Reading Room

November/December 2014 Citizen's Watch Newsletter

Download the PDF

Bomb Shipments a No-Go!

by Scott Yundt from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

We are pleased to announce that plutonium bomb cores will not be shipped to Livermore Lab. This is a huge win for public health and environmental safety.

When we first heard of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plan to ship plutonium bomb cores from Los Alamos Lab to Livermore Lab for "environmental testing" up to six times per year, we vowed to stop it. Trucking plutonium bomb cores thousands of miles is dangerous. Further, Livermore Lab has no authorization to handle full bomb cores, having failed a security test! The NNSA plan would have issued security variances while the bomb cores were on site.

Tri-Valley CAREs circulated a petition to show the opposition to this plan and quickly gathered over 3000 signatures (thank you). We brought the facts and these petitions to decision makers in Washington, DC. At our request, Senator Dianne Feinstein sponsored a bill that required a cost analysis before the NNSA could move forward with the shipments. Nearly a year passed with no analysis, and no shipments.

Recently, her staff informed us that we had won - at least for now. NNSA will not transport plutonium bomb cores to Livermore, requiring a surge in physical security. To satisfy near-term needs, said the appropriations subcommittee professional staff, NNSA is pursuing an alternate certification approach using a surrogate material that would enable environmental testing without a security surge. The earliest NNSA might try again to use the Livermore Lab equipment with plutonium would be 2017, but it is likely they may never do so. Plus, NNSA would still owe that cost study to Congress before the shipments could begin.

At Tri-Valley CAREs, we will keep the pressure on to ensure the plan does not rears its ugly head again.

Plutonium Plans at NIF

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Weaponeers at Livermore Lab are poised to conduct experiments, also called shots, with plutonium in the National Ignition Facility (NIF) despite serious questions about safety, cost and scientific relevance.

Documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs through litigation under the Freedom of Information Act disclose that the Lab has known since 2009 (but never made public) that it will be unable to contain the radioactive debris from plutonium shots in NIF. Nonetheless, the plan is moving forward.

A little background: According to the Lab's environmental impact statement (EIS), the use of plutonium and other fissile materials at NIF would increase its output of nuclear waste by 50% and worker exposure to radiation about three-fold. Those calculations were predicated on utilizing a small round containment vessel to surround the experiment and capture the debris. After each shot, that vessel would be removed and disposed of as radioactive waste.

Now we know that the Lab could not figure out how to get the laser beams inside the small vessel. And, so, they decided to jettison the containment vessel but not the proposal to use the lasers to vaporize plutonium.

Instead, the Lab decided it could maneuver an "end run" around the EIS by substituting either plutonium-242 or 244 for plutonium-239, the isotope predominate in nuclear bomb cores. All three isotopes are plutonium and radioactive, but 242 and 244 have longer half-lives, meaning they are radioactive for a longer duration but are less "hot" than 239 due to their slower rates of decay.

One "assumption" listed in the documents is that the Lab will be allowed to splatter the two longer-lived plutonium isotopes inside the NIF without an effective means of containment. Another is that there will be at least 100 of these plutonium shots, conducted over a 10-year span.

A third assumption is that the Lab will be able to prevent the plutonium wastes splattered around the NIF from exceeding the transuranic threshold. A fourth is that the plutonium debris will ablate uniformly (meaning not clump up). A fifth assumption is that the airborne radioactivity escaping into the building will not exceed legal levels. However, the experiments might "generate airborne contamination that exceeds the derived air concentration" (i.e., the legal limit). In this manner assumptions are made and then contradicted within the same document.

Perhaps most shocking, one document suggests that a "mix" of plutonium-242 with some weapons grade plutonium-239 may be considered for use in NIF even absent a working containment vessel.

The most recent documents suggest that the plutonium experiments in NIF may also contaminate the laser optics. One report states that the "efficacy" of any potential methods for cleaning plutonium debris off the NIF optics is uncertain.

Additionally, machining techniques to create plutonium targets for NIF have not been perfected and new equipment must be designed and built. Estimates for machining one plutonium target for use in a single NIF experiment reach tens of millions of dollars. No cost estimates are given for the whole 100-shot campaign, or for waste management and cleanup.

And, as one weapons expert now retired from Livermore told us, contaminating NIF with plutonium may make the facility unfit for unclassified experiments in the future. NIF has a ceiling of 20% of its shots for any purpose that does not serve the nuclear weapons program; it could be lowered to none.

The nation has no need to do plutonium shots at NIF. Moreover, it is unclear how much scientists will discover about plutonium-239 by conducting experiments at NIF with non-239 isotopes.

We have been raising questions with members of Congress, NNSA Headquarters, and other agencies. The Senate's Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations language would prohibit money from being spent on plutonium in NIF. It is unclear though what a final bill might say, or if a final bill will be passed. There are senior management officials at NNSA with concerns about the program, but it is not clear any will oppose it.

We will continue our efforts until the program is terminated. Broad public opposition to plutonium in NIF is of particular importance in stopping it. Come to our January meeting (see Alerts on page 3) or call us to find out more.

Exposed: Lab Worker Dangers Worsen

by Scott Yundt from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Beryllium is a highly toxic metal that has relatively few industrial applications. Due to its properties (including its low density and atomic mass) beryllium is relatively transparent to X-rays and other forms of ionizing radiation, making it very useful in nuclear weapons. For decades, Livermore Lab has used large amounts of beryllium in the development of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, inhaled beryllium-containing dust can cause a chronic life-threatening disease in some people called berylliosis or Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD).

Tri-Valley CAREs has reported on numerous beryllium violations by Livermore Lab management including a 2010 fine and Order for Compliance issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Health, Safety and Security. More recently we learned that the DOE's Inspector General (IG) investigated a specific case of beryllium exposures that occurred in the 2005-2008 time-frame.

We requested documents pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act relating to the IG's investigation. After waiting nearly two years, we filed litigation to obtain the documents, and finally the IG produced volumes of responsive documents regarding its investigation.

The contents of these documents are alarming. We learned that the exposures to beryllium at the Lab are far more frequent then have been publicly reported.

One document reports that the number of employees on the beryllium roster, meaning that they were likely exposed to beryllium, increased by 50% after 2004 to 620 employees. We also learned that at least 125 former and current employees were subsequently identified as potentially Beryllium Sensitized, definitely Beryllium Sensitive (BeS) or had developed Chronic Beryllium Disease (with at least 15 definitely positive for CBD).

According to the documents, the rate of Beryllium Sensitivity or Chronic Beryllium Disease was about 4.5% of tested personnel tested. (2800 former and current Livermore Lab employees had been tested at the time). This is more than two times higher than the rate typically experienced within DOE, which was less than 2% as of June 2008.

The documents make important recommendations on how the Lab should improve its Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program. We will follow up with the DOE's Inspector General Office to ensure that progress on these recommendations is being made.

Progress on Disarmament

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Humanity's shared aspiration for a world free of nuclear weapons is finding new global outlets, and Tri-Valley CAREs is there.

Two exceptional developments this year have been the #NuclearZero lawsuits filed against the nations possessing nuclear weapons by the Marshall Islands and a growing international focus on the humanitarian consequences of the bomb, leading hundreds of countries to a stronger sense of urgency for their abolition. In December, we will go to Vienna to advance both of these initiatives.

On December 5, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, Marylia Kelley, will speak on the #Nuclear Zero lawsuits at a public forum hosted by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) at the Vienna University of Technology.

The event will also feature Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, Christopher Weeramantry, former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Phon van den Biesen, an attorney representing the Marshall Islands before the ICJ, and David Krieger, NAPF President and a member of the international legal team. Kelley will focus on the case filed by the Marshall Islands in U.S. Federal Court in the Northern District of California and U.S. noncompliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is central to the litigation.

On December 6 and 7 Kelley will represent Tri-Valley CAREs at the Civil Society Forum sponsored by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The non-governmental event precedes the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, hosted by the government of Austria, which has also invited our participation on December 8 and 9.

Vienna will mark the third such conference. The first was held in Oslo, Norway last year with 128 countries participating. The U.S. publicly called its focus on the human consequences of the bomb a "distraction" and chose to boycott, along with the other nuclear weapons states. But the idea did not die. Mexico stepped forward to host a second conference in February 2014 in Nayarit and 146 countries participated.

A movement was growing of the world's governments frustrated with the nuclear weapons states' lack of real disarmament. Austria volunteered to host this third conference. In a related development, a Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons was delivered in October 2014 at the UN by New Zealand on behalf of 155 countries. Then, on November 7, the U.S. announced it would attend the Vienna Conference to "present the U.S. perspective."

Tri-Valley CAREs is honored to be invited to all three forums. We will go to Vienna to talk with governments and NGOs alike. Our aim is nuclear disarmament now. As Austria stated in its invitation, "As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth."

Print Bites: All the News that Fits to Print

by Scott Yundt and Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Community Meeting.On Sept. 18th, Tri-Valley CAREs organized a meeting on the state of Livermore Lab's Superfund cleanup from the community perspective. Participants gathered at the Livermore Library to hear from Environmental Scientist Peter Strauss, Executive Director Marylia Kelley, and Staff Attorney Scott Yundt (pictured above). Tri-Valley CAREs distributed its new report, The State of the Superfund. Topics discussed included the Superfund law, hazardous waste management, current cleanup technologies, and why Livermore Lab's broken public participation program imperils critical progress on cleanup. The group decided on a plan of action. It includes: hosting annual State of the Superfund meetings in Livermore and Tracy; holding meetings with elected officials; requesting tours of the cleanup areas at Site 300 and the Main Site; requesting a hazardous waste facilities tour; Circulating a petition to establish a Community Work Group in Tracy and to re-establish the Group in Livermore; and more. We invite you to get involved in 2015. (Report, presentations, Action Plan & more are on our website at here. )

Quotable. On Nov. 6, the LA Times published an important article, Aging Nuclear Arsenal Grows Ever More Costly, containing a great quote from Dr. Roger Logan, the former head of Directed Stockpile Work at Livermore Lab and a longstanding friend of Tri-Valley CAREs. Here is an excerpt from the article: "The source of some of those costs [is] skyrocketing profits for contractors, increased security costs for vulnerable facilities and massive investments in projects that were later canceled or postponed. 'We are not getting enough for what we are spending, and we are spending more than what we need,' said Roger Logan, a senior nuclear scientist who retired in 2007 from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 'The whole system has failed us'."

New Nukes. The W80-1 thermonuclear warhead has been selected to top a new Long-Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon for the Air Force. As we reported in your Summer Citizen's Watch, two warhead types were being considered, the W84 from the ground-launched cruise missile, a system now outlawed by treaty, and the W80-1 from the current air-launched cruise missile. The W80-1 will be "modified" in a "life extension" process to become the new W80-4. The current air-launched cruise missile will get a significant upgrade as well. Together, they will become the new LRSO. Cost estimates run about $20 billion. It remains to be seen what new military capabilities the weaponeers will add to the LRSO. We will continue to monitor this new weapon. Stay tuned.

Unreviewed Costs. The Government Accountability Office recently released its analysis of how NNSA does cost estimates for nuclear weapons programs. According to GAO, "the extent of program cost estimate weakness is largely unknown because neither DOE nor NNSA requires reviews of program cost estimates." GAO also noted that of the 50 program cost estimates it analyzed, about 80% of them had weaknesses, with many having multiple weaknesses piled one on top of the other. In fact, GAO identified 39 NNSA programs with a total of 113 cost estimating problems. In particular, GAO noted two deficient cost reviews of the B61 nuclear bomb Life Extension Programs (including a weakness that GAO diplomatically called not obtaining data). The systemic lack of cost estimate reviews and other "best practices" results in NNSA programs being understated to the tune of billions of dollars.

Alerts 4 U

from Tri-Valley CAREs' November/December 2014 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tuesday, December 9

Tri-Valley CAREs Holiday Party
5:00 PM - 8:00 PM, Livermore Library
Community Room A & B
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Join us for this very special evening. We will enjoy amazing food, some conversation, and the winning videos from the 2014 Youth Video Contest. Don't miss it!

Thursday, January 15

Tri-Valley CAREs meeting
7:30 PM - 9 PM, Livermore Library Community Room A
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Make your New Year's resolution to get more involved in Tri-Valley CAREs! You can start by attending the first meeting of the year. Our Executive Director will report back on her trips to Washington, DC, and Vienna. We will also discuss plans for the group in 2015. See you there.

Thursday, February 5

Letter to the Editor writing party
5:30 PM - 7 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Our monthly Letter to the Editor Writing Parties will resume on Feb. 5th. Come and write a letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper in a friendly and supportive environment. Our suggested topic will be the nuclear weapons budget. We will offer a short briefing and handouts to get you started. Or, you may choose to write on a different topic. Snacks and refreshments served.

Friday, October 31

Deadline for Youth Video Contest submissions

This will be the final day for submissions to our 2014 Youth Video Contest. (See Insert for more info). All valid entries will posted on our Youtube channel and on our website. The winning videos will be shown at our December 9th party and videographers will receive special recognition. Mark your calendars early. See Insert for video & party details.

Click here to download the PDF.