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February 2008 Citizens Watch Newsletter

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Tri-Valley CAREs Attends the Bio-Weapons Convention

by Rob Schwartz from Tri-Valley CAREs' February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Last month, Robert Schwartz, Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) at the United Nations. The BWC prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons for offensive purposes.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the subsequent anthrax mailings, the U.S. has spent more than $40 billion on biodefense activities, a number that is expected to rise in the coming years. Such spending far surpasses that of any other country.

Livermore Lab has been vying since the early days of the biodefense funding boom to become a major hub for U.S. bio-warfare research, despite the fact that mixing "bugs and bombs" at a classified nuclear weapons laboratory could seriously weaken the BWC.

Livermore Lab is still determined to operate a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility, which would handle live anthrax, plague and other deadly microorganisms. Recently, the Lab was fined $450,000 for a series of shipping mishaps involving anthrax at its existing facility (a BSL-3 could be even more hazardous). These activities, and others at Livermore Lab, are governed by the BWC and the U.S. laws and regulations implementing the Convention.

Tri-Valley CAREs has organized in the community and filed federal litigation to prevent the upsurge of bio-weapon research at Livermore Lab, and to preserve the BWC. Schwartz attended the bio-weapons convention principally to discuss the dangerous trajectory of this research with the countries that have signed the BWC, including the U.S.

At the Meeting of States Parties, Schwartz was able to participate in formal and informal meetings with diplomats as well as listen to the statements offered by various countries. "I was really shocked by the statement delivered by the U.S. Ambassador, Christina Rocca," recalled Schwartz. "Other countries offered hopeful statements about making progress and working together, but Ms. Rocca basically tried to set the ground rules as to what could and couldn't happen at the Meeting. It was a classic example of the Bush Administration's unilateral and disastrous approach to foreign policy."

"Over the last several years, one of the few positive developments with regard to the BWC has been the creation of the Implementation Support Unit (ISU), which helps support the universal adoption and enhanced implementation of the Convention," continued Schwartz. "The U.S. Ambassador basically rejected any attempts to increase the responsibilities of the ISU, despite widespread international support for such a move."

One hopeful aspect of this year's BWC meeting was the introduction of roundtable discussions with various non-governmental organizations and industry representatives. These discussions allowed the States Parties to the Treaty to learn first hand from some of the people who possess particular knowledge, perspectives, and expertise that could truly help strengthen the BWC.

At the conclusion of the Meeting of States Parties, a report was adopted that lists the measures and actions which States Parties consider important for effective national implementation and regional cooperation. The report was the product of an improved atmosphere from the BWC dealings five years ago, when the U.S.-led by John Bolton-thwarted attempts to strengthen the Convention by adding an instrument to allow for international verification of a country's compliance with the BWC.

Prior to the Meeting of States Parties, Schwartz was also invited to present a paper at the 27th Workshop of the Pugwash Study Group on the implementation of the BWC. Schwartz's paper dealt with ways to enhance national laws and regulations giving effect to the BWC, with a particular emphasis on the situation in the U.S.

The Pugwash Conferences take their name from the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, where the first meeting was held in 1957. The purpose of the conferences is to bring together scholars and public figures from around the world to reduce the danger of armed conflict and seek cooperative solutions.

Print Bites: all the news that fits to print

from Tri-Valley CAREs' February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • Carbon and Nuclear Free Future A book by Dr. Arjun Makhijani concludes that a reliable and economical energy system is possible without either nuclear energy or fossil fuels. Many folks, including the local Tri-Valley Herald editorial board, have recently promoted nuclear power as a solution to global warming. But as Makhijani stated, nuclear power "entails risks of proliferation, terrorism and serious accidents." His book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, contains the first schematic diagram of a reliable electricity grid that would depend only on renewable energy sources.
  • Grand Canyon Mines According to a report recently released by the Environmental Working Group, mining interests and speculators have staked more than 800 claims within 5 miles of Grand Canyon National Park, with the overwhelming majority of the claims coming since 2003. The surge in claims has been fueled in part by high prices for uranium to be used as fuel for nuclear power plants.
  • Sleeping Guards at Nuclear Plants. A former security guard at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania recently provided the media with a videotape of guards taking regular naps in what they called "the ready room." The former guard first reported the problem to supervisors at his company, Wackenhut Corp., who told him to be a team player. He then alerted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which also dismissed his complaint after the plant's owner said it found no evidence of guards sleeping while on duty. Wackenhut, which has a history of bad relations with its workers, also guards the Y-12 complex and other sites within the nuclear weapons complex. The DOE's Inspector General has cited Wackenhut for a series of problems at weapons sites.
  • Cancer Links and the Workplace. A new report concluded that unintentional exposures to toxins in our workplaces and the environment contributed to nearly 1.5 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. last year. Scientists found compelling new evidence linking brain cancer to exposure to non-ionizing radiation, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to exposure to pesticides and solvents, and lung cancer to exposure to air pollution, among other linkages. The report highlights the need for a new cancer prevention paradigm in the U.S., one that is based on an understanding that cancer is caused by multiple interacting factors. The report comes from scientists at the Univ. of Massachusetts Lowell and Boston University.
  • Dump Fined. The New Mexico Environment Dept. recently fined DOE nearly $1 million for problems with shipments of radioactive waste and groundwater monitoring at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM. The NMED charged the DOE with violating its permit. The dump, which opened in 1999, buries plutonium-contaminated waste from defense work in rooms excavated in underground salt beds. The fine stemmed from two incidents, one where DOE accepted a drum of liquid waste in violation of its permit and the other where DOE failed to meet permit requirements to characterize what was inside waste containers. The notice of violation was the result of numerous deficiencies in WIPP's underground monitoring program.
  • Los Alamos Fined. DOE was recently fined $2.8 million over a security breakdown at Los Alamos Lab that occurred in October 2006. The penalty resulted from an incident in which police discovered more than 1,000 pages of classified documents along with several computer storage devices during a drug bust at the trailer home of a former worker for a Los Alamos subcontractor.
  • Livermore Jobs Cut. Livermore Lab officials recently announced a second wave of job cuts to be instituted at the Lab, bringing the total to 1,200 since last year. The cuts are the result of budget shortfalls and a new management contractor. In October, a Limited Liability Company including Bechtel Corporation and the University of California took over the management contract. The initial round of cuts affected mostly temporary workers and those hired through subcontractors; future cuts will likely include core staff.
  • Still Deadly After All These Years. More than fifty shipments of radioactive waste stemming from the development of the world's first nuclear weapon will soon be hauled from Oak Ridge, TN to the WIPP dump in NM. The transuranic waste, a by-product of the Manhattan Project, includes 92.6 cubic meters of alpha-emitting waste and 550 cubic meters of beta- and gamma-emitting waste. The upcoming shipments are a powerful reminder that nuclear bomb wastes are essentially forever. As we face DOE's latest "Bombplex" scheme, it is important to note that the waste products from creating the first bomb are still here. We must tell DOE "no more"!!!
  • Site 300 bomb blasts air permit "on hold." Livermore Lab's permit application to perform explosive tests at Site 300 involving tritium and depleted uranium is "on hold," according to an official with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. However, because the permit application has not been withdrawn, the Lab could move forward with its plans at any time. As part of its "Complex Transformation," the DOE has proposed consolidating bomb testing activities to other DOE sites and/or transferring Site 300 by 2015. However, according to Livermore Lab officials, even if explosives testing done by DOE at Site 300 ends, testing will continue there as "work for others" for agencies including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

Alerts 4 U

from Tri-Valley CAREs' February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Thursday, February 7
Tri-Valley CAREs mailing party
2 sessions: 4 PM and 7 PM
2582 Old First Street, Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for directions, details

Your favorite peace and environmental group needs volunteers to help get our Feb. issue of Citizen's Watch ready for the Post Office. You provide the hands, we'll get the snacks. Come for a 2-hour shift any time after 4 PM.

Friday, February 15
Show Your Opposition to War
Local Vigil and Sign Holding
5:30 - 6:30 PM, downtown Livermore
Fountains at First St. & Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Demonstrate the power of local resistance. Join Livermore's monthly anti-war vigil and action. Bring a sign, or come and make one. We will have supplies as well as ready-made signs.

Thursday, February 21
Write now! Letter writing time
6:30 PM, before the TVC meeting
Main Library, 1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Been meaning to write a letter to the editor? Or, need tips on how to do it? We can help. We will be at the library with "how to" info and factsheets. You choose which issue to write about. We aim to make your letter writing experience fun, simple and effective. Your letter will reach tens of thousands of people. Come and change the world - one letter at a time.

Thursday, February 21
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

New members and old-timers alike are welcome. We will discuss the recent victory for sick Lab workers, the fiscal year 2009 budget request, upcoming "Bombplex" hearings, actions to end the war in Iraq / prevent war on Iran, and much more. If you care about peace, justice and the environment, this is the place to be.

NOTE: In March, we are holding our monthly meeting one week earlier than usual, on Thursday, March 13. We will have "talking points" and handouts to help you prepare for the "Bombplex" hearings the following week.

Thursday, March 6
Public Workshop on toxic cleanup
at Livermore Lab Site 300
6 PM, Tracy Community Center
300 East 10th Street, Tracy
(925) 443-7148 for details

The workshop, sponsored by DOE, will focus on what to do about toxic soil and debris at the Livermore Lab Site 300 high explosives testing range in Tracy. This debris is at one of the outdoor "firing tables" where bomb blasts were, and still are, detonated. The "toxic pile" at the Building 850 Firing Table is full of dioxins, furans and PCBs.

Come and learn about the "firing tables," bomb tests and ongoing Superfund cleanup at Site 300. Tri-Valley CAREs will have an information table. And, we will have fact sheets for you about additional weapons issues at Site 300, including decisions that will be made as part of the DOE "Bombplex" plan. Stop by our table and learn how you can protect the community's health and environment.

March 18 and March 19
Tue., March 18, 6 PM - 10 PM
Holiday Inn Express
3751 No. Tracy Blvd., Tracy

Wed., March 19, two sessions,
11 AM - 3 PM and 6 PM - 10 PM
Robert Livermore Community Center 4444 East Avenue, Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released its draft plan to revitalize the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan "Complex Transformation" (formerly known as "Complex 2030"). We call it "Bombplex." The draft plan is in the form of a multi-volume Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. The most important thing to know is that the "Bombplex" plan is fundamentally about the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Do you want a revitalized weapons complex with added capabilities to research, develop, test and produce new and militarily modified nuclear bombs? Or, do you want the U.S. to fully comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and play a leadership role in achieving global nonproliferation and disarmament? Our future - and our children's future - hangs in the balance. How will we answer?

Don't be silent. At the public hearings, you can speak on the changes you want to see at the Livermore Lab, or on U.S. policy. You can help Tri-Valley CAREs and allied organizations make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons. You can help us stop open-air bomb blasts in your back yard at Livermore Lab. You can end plutonium work at Livermore -and promote "green" alternatives.

Come to one or both public hearings. Tri-Valley CAREs will have an information table, sign-on letters, "talking points" and more. (See also the enclosed 4-page insert.)

Friday, March 21
Good Friday Action, Livermore Lab
"Embracing the Beloved Community?
Rejecting the Violence of Empire"
6:45 AM, Vasco Rd. & Patterson Pass
(925) 443-7148 or (510) 655-1162

Gather to support "peace, justice, hope and equality" at the Good Friday action. Father Louie Vitale will deliver the keynote. He has just returned from serving 5 months in prison for attempting to deliver a letter protesting torture to the commander at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona. A nonviolent direct action at the Lab gates and a community meeting will follow the music and speakers.

Path Cleared for Sick Livermore Lab Workers

by Rob Schwartz from Tri-Valley CAREs' February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The federal government has admitted it routinely lied to atomic workers about the risks posed by the nuclear materials they handled, and that tens of thousands of workers at Livermore Lab and sites across the country have been exposed to toxic and radioactive contaminants.

In 2000, a program was instituted to provide compensation and medical assistance to sick workers or their survivors. However, most who filed found an insurmountable bureaucracy instead of the aid they had been promised. In many cases, employment and exposure records were missing and the burden was placed on sick workers to prove that on the job exposures caused their illnesses. For example, of the 2,312 claims filed by Livermore Lab workers or their families, only 435 claims have been approved.

A recent decision by a federal radiation advisory committee gives new hope to sick Livermore Lab workers. That decision paves the way for a class of workers from Livermore Lab to be added to something called the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC). The SEC is a special status granted when the employer (in this case the Lab) did not keep adequate records, thereby making it impossible to accurately reconstruct the doses received by individual workers.

"The Board's recommendation is an important step towards sick workers from Livermore Lab receiving the compensation they so justly deserve," commented Robert Schwartz, Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney. "Sick workers or their survivors, many of whom have been waiting for more than 6 years, will finally be compensated for their illnesses."

Workers who have been granted SEC status don't have to bear the burden of proof that their employment caused their illnesses. Instead, the sick workers must establish that they fit within the SEC class definition and have one of 22 listed cancers that the government admits are linked with radiation exposures.

The Livermore Lab SEC that was just recommended unanimously by the radiation advisory board includes all Lab employees and DOE contractors or subcontractors who were monitored or should have been monitored for radiation exposure. Sick workers must demonstrate that they worked at the Lab for 250 or more work days between 1950 and 1973. Workers whose jobs kept them in administrative facilities-library, cafeteria, offices-outside of radiological areas will not be included in the class.

Schwartz explained, "Next, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Congress must support the SEC petition, which they are expected to do." Tri-Valley CAREs and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher have both written letters to the Secretary asking for his expedited approval of the SEC petition.

Once the Livermore Lab SEC is finalized, all claims currently filed will be reviewed to determine eligibility for compensation under the new class. Sick workers or their family members who have never filed a claim must do so to receive compensation, which includes a $150,000 lump-sum payment and medical assistance.

Tri-Valley CAREs will continue to advocate on behalf of sick workers. An important next step will be to expand the SEC class to include Livermore Lab workers whose employment and exposures happened after 1973. We will also endeavor to make certain that all Livermore Lab employees who have been exposed are included in the SEC, not just those who worked in posted radiological areas. Further, we will continue to advocate for SEC status on behalf of workers at the Sandia Livermore site, as those employees are not part of the Livermore Lab petition.

Tri-Valley CAREs facilitates quarterly support group meetings for sick workers and their families. The next one will be March 5th at 10 AM at the Livermore Library "board room" on 1188 So. Livermore Ave.

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