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Citizens Watch Newsletter September 1999


September 1999 Citizen's Watch

New Plan to Expand Nuclear Weapons Activities Revealed:
Plutonium from Los Alamos Lab to be Moved to Livermore

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Note -- In last month's Citizen's Watch, we made public DOE's plan to ship some of Rocky Flat's plutonium to Livermore Lab. Now we have uncovered a proposal to bring plutonium from Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico to Livermore. Read on ...

The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) is poised to make major changes in its nuclear weapons program and move more plutonium work to the Livermore Lab, according to materials used by DOE to brief high-level Clinton administration officials on the plan.

Tri-Valley CAREs obtained the briefing papers from the federal Office of Management and Budget and released them to the media and the public in August. The proposed changes will have far-reaching, negative consequences for Bay Area public health and safety, for national efforts to reign in the escalating nuclear weapons budget and for international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament goals.

DOE will give Livermore Lab plutonium pit work now performed at Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. A "pit" refers to the plutonium core of a nuclear weapon. This plan will include moving nuclear weapons to Livermore for plutonium pit surveillance. Additionally, the workload for the W80 submarine and air launched cruise missiles is slated to move to Livermore Lab from Los Alamos. This, too, will mean more plutonium pits at Livermore Lab.

Until now, this plan has gone forward in secret, and the public has been inappropriately excluded from any knowledge or decision-making role. Earlier this year, DOE and Livermore Lab hosted a public meeting at which officials testified that no major changes were contemplated to the Lab's operations over the next 5 years. On that basis, DOE and Livermore Lab decided, in March 1999, not to conduct a new site-wide environmental review. Put simply, they lied.

Tri-Valley CAREs and its colleague organizations in the Bay Area are demanding full environmental review and public hearings before any money is allocated or any nuclear materials are moved.

Moreover, the DOE plan extends beyond shifting "Stockpile Stewardship" functions between labs. It expands the so-called "Stewardship" program and further enhances U.S. nuclear capability -- demonstrating once again a "do as I say and not as I do" proliferation policy on the part of the U.S. That hypocrisy will not go unnoticed by other nations, some of whom will use it to justify their own pursuit of new nuclear weapons capabilities. The result will be an increase in environmental risks locally and proliferation dangers worldwide.

Major Changes Proposed

  • DOE will "move promptly" the W80 nuclear warhead workload from Los Alamos Lab in Mew Mexico to Livermore Lab in California. This will increase the plutonium pit work at Livermore. The briefing papers also reveal what appear to be changes in the warhead that go far, far beyond mere maintenance procedures to preserve the existing weapon's "safety" or "reliability" while it remains in the arsenal. The W80 "upgrade" proposed here is sufficiently extensive to raise new questions about DOE plans to (re)design nuclear weapons in the 21st century. The W80 was originally designed by Los Alamos, and this plan marks the first time that responsibility for a nuclear weapon designed by one of the labs will be shifted to the other.

  • DOE will also "move promptly" the plutonium pit surveillance mission and workload from Los Alamos to Livermore. DOE expressly says one of the aims is to give Livermore Lab more plutonium work. This means pits from weapons besides those of the W80 discussed above will come to Livermore, where the Lab already has about 880 pounds of plutonium and is slated to get more from Rocky Flats.

  • Los Alamos Lab's Appaloosa program will be expanded. Appaloosa is the code name for a new hydrodynamic test program wherein, essentially, high-explosives and surrogate pits (including with plutonium 242) are set off inside above-ground tanks.

  • DOE will consolidate hydrodymamic testing at Los Alamos, although administration officials have been told by DOE that Livermore Lab will hang on to its hydrodynamic test program, including the new "Contained Firing Facility," now under construction at Livermore Lab.

  • DOE will build a huge, new 50 gigaelectron volt proton accelerator at Los Alamos Lab. The existing LANCE facility will become merely an injector beamline for the new mega-machine, according to DOE.

  • DOE will conduct additional underground subcritical nuclear tests for the W80 and W88 programs. The briefing papers specify that additional subcritical shots will involve "weapon relevant shapes."

  • DOE will move ATLAS and Pegasus from Los Alamos Lab to Nevada. ATLAS is a new fusion facility being constructed at Los Alamos. Pegasus is an older machine. These two programs will be used to develop technology that will allow for "explosively driven pulse power for future special nuclear material [i.e., plutonium] experiments in U1A." The U1A is the underground tunnel complex where subcritical nuclear experiments are detonated. These pulse power tests are of a new type.

  • DOE will build a new "infrastructure for weapons microsystem components ...MESA" at Sandia Lab in New Mexico. This capability will "support future AF&F (arming, firing and fusing) needs."

Collectively, these plans substantially ratchet up U.S. nuclear weapons activities. We must act swiftly to counter this.

The DOE briefing papers make it clear that one of plan's "drivers" is the desire to keep Livermore Lab operating as a full-service nuclear weapons design lab -- with a robust plutonium workload to match its weaponeers' fusion aspirations, fueled by the National Ignition Facility.

Tri-Valley CAREs is preparing a letter outlining our objections. Call the office for details, or come to our meeting on September 23rd to discuss next steps.

Don't just get mad -- get organized with us!

Lab Laser: $300 Million Cost Overrun?

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Last week, Mike Campbell resigned his position as Associate Director for Lasers at Livermore Laboratory. As A.D., Campbell had been head of the Laser Directorate, including the $1.2 billion construction budget for the National Ignition Facility. Lab Director Bruce Tarter issued a press statement on Friday, August 27, 1999, claiming Campbell had stepped down for personal reasons. Along with that announcement, Lab management immediately began leaking information to the press that Campbell had not received a Ph.D. from Princeton, as he had claimed. That fact was widely reported in the media. End of story? Or, titillating red herring?

Tri-Valley CAREs began conducting interviews last week with senior scientific staffers at the three major nuclear weapons laboratories, Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia. Knowledgeable, long-time employees at all three of the labs said the real reason for the "shake up" is that the nuclear fusion-based NIF, being built at Livermore Lab, is $300 million over budget and one year behind schedule.

We were told NIF is mired in scientific and technical difficulties that Livermore Lab and its parent agency, the Dept. of Energy, are trying to hide from Congress and the public. There are three "show stopper" areas where NIF is rapidly falling behind schedule and incurring cost overruns-$300 million and rising, employees say.

* Target fabrication - This refers to the design and manufacture of the cryogenic (frozen) balls containing the radioactive fuel that NIF's 192 laser beams are supposed to compress uniformly and instantly to achieve the temperatures and other phenomena found in the later stages of an exploding nuclear weapon.

* Diagnostics - This is the sophisticated array of equipment that is required to provide a highly accurate record of what goes on in a NIF target "shot." These results are to be fed into the nuclear weapons codes, the software that is central to nuclear weapons design.

* Glass development and delivery - This refers to the refinement and manufacture of exceedingly complex optics, special lenses and crystals that comprise the basis for NIF - which is a glass laser. No glass means no laser.

In essence, Livermore Lab officials have been spending the money as fast as they get it, but have failed to accomplish the milestones those funds were supposed to achieve.

Employees say the Lab has attempted to hide the overrun by pulling target fabrication, diagnostics and glass delivery out of NIF's "project" budget. That's how, say staffers, Mike Campbell justified standing on stage at the target chamber dedication in June boasting NIF was "on budget." Just missing a few key ingredients, that's all. Very Clintonesque.

Since all those things will need to be purchased, Livermore Lab and the DOE management plan to rob money from other programs at Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia labs to make up for the overrun, say scientists. NIF is the 800 pound gorilla poised and ready to squash many smaller, more worthy projects.

NIF's technical difficulties have also caused its completion date to slip by 12 months, say sources close to the program. While Lab and DOE officials are still saying publicly that NIF will be on line in 2003, several months ago the projected start date was secretly bumped backed to 2004, they say.

NIF is, at best, half-built (according to the Lab's assessment). That it could be this far over budget and behind schedule is indicative of a program in deep trouble, and one whose management insisted on plunging full speed ahead before key scientific problems were resolved. A $300 million cost overrun is particularly astonishing when one considers that NIF's construction estimates have nearly doubled, from $677 million to $1.2 billion. How could NIF garner such huge budget increases and still incur an overrun on top of that?

Tri-Valley CAREs is calling for a Congressional inquiry into NIF spending. Top Lab and DOE management should be forced to come clean now, before any new checks are cashed. NIF's overall budget for fiscal year 2000, which starts on October 1, 1999, contains nearly half a billion dollars.

Congress should not risk throwing good money out after bad.

Health Study News

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

As a regular reader, you know that for the last sixteen years Tri-Valley CAREs has advocated for its members and other community folks who have been affected by pollutants from Livermore Lab.

And you know that for the last several years we have actively participated in the Public Health Assessment (PHA) going on in our community. The assessment is due to Livermore Lab's placement on the EPA Superfund list of most heavily contaminated sites in the nation. The assessment process began as a national model.

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry signed a cooperative agreement with the California Dept. of Health Services -- the same scientists' group that had conducted the study of malignant melanoma among Lab workers in the mid-1980s (finding a 400% increase) and the childhood cancer study in the mid-1990s (finding a 600% increase in malignant melanoma among children born in Livermore). Thus, in the beginning, residents benefited from the skills of both the federal agency charged by Congress with conducting the PHA and the state agency with lots of public health expertise and a long-standing knowledge of the community.

The two agencies empaneled a "Site Team" to guide the PHA process. Membership on the Site Team included DOE, Livermore Lab, Tri-Valley CAREs, local business persons and more. Things started out in a reasonably open and productive way -- not perfect, but at least good. More recently, however, the federal ATSDR has stated it will no longer fund the cooperative agreement. Since then, the Site Team and the PHA process have steadily deteriorated.

At the last Site Team meeting, Tri-Valley CAREs made 5 key recommendations for follow up to the plutonium "health consult." We have not had any word from ATSDR whether they considered our input or not.

We will state our concerns at the meeting on Sept. 16. We hope you can be there. See the "Citizen's Alerts" section for meeting time and location.

Lab Uranium Fire Causes Shut Down

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

A fire broke out in uranium contaminated wastes at Livermore Lab, forcing the temporary closure of 3 buildings where workers handle the radioactive metal. The accident occurred on July 26, 1999, but was not reported to the public. Last month, a summary appeared in an internal Dept. of Energy publication.

The fire broke out in an area where wastes contaminated with uranium are prepared for transport to the Nevada Test Site for disposal. An employee was loading bags of uranium shavings and other waste materials when he noticed the bag was "glowing and starting to expand," says the DOE report. The Lab's hazardous waste and fire departments were called in to extinguished the blaze.

The uranium waste shipment facility was closed for three days while the Lab investigated the incident. Two other buildings where uranium experiments are carried out were closed for one day. Faulty waste packaging procedures that allowed a spark caused by the uranium filings to ignite paper inside the bag are thought to be at fault.

The Lab said neither workers nor the environment were contaminated.

A C T I O N S

by Marylia Kelley and Sally Light
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Hi peace and enviro advocates. Here are three easy actions you can take, two without leaving home. All three are cosponsored by Tri-Valley CAREs with many allies across the country and around the globe. Working together we are making a difference! And by participating in one or more actions -- you are helping! Peace, Marylia

Just the fax:

Concerned that Year 2000-related computer failures in nuclear systems could lead to nuclear war by accident or miscalculation? So are many experts. But, what can you do? Tri-Valley CAREs joins with groups around the world to ask you to fax Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin this month urging them to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. Your letter and both Presidents' fax numbers are posted on our web site. Please print the letter, then sign and fax it today.

Phone-y defense:

Think that abrogating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is a mistake? Dislike spending the national treasury on a faulty concept? Believe that Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) schemes won't work -- and should be relegated to the dust bin of history? Welcome to the club. Join your colleagues on Sept. 13, 14 and 15 in an international phone-in to protest BMD. Just call the White House comment line at (202) 456-1111 or your favorite Congressperson at (202) 224-3121.

Rally 'round Bechtel:

DOE says there will be another "subcritical" nuclear test detonated underground in Nevada this month. The exact date, however, is still under wraps. Tri-Valley CAREs will sponsor a protest at Bechtel Headquarters at 50 Beale St., just off Market St., in San Francisco at noon on the day of the test. Bechtel manages the Nevada Test Site for DOE. Call our office at (925) 443-7148 to check for the test date and rally details.

Citizen's Alerts

by Sally Light, Rene' Steinhauer and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch


Wednesday, September 8
Plutonium-contaminated sludge
Pleasanton Planning Commission
7 PM, 200 Old Bernal Ave., Pls.
(925) 484-8023 for details

Among its agenda items, the Pleasanton Planning Commission is slated to discuss the contaminated sludge deposited on the "Bernal Property" parcel by Interstate Nuclear Services.

Tuesday, September 14
Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets
7:30 PM, Janis Kate's home
749 Hazel St., Livermore
(925) 443-4372 for details

Tri-Valley CAREs' Board meets quarterly and guides the group's organizational development. Board members are elected to one-year terms. If you are interested in serving Tri-Valley CAREs in this manner, please call Board President Janis Kate at the number above.

Thursday, September 16

Livermore Public Health Assessment
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
4:30-6:30 PM, consultation with ATSDR
6:30-9:45 PM, Site Team meeting
Arroyo Seco School
5280 Irene Way, Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Please note that our Tri-Valley CAREs meeting has been changed to Sept. 23 so that our members can attend these events.

The consultation time is an ATSDR "public availability session" for community members to confidentially discuss any health concerns that could, potentially, be related to toxic or radioactive contamination. It is not possible for people to know for certain what their exposures in the community have been. Therefore, if you have any health problems that may have an environmental link, ATSDR would like to talk to you.

The "Site Team" meeting is open to the public. Agenda items include the health consult on plutonium in Livermore, the Livermore Lab's groundwater contamination and future health studies to be conducted in Livermore. Tri-Valley CAREs holds a seat on the "Site Team." Our aim is to ensure the Public Health Assessment process is an open, credible and useful one. Recent changes raise concern. Please see the article on page 2 for further details.

Thursday, September 23
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' office
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Note our September meeting date and location have been changed. Join us and help promote peace, justice and a healthy environment-locally and globally. Come and strategize with friends and neighbors. Agenda items will include results from our annual planning retreat, DOE's proposal to move more plutonium work to Livermore, NIF cost overruns, sludge and health studies.

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

You are cordially invited to the social event of the fall season: Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party. Enjoy good conversation and snacks while affixing labels and helping the cause of peace.

October 9-11
Abolish Nuclear Weapons
U.S. and Native Nations'
Organizing Conference
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(925) 443-7148 for details

The U.S. Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons extends a warm invitation to all abolitionists to attend the long-awaited national organizing conference. The goal is to develop a coordinated and effective campaign, drawing on all elements of the anti-nuclear movement. The conference will build on the Mission Statement and Declaration adopted by over 60 groups at the Santa Barbara, California meeting last February. For details, call Sally Light at the Tri-Valley CAREs office number above.

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