of a growing public debate over the goals, hazards and costs of the SSM program.

We will continue to "watchdog" any new SSM developments. Much of our attention in the coming month, however, will focus on the part of the lawsuit seeking to hold DOE in contempt of court for its failure to prepare a PEIS on cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex. We are wrapping up the six-month "discovery," or investigative, period granted us by Judge Sporkin. The court-ordered hearing is October 15.

In this, we at Tri-Valley CAREs are working closely with attorney David Adelman, recently hired at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and with Howard Crystal at the firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein. Together with other plaintiff groups, we are seeking to enforce a 1990 Court Order for a programmatic review of DOE's cleanup plans, and to enhance the role of the public in decision-making. Stay tuned.




Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

** Plutonium Tests. Livermore Lab has nearly completed the sampling begun on Aug. 17 in Big Trees Park. In all, 292 soil samples will be analyzed from the park, the nearby school and the creek. The results may be available early in Nov. Previous sampling had revealed elevated levels of plutonium. The new $500,000 study is supposed to shed light on how the plutonium traveled from the Lab to the park as well as answer questions regarding the possible presence of more "hot spots" in the areas tested.

** Uranium Leftovers. Last month, Livermore Lab personnel improperly routed 10 grams of Uranium Carbide into storage in a building with an administrative inventory cap of zero for radioactive material. Upon discovering the mistake workers moved the Uranium to another area, but compounded the violation by failing to inform the proper authorities for nearly three weeks.

** Whistleblower's New Suit. David Lappa, a Livermore Lab nuclear engineer, recently won a Labor Dept. ruling that LLNL had retaliated against him when he refused to sign a safety analysis that, according to Lappa, submerged evidence that some plutonium violations were deliberate and willful. Now Lappa has filed a suit in Superior Court charging that discrimination against him continues, and that Livermore Lab has not complied with the Labor Dept. ruling.

** Local Computers Used for India Tests? The Commerce Dept. is investigating Themis, a Fremont company, to determine if it sold equipment illegally to India for use in that country's bomb design and testing program. Themis shipped its advanced microprocessors to India without any export license, a legal move if the use was non-nuclear. However, reports say Themis sold the high-speed equipment to the Indian gov't between 1992 and 1997 for its PACE supercomputers, which have been linked to the weapons program. Themis denies its product was used in India's bomb program.

** NAM's Disarming Summit. The Non-Aligned Movement, meeting in Durban, South Africa, issued a call this month for a world conference to abolish nuclear weapons. With aims similar to the non-governmental Abolition 2000 movement, the NAM proposes the conference be held in 1999 with the goal of reaching an agreement, before the end of the millennium, on a phased program for the elimination of nuclear weaponry within a specified timeframe. Such an agreement, says the NAM, should prohibit the development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use of nukes, and should provide for their dismantlement.

** Weak Medicine. The Institute of Medicine and the Nat'l Academy of Sciences quietly released their report analyzing the work done by the Nat'l Cancer Institute on the health effects of radioactive iodine in bomb fallout in the U.S. Their recommendations are extremely weak. Instead of calling for more public education and outreach, the panel concluded that there is no good way to find the tens of thousands of American families that may have received enough radiation to raise their risk of thyroid cancer and other negative health impacts.

** Downwinders Swept Aside. A judge dismissed the claims of most of the 4,000 plaintiffs - the Hanford down- winders - who claim that their medical conditions are linked to radiation emitted from the DOE's Hanford site in Washington state. Only an estimated 20 to 200 of the downwinders will meet the criteria imposed by the judge for obtaining a jury trial. Attorneys for some plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling.

** CTBT Monies Restored. The Senate, voting largely along party lines, narrowly passed an amendment to restore the funding by the U.S. for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Preparatory Committee. The vote was 49 - 44, with a number of Senators absent. Calif.'s Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein voted to support the CTBT funds. Now, if we can just get them to oppose "Stockpile Stewardship".

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