Reading Room

The De-Inventory of Special Nuclear Material at Livermore Lab is Complete, but Questions Remain

The Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently announced the removal of the last of Livermore Lab's Security Category I/II special nuclear material. This means Livermore no longer has any weapons usable quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium on site, although lesser amounts of special nuclear material (called Category III/IV) will remain at the Lab.

Moreover, as of October 1, 2012, Livermore Lab will no longer be authorized to handle, use or store weapons usable quantities of plutonium and/or highly enriched uranium, calling into question its future role as a "full-service" nuclear bomb design facility.

This is cause for celebration.

Tri-Valley CAREs spent decades challenging various schemes to bring more special nuclear material to Livermore. In doing so, we exposed the Lab's security failures, gathered 14,000 local signatures on a petition, and kept continual pressure on the Lab to reduce its inventory of nuclear materials and the accompanying nuclear weapons activities.

In large part the de-inventory occurred because special nuclear material cannot be kept safe at Livermore Lab, as the site demonstrated by utterly failing its security drills. NNSA's press release notes that as a result of removing these materials, it will reduce security at Livermore Lab to the Category III/IV level and save $40 million per year.

However, while we celebrate the progress made today, we have serious questions about future plutonium operations that DOE Headquarters has proposed for Livermore Lab.

The agency's draft Revised Plutonium Strategy calls for the transport of plutonium bomb cores from Los Alamos Lab in NM to Livermore Lab multiple times each year for the next decade or longer. The full nuclear bomb cores would undergo a diagnostic procedure at Livermore Lab and then be trucked back to Los Alamos.

This plan is alarming given the reduced security. Livermore Lab, which was not able to adequately safeguard bomb usable quantities of special nuclear material when at full force, will now have about 126 fewer guards, lesser weaponry and reduced security training requirements.

Further, the legal authorization for sending Category I/II special nuclear material to Livermore will be lacking. For more, click here.

Additionally, the DOE Inspector General has just released a report that was the result of its inquiry into the de-inventory of special nuclear material at Livermore Lab. The inquiry looked into allegations that Livermore had: (1) failed to follow the Department's Record of Decision requirements for removing special nuclear material; (2) attempted to maintain this material beyond 2012 by establishing unique testing capabilities that were used to perform physical work using special nuclear material on the W78 Life Extension Program (LEP) that required only a "paper study;" (3) misappropriated Government funds to reestablish test capabilities following a flood in 2006; and, (4) incurred excessive security costs for special nuclear material.

The Inspector General's inquiry did not find the allegations to have merit. Still, the report raises a number of interesting questions, including about the weapons program's "need" for the plutonium bomb core diagnostic at Livermore Lab.

Click here to read the NNSA press release announcing the de-inventory of Special Nuclear Material at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Click here to read the IG Report inquiring into the de-inventory of Special Nuclear Material at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.