Reading Room

for more information, contact:
Marylia Kelley, executive director, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Loulena Miles, staff attorney, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Christopher Paine, Natural Resources Defense Council (434) 244-5013

for immediate release Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Community Members, Policy Analysts, Scientists Oppose Increased Health And Proliferation Dangers, Charge Federal Agency Disregarded Public Comments, Congressional Direction And National Environmental Laws

LIVERMORE - Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Record of Decision (ROD) dramatically expanding nuclear weapons material and activities at Livermore Lab, located 40 miles east of San Francisco. The DOE decision doubles Livermore Lab's plutonium limits, doubles a highly enriched uranium storage limit, increases tritium (radioactive hydrogen) storage, boosts the tritium "at risk" limit nearly 10-fold, green lights prototyping plutonium bomb cores on-site, alters the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to include plutonium and other new weapons experiments, and names Livermore Lab as the location to manufacture NIF's fusion as well as new plutonium fission targets.

"Today's decision puts the entire San Francisco Bay Area at risk," declared Loulena Miles, staff attorney at the Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs. "The community has issued a resounding "NO" to these dangerous, ill-advised plans, Miles continued, "The DOE received a remarkable 9,000 public comments opposing increases in nuclear materials as well as the new weapons activities these radioactive materials will support."

The ROD is the formal document implementing DOE's controversial preferred alternative, set out in the final Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement on Livermore Lab operations, issued in April of 2005. During the legally-mandated public hearings and comment period, hundreds, including Livermore Lab scientists and community members, spoke against the proposed increases and thousands more sent emails, detailed technical analyses, comment letters and postcards to oppose the plans.


Today's DOE decision doubles Livermore Lab's plutonium storage limit, called the "administrative limit" from 1,540 pounds to 3,080 pounds, enough for roughly 300 nuclear bombs. The ROD also doubles the plutonium "at risk" limit from 44 to 88 pounds, roughly enough for eight nuclear bombs. The "at risk" limit is the amount of plutonium that workers will use in a single room or process at one time. The expansion of on-site plutonium limits is largely to enable Livermore Lab to produce prototype plutonium bomb cores, called "pits," while perfecting techniques to manufacture new pits en masse, e.g., at the DOE's proposed "Modern Pit Facility".

"One microscopic particle of plutonium, if lodged in the lungs, can cause cancer and other diseases," said Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' executive director and close neighbor of the Livermore Lab. "There are currently 7 million people living within a 50-mile radius of Livermore Lab, and the nearest earthquake fault is less than 200 feet from the site boundary," Kelly pointed out. "Instead of doubling, all plutonium activities at Livermore Lab should be terminated and DOE should prepare and circulate a plan for removing the Lab's nuclear materials."

The ROD also flies in the face of recent congressional criticism of DOE for failing to demonstrate adequate concern about the urgent need for consolidation of plutonium and highly enriched uranium away from Livermore Lab and other densely populated DOE sites where these materials are more difficult and expensive to defend. The U.S. House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriation Subcommittees' bill to fund the Department of Energy for fiscal year 2006 states: "The conferees are disappointed with the lack of urgency demonstrated by the Department when it comes to addressing the security and cost liability of having significant quantities of special nuclear materials at multiple departmental facilities across the complex."

Further, the ROD doubles the storage limit for highly enriched uranium in the Livermore lab Radiography Facility from 55 pounds to 110 pounds.


The design, scope and mission of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a controversial mega-laser under construction at the Lab, will change, making it much more dangerous to workers and the public, without providing cost estimates for the changes. In the Record of Decision, the DOE directed Livermore Lab to change NIF's design so that it can use plutonium, highly enriched uranium and fissionable materials such as thorium 232 in experiments. This change will enable the Livermore Lab to collocate materials, straying from NIF's original mission of solely fusion ignition experiments. This change will enhance NIF's usefulness for weapons design purposes. Following these modifications, NIF's day-to-day operations will be responsible for 60 % of the low level radioactive waste generated at Livermore Lab and 20% of the Lab's total worker population radiation dose.

NIF's original budget was sent to Congress at $1 billion; current estimates peg it at around $5 billion and rising. The lifetime costs for the facility are estimated at 30 billion dollars -- before the as-yet unknown costs for new modifications will be factored in. Said Kelley: "It appears that DOE is attempting to give NIF a new, enhanced weapons mission since scientists and lawmakers are increasingly convinced that it will never achieve its stated scientific goal of thermonuclear ignition. To make this change without undertaking a new nonproliferation review is reckless."


Tritium (radioactive hydrogen) which escapes easily into the environment and becomes incorporated in plants, animals and humans, will play a larger role at Livermore Lab. The ROD increases the amount of tritium on-site from 30 to 35 grams, and dramatically boosts the amount that a worker can have "at-risk" nearly ten fold, from 3.5 grams to 30 grams. The Lab will use tritium for manufacturing fusion targets for the NIF and for developing new diagnostics to enhance U.S. readiness to resume full-scale nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site.

Livermore Lab acknowledges that tritium will escape during these activities as well as during the cleanup and expansion of the extremely contaminated Tritium Facility. "The community has already been bombarded with this radioactive substance in our air, plants and rain water. It is time to stop dumping tritium onto the unconsenting population of the Bay Area," says retired Livermore Lab staff scientist Marion Fulk. Thirty grams of tritium is 300,000 curies," Fulk continued. "I don't think people understand the risk that poses. One curie is equal to 37 billion radioactive disintigrations per second."


The final SWEIS (upon which today's ROD is based) chose not to study the environmental impacts of a terrorist attack or internal sabotage. The DOE and the ROD allege the idea of a jumbo jet hitting Livermore Lab is "unforseeable," and so, therefore, the SWEIS only studied the impact of a small plane hitting the facility, even though the Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco airports are in close proximity.

The SWEIS omitted study of the Livermore Lab's proposed advanced biowarfare agent facility -- though Tri-Valley CAREs is litigating the adequacy of the DOE's previous environmental review for the planned facility, which is slated to spray live anthrax, plague, Q fever and other bioweapon agents on up to 100 small animals at a time.

The SWEIS improperly limits the alternatives analysis by paying far too little attention to civilian programs at Livermore Lab. Moreover, it glosses over the proliferation impacts of the proposed increases in nuclear material and activities.

Tri-Valley CAREs, Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations are undertaking a detailed legal analysis of the final SWEIS and today's Record of Decision. "With this decision, the DOE is increasing the nuclear dangers we face," stated Miles. "Additionally, DOE is trampling on the health and environmental well-being of Bay Area communities," said Miles. "We believe a lawsuit may be necessary to stop these dangerous activities. A lawsuit would seek to overturn the ROD and compel the DOE to re-issue the SWEIS with a more honest and complete analysis of the proposed programs' environmental and proliferation impacts."

Tri-Valley CAREs is also launching a petition campaign, calling upon the Department of Energy to not double the plutonium storage and use at Livermore Lab -- and on Congress not to fund DOE's planned increases.

Today's Record of Decision is available on the web at Call Tri-Valley CAREs and Natural Resources Defense Council for additional information.