Reading Room

March/April 2007 Citizens Watch Newsletter

Lab Gets New H-Bomb, World Gets More Nuclear Danger

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March/April 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On Friday, March 2, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) announced that Livermore Lab had been chosen to develop a new nuclear weapon -- and the world became a more dangerous place.

The submarine-launched nuclear warhead, called the RRW-1 and intended to replace the W76, is the opening salvo in DOE's plan to re-design and rebuild essentially every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The "1" symbolizes plans for an RRW-2, and so on up to 4-6 different weapon types. The acronym stands for "Reliable Replacement Warhead," the deceptively soothing name DOE has given to its controversial new H-bomb scheme.

The Livermore team beat out its Los Alamos counterparts to get the "go" signal for its design, which is reportedly based on a 1980s-era weapon with new features added into it. Critics note that neither Lab's RRW design is likely to more "reliable" than the warhead it will replace, since all existing U.S. nuclear weapons were fully-tested in Nevada prior to the cessation of full-scale blasts in 1992. The RRW-1, promises DOE, will be the first new nuke to enter the stockpile without needing a "proof test."

Tri-Valley CAREs and colleague groups across the country greeted the RRW decision with dismay. We called it "a sad day for global security." "Our government," we told reporters, "is sending a signal that will increase nuclear proliferation pressures and increase the nuclear danger."

Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement likewise pointing to RRWs' risks, noting that "there is a long history of this Administration trying to reopen the nuclear door. I am 100% opposed to this." Feinstein concluded, "This could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent."

Feinstein cited a JASON report released late last year that summarized DOE's own data on how long the plutonium cores in weapons in the arsenal would remain reliable. The data showed minimum lifetimes on the order of 100 years. The average age of a U.S. nuclear weapon in the modern arsenal is about 22 years.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) is the new Chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. He stated: "Much of the RRW program has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along character to it." Visclosky suggested DOE should concentrate on downsizing the weapons complex and dismantling old bombs.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Livermore) is the new Chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Tauscher's statements so far seem to place her on all sides of the RRW debate.

Tauscher has suggested supporting the entire RRW program in a "grand bargain" for the Labs' agreement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), signed by Clinton in 1996 but as yet unratified. This "trade off" for new nukes is not only wrong, it is also a strategy that failed miserably when the DOE weapons lab directors promised to bless the CTBT in the mid-1990s in return for an unfettered Stockpile Stewardship program. They got their weapons program and then sank the CTBT when it came up for ratification in the Senate.

Recently, Tauscher offered more skeptical comments, calling for a policy debate and saying, for example, that there is no rush, i.e., she favors a "walk before you run approach to RRW."

Many nuclear weapons experts inside and outside of government have spoken against going forward with the RRW program. Raymond Jeanloz, a member of the JASON team that analyzed the plutonium reliability data, said many countries will see the pursuit of RRWs as being in conflict with U.S. disarmament obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We, too, believe that the RRW will serve to undermine the Treaty. Next month, we will send a representative to a meeting of the States Parties to the NPT to discuss what can be done internationally to constrain the RRW program.

Another discouraging word for RRW came from Sidney Drell, also a JASON and the former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In testimony before the Senate, Drell called it "quite a statement" to say that we could have greater confidence in a new warhead without testing, as DOE has been doing. One of the dangers of the RRW program is that it could become a "bait and switch" -- with DOE promising now that RRWs will not require full-scale testing, then coming back later and saying one or more of the designs needs a test after all.

Also among the RRW detractors are the editorial boards of two of Livermore's three newspapers. Those of us who are long-time Livermore residents understand the historic nature of these editorials. The Livermore City seal contains the atom. Livermore Lab is the dominant employer and political force in our community. We applaud the editorial boards for speaking out. Further, we believe that every Member of Congress should receive copies.

Therefore, we have taken the 2 local editorials, and the recent New York Times editorial, and created an insert for you to copy and send to your elected officials. Please send the insert with a note explaining why you oppose RRW. Congress pays attention to individually crafted notes!

THANK YOU for taking action. It will require all of us -- in dialogue with each other and with elected decision-makers -- to stop the development of new nuclear weapons and to move the U.S. and the world to the abolition of nuclear weapons.

On our website, there is info on the Complex 2030 plan to revitalize the weapons complex to build RRW; our report, "A Slippery Slope to New Nuclear Weapons," and more.

Write Your Representative About RRW

Print these editorials and send them both to your U.S. Senators and Representative with a short note explaining your reasons for opposing the RRW program.

Huge Bomb Tests Canceled at Site 300

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March/April 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

In a major victory for activists, permits that would have allowed the Livermore Lab to increase its open-air explosions annually by 8-fold have been canceled by the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District.

Area residents and groups challenging the permit received the news by phone from the air district one day before a scheduled administrative hearing on the issue.

8-Fold Increase & DU

Site 300, Livermore Lab's high explosive testing range, was granted permits in November 2006 to detonate up to 8,000 pounds of high explosives annually and 350 pounds daily. These explosions would also involve unknown quantities of toxic and radioactive material, including Uranium-238 (also called "depleted uranium" or DU).

The Lab's permit application was silent on the specific contents of the planned explosions. Uranium-238 is one of a number of hazardous materials routinely used at Site 300 in open-air bomb tests.

Site 300 covers 11 square miles, and is located on Corral Hollow Road, just off I-580 between Livermore and Tracy. Local businesses and community members were alarmed and demanded that the air district conduct public hearings, disclose more information about the blasts, and look carefully at the health and environmental impacts that could result from the explosions.

David vs Goliath

Tracy business owner and Tri-Valley CAREs board member Bob Sarvey formally appealed the permits and a hearing had been scheduled before the air district's board of directors in March. Instead, the district pulled the permits, and notified the parties that Livermore Lab would have to reapply if it wanted to conduct the planned explosions.

Environment Wins

"The big winner is the environment," declared Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Loulena Miles. "If these explosions had been allowed to go forward, the hills, nearby waterways, workers and the community all would have been put at risk. She added, "We adamantly argued that additional environmental review was required before any permit could be considered. I am gratified that the air district heeded our plea."

Mary Perner, Tri-Valley CAREs' Community Organizer, said, "Community opposition truly made the difference in getting these permits canceled. And, continued vigilance is critical to ensure that Livermore Lab does not return to the air board with a second permit application that is similarly incomplete. We will be watching."

"I filed the appeal because I could see that Livermore Lab was trying to fast track these permits without informing the community about the risks involved in the project," Bob Sarvey. "I certainly feel safer not living under a cloud of radioactive materials exploded at Site 300." Sarvey and his family live on Corral Hollow Road, where past blasts from Site 300 have blown out windows in their home.

The permits that were revoked today mark the first attempts by Livermore Lab to obtain county permission for open-air detonations at Site 300. The Air Pollution Control District has only been in existence for 15 years. During this time, Site 300 open-air explosions were conducted without permits because the blasts were at a lesser volume and yield. Livermore Lab is also applying to the Calif. State Dept. of Toxics to increase Site 300's waste storage from 3,300 gallons to 5,500 gallons.

Prominent Attorney: Bomb Blasts Would Trigger State Review

"It was astounding that the air district issued permits to detonate explosives involving radioactive materials outdoors on a hazardous waste site, a mile from a planned 5,500-unit residential area, without the public review required by the California Environmental Quality Act," said Trent Orr, a lawyer with Earthjustice, a national nonprofit that, along with Tri-Valley CAREs, provided written arguments to buttress the challenge. Orr continued, "We're pleased to learn that the district has withdrawn these permits and look forward to the required in-depth review of this dangerous proposal, which should lead to its rejection as utterly incompatible with human health and the surrounding natural environment."

Site 300 is already on the federal Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" list of most contaminated locations in the country. Livermore Lab is presently cleaning up extensive contamination throughout the site, including a two-mile plume of heavily contaminated groundwater containing radioactive and toxic debris from past operations.

Goliath Vows to Strike Back with Bombs and Bio

The residential population around Tracy is growing dramatically. The Tracy Hills residential development is planned for one mile outside of the Site 300 fence line. Too, the seven million people who live within 50 miles of the Lab could be affected by wind or water-borne contamination from the blasts.

Still, Lab spokesperson Lynda Seaver told reporters that Livermore has not given up on the bomb tests at Site 300 and would reapply to the air district for the permits. "This is national security," Seaver said.

Site 300 is also on the Dept. of Homeland Security's "short list" of sites being considered to host a massive bio-lab, where bio-weapon agents will be studied on animals in a facility the size of 5 Wal-Marts. The DHS is slated to announce whether Site 300 is a "finalist" candidate site in June.

UPDATE: Tracy City Council votes to oppose the bio-lab. The City's letter, sent to Livermore Lab, the Lab's manager (UC), and DHS states: "Many citizens of Tracy have raised public health and environmental concerns... The Tracy City Council voted at its regular meeting to... oppose the selection of Site 300." Kudos to the council -- and to the community. Will DHS heed the will of the people? Stay tuned.

Alerts 4 U

Friday, April 6
Good Friday Action at Livermore Lab
6:45 AM, Corner of Vasco Road and Patterson Pass Rd., Livermore
(510) 655-1162, (925) 443-7148

We will gather at the northwest corner of Livermore Lab. There will be music and speakers, followed by a march to the Lab gates. Those who choose may non-violently risk arrest. This year's Good Friday service is titled, "Dismantling Empire, Creating a Culture of Peace." The keynote address will be offered by Rev. Michael Yoshii, pastor at Buena Vista United Methodist Church. Following the action, there will be a community get-together at Marylia's apartment complex Rec Room, 5720 East Ave. Refreshments will be served.

Wednesday, April 18
Las Positas College Forum:
"Non-Proliferation, the Middle East & the Future of Nuclear Weapons"
7 PM, Las Positas College, call for exact location
3033 Collier Canyon Rd., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Speakers will be Dr. Amer Araim, SF State Univ., Dr. Norman Bowen, Cal State Univ., Dr. Urs Cipolat, UC Berkeley, and Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs. The forum is being sponsored jointly by Las Positas College, the Cal State Univ. Dept. of Political Science, the United Nations Association - East Bay Chapter, and Tri-Valley CAREs.

Thursday, April 19
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Avenue
(925) 443-7148 for details

Join us. Give your Tri-Valley CAREs team a great send-off to Washington, DC, where ten of us will be advocating on your behalf to achieve nuclear disarmament and safeguard our communities from polluting activities. We will also have the latest info on Dept. of Energy's programs, what's going on with the RRW, updates on our efforts to support workers made ill by on the job exposures, and (possibly) who the new management contractor for Livermore Lab will be. We promise you plenty of information, good eats, lively strategy discussion, volunteer chances galore and ? most of all ? the chance to truly make a positive difference in the community and beyond. New and long-time members alike are welcome.

Wednesday, April 25
Las Positas College Club Day
10 AM - 2 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' literature table, Volunteers needed
(925) 443-7148 for details

We have been invited by Las Positas student groups to have a table at the college's "club day". This is a great opportunity to get Tri-Valley CAREs' information into the hands of the next generation of leaders and activists. We have 2-hour shifts available. Call Mary to sign up. Please note that because ten of us will be in Washington, DC at this time, we need extra help. Can you volunteer?

Thursday, May 10
Sick Worker Support Group meets 10 AM - Noon, Livermore Library 1188 So. Livermore Ave. (925) 443-7148 for details

Tri-Valley CAREs facilitates quarterly meetings for workers at Livermore Lab, Sandia Lab and other DOE facilities made ill by on the job exposures to radioactive and toxic materials -- and for their families. If you or someone you know has been made ill -- or is the widow of a former worker -- this group is for you. Call Mary or Loulena for info.

Thursday, May 10
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
2 shifts: 4 PM - 6 PM and 7 PM - 9 PM
2582 Old First St., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

You can save us money! We don't have to pay a mailing house on the months that we hold mailing parties. Can you come for a couple of hours and affix mailing labels? We will have lots of nice people -- and snacks. Chocolate is included.

Tuesday, May 15
Alameda County Plutonium Action Taskforce
4 PM, Supervisor Haggerty's office
4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
(925) 443-7148 for details

The task force is a working group of residents and state and county health agencies addressing the hazards posed by the historic distribution of plutonium-contaminated sludge to unsuspecting area residents.

Ongoing Opportunities

Volunteer Ops with your peace, justice and environmental friends (925) 443-7148 for details

  • Thursdays from Noon to 1 PM, our Community Organizer Mary Perner and volunteers gather signatures on our petition to stop plutonium at Livermore Lab at one of the Livermore area supermarkets.
  • Mary and volunteers gather petition signatures at an alternate supermarket on Fridays from 4:30 to 5:30 PM. Call our office to sign up for either day. One time only or ongoing commitments are both welcome.
  • Fridays, generally from 11 AM to 1 PM, Special Outreach Projects coordinator Susan Liu and volunteers will be going to neighborhoods in Livermore to introduce people to Tri-Valley CAREs and offer petitions and other materials. The time can be variable, depending on your schedule. Call Susan at (925) 443-7148.
  • v Each month, at the date and time of your choosing, volunteers are needed to pick up multiple copies of Tri-Valley CAREs' newsletter, fliers and other materials at our office and then deliver them to area libraries, senior centers, etc. Volunteers are needed for Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Tracy. Can you help? Call Mary, or our Office Manager, Ann Seitz

"Divine Strake" Scrapped

Divine Strake, the mis-named 700-ton test blast that was to have been detonated at the Nevada Test Site has been canceled. Following a year of protest, downwinder appeals, letters, calls, political lobbying, a lawsuit, and prayer ceremonies led by the Western Shoshone on whose land the test site is located, the Defense Dept. called it quits on Feb. 22.

The fuel oil/ammonium nitrate blast was intended to simulate and thus provide the government with information on the impact of nuclear and other "bunker-busting" weapons. Opponents objected to the new nukes it was intended to enable, the environmental and health impacts of throwing up radioactive dust from past nuclear tests and the violation of sovereignty of the Western Shoshone Nation that testing represents.

The people and the land rejoice. Even the Secretary of Energy credited "public outcry" with stopping the test. Good work, everyone!

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