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March 2008 Citizens Watch Newsletter

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Nukes, the Budget and You

by Jedidjah de Vries from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On February 4, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) sent its budget request for fiscal year 2009 to Congress. It reveals that the Department's main focus is, once again, nuclear weapons. Overall, the DOE is asking for $25 billion, $1.13 billion more than the agency received last year. The DOE press materials tout this as the largest requested increase in five years.

The DOE splits its budget into 5 areas: defense, science, energy, environment, and management. "Defense" is by far the largest portion of the budget, larger than science and energy combined. Thirty-six percent of the DOE budget goes directly to defense (read nuclear weapons).

The $6.6 billion requested for the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for nuclear weapons activities makes up the vast majority of the defense spending, about 73%. That's more than is allocated to the environment (the second largest of the 5 areas), for which DOE requested less money for fiscal year 2009 than in previous years. In short, this is a twisted backward budget request, with more for nukes and less for cleanup.

The budget's intense focus on nuclear weapons plays out here at Livermore Lab. The DOE request shows that a whopping 86% of the Livermore Lab budget will be devoted exclusively to weapons activities in the coming year. That's about the same percentage as last year (slightly higher in fact); the Lab's mission is not shifting away from nuclear weapons.

The DOE budget demonstrates a commitment to continuing nuclear weapons forever and revitalizing the nuclear weapons complex. While Congress did not support the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program last year and cut 2008 funding for the RRW design at Livermore Lab, the DOE request for fiscal year 2009 includes approximately $40 million directly attributable to RRW and many millions more indirectly supporting it. Further, the DOE request "includes funding to pursue... Complex Transformation," i.e. the Bombplex.

One powerful action you can take to change U.S. budget priorities is to participate in a public hearing to oppose the Bombplex. Your voice can make a difference. And, the Congress will vote later this year on the DOE budget. We have postcards enclosed that you can use to send your message to Congress. More information, including a short report on the DOE 2009 budget request, is on our website.

Superfund News

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The Livermore Lab main site and Site 300 high explosives testing range near Tracy are both on the federal EPA's list of most contaminated locations in the country.

Soil and water at both locations are a toxic and radioactive stew of contaminants associated with past, and ongoing, nuclear weapons activities. Public participation is key to obtaining an adequate cleanup of the environment and ensuring community safety. Under the Superfund law, there are important opportunities for the public to become involved. Here are two.

1. Building 850 "Firing Table" for bomb blasts at the Livermore Lab Site 300. There is a public comment period right now on what to do about the contaminated soil around this open-air bomb testing site. The comment deadline is March 20, 2008. On our web site, click into "take action" to find sample comments you can use. They cover technical issues and common-sense thoughts on why the pollution from past activities should be taken into consideration when DOE makes decisions about future bomb tests. We believe that all bomb tests should stop. Period. You can print, sign and mail the sample comments to the DOE address provided on our web site. Or, add your own thoughts to what we have written.

2. The Livermore Lab main site cleanup budget. The DOE budget for cleaning up toxic and radioactive wastes at the Lab's main site was cut this year from the $12 million needed to continue basic cleanup activities to $6 million. We have talked to key Members of Congress and they are willing to restore the Livermore cleanup funds. However, the DOE must first send Congress a request for the money to be "reprogrammed" (that's the law). DOE Headquarters is lagging, and needed cleanup is going undone. Check and "take action" to press DOE to request the needed funds.

Exposed Workers Question Lab Reponse

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

A meeting was held recently in Livermore to discuss issues relating to the exposure of construction workers at Livermore Lab to the toxic metal beryllium. The workers were exposed during the upgrade and renovation of Building 321C (B-321C).

Workers exposed to beryllium may have a reaction called beryllium sensitization that indicates a potential for developing Chronic Beryllium Disease, an incurable and potentially fatal lung condition. Beryllium is used in nuclear weapons in the outer layer of the pit, which is the core of the weapons.

Lab officials did not explain why the workers were allowed to continue working in the building for months after testing indicated the presence of beryllium contamination in areas of the building. Although the Lab has launched an incident analysis team to review what happened and why, those answers may be far off.

"These workers deserve answers, and the Lab is not being forthcoming," commented Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney Robert Schwartz, who attended the meeting. "The Lab should have immediately suspended work in B-321C when the tests came back positive. The workers should be told why their health was endangered in this way."

Lab officials also stated that the beryllium testing report for B-321C would not be made available to the public. Instead, it will be given to a few select parties, who will then be tasked with producing an understandable version of the report. "I can't help but wonder what the Lab is trying to hide by not releasing the report," continued Schwartz. "It's insulting to these workers to claim that the report is too complex for them to understand and needs to be simplified."

The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to explaining the risks of beryllium exposure and the need for testing. A medical surveillance program has been established for the workers and will include follow-up testing as needed. Along with Lab officials, Dr. Lew Pepper and Elisa Rosetti, from the Energy Employees Medical Monitoring Program, spoke to those in attendance. Their program is not affiliated with the Lab and offers free medical screening to former employees and subcontractors at Livermore Lab, Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia-California.

During a question and answer session at the end of the meeting, the workers had a chance to share some of their concerns and vent their frustrations. One worker wanted to know if family members may also have been exposed and if they would be tested. Although Lab officials said that "the potential is there" for family members to become ill, there are no plans to test them at this time.

Another worker wanted to know if they would be compensated for missing work in order to undergo testing. The answer, unfortunately, was no. Weekend or evening testing was also rejected because blood samples need to be sent overnight to laboratories for further analysis.

Bombplex Talking Points

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

Now is our chance to speak (see above). Our future and our country's future are at stake. Speak against the "Reliable Replacement Warhead," a new H-bomb under development at Livermore Lab. (See page 1 for the RRW budget.). Give voice to your opposition to rebuilding the nuclear weapons complex. Tell DOE to end all bomb tests at Site 300. Speak for a "green lab" at Livermore devoted to needed civilian science missions like global climate change and renewable, non-polluting energy technologies. Speak truth to power. What you do and say matters.

Tri-Valley CAREs has fact sheets and other materials on our web site to help you understand the issues and prepare comments. We will also staff an information table to help you at each of the hearings. We hope to see you there!

Alerts 4 You

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

Saturday, March 15
"Surge for Peace" Rally
11 am, Walnut Creek BART Station

Show your opposition to the war in Iraq. The march will go from the BART station to Civic Park (Civic and Broadway) in Walnut Creek for a NOON rally. Tri-Valley CAREs will have a table. Join us.

March 18 & 19
"Bombplex" Public Hearings
Tue., March 18, 6 PM - 10 PM, Holiday Inn Express, 3751 N. Tracy Blvd., Tracy
Wed., March 19, 11 AM - 3 PM & 6 PM - 10 PM, Rob't Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave., Livermore

These are the most important public hearings to stop nuclear weapons in a decade. The Dept. of Energy (DOE) has released its draft plan to rebuild the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan Complex Transformation. We call it Bombplex. The plan is fundamentally about the future of nuclear weapons and the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Help Tri-Valley CAREs and allied groups make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons.

Tell DOE what you believe our scientists should focus on instead of creating nuclear weapons. We hope to see you there. Your attendance will make a difference.

(Note: March 19 is also the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We will post any Tri-Valley vigils that we learn about. Help make March 19 the day we stop nuclear weapons and war.)

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, (510) 655-1162

Gather to support "peace, justice, hope & equality" at the Good Friday action at Livermore Lab. Father Louie Vitale will deliver the keynote. Father Louie has just returned from serving 5 months in prison for attempting to deliver a letter protesting torture to the commander at the U.S. Army's Ft. Huachuca in Arizona. Marylia Kelley will offer an update on Livermore's nuclear weapons research. Following music and speakers, participants will march to the gates of the Lab, where those who choose will nonviolently risk arrest. At 10 AM, there will be a community gathering at Marylia's Rec Room, breakfast foods will be served.

Thursday, April 24
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Dear friends. Please note that we are meeting on the 4th Thursday in April due to the annual "DC Days" event the preceding week. Your team from Tri-Valley CAREs will be in Washington, DC meeting with Members of Congress and the Administration. Join us April 24 for a report back - and more. Be part of the solution with Tri-Valley CAREs!

New Lawsuit Filed Over Bio-Lab Risks

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

As I write this, we are preparing to file a civil action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) against the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) to stop the operation of a dangerous bio-warfare agent research facility at the Livermore Lab main site.

We are challenging the DOE's approval to begin experiments with deadly pathogens such as live anthrax, plague and Q fever in a portable Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) facility that includes three internal labs, one of which is reserved for "small animal challenges."

Pathogens, Experiments & Risks

The DOE lists scores of "select agents" (agents historically associated with bio-weapons) to be shipped in and out and handled in the facility. The inventory of the Livermore BSL-3 will rise to include a total of 50 liters of deadly pathogens.

To illustrate the health risks, a single liter of Coxiella burnetti, the causative agent for Q fever, at the concentration specified for use in the Livermore BSL-3, contains enough organisms to cause 10 billion human infections. (The world population is 6.7 billion.)

Operations at the Livermore BSL-3 will include genetic modification of bio-weapon agents, raising the possibility that novel, uniquely lethal pathogens will result. The facility will also conduct aerosol (spray) experiments on up to 100 mice, rats and guinea pigs at a time.

Genetically manipulating organisms and creating aerosols are two activities that have "dual use," meaning they can be associated with offensive as well as defensive bio-warfare research.

Conducting this research at a classified DOE lab whose mission is the development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction threatens the Biological Weapons Convention, the treaty banning bio-weapons to which the U.S. is a signatory.

Terrorism and the Bio-lab

Further, the large inventory of multiple bio-weapon agents, the presence of genetically modified variants, and the fact that some of the pathogens have been put into just the right form to be effectively spread via an airborne release, all serve to make the Livermore BSL-3 a potential magnet for terrorism.

As our long-time supporters are aware, we have opposed the Livermore Lab BSL-3 since 2002. In 2003, Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit challenging the operation of the BSL-3 without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and public hearings. The DOE had prepared only a lesser-level, cursory assessment report.

Legal Background

Our suit went all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2006, we achieved a victory when the appellate court ruled that DOE must go back to the drawing board and analyze the health and environmental impacts of a terrorist attack, which it had failed utterly to do. Our case was only the second time the court had ruled that an agency must consider terrorism under NEPA, and it was the first case involving DOE.

As significant as this victory was, it will make us safer only if DOE takes the risks posed by a terrorist attack seriously - and prepares a credible analysis, with appropriate mitigation measures, to address the threat. Instead, for the Livermore BSL-3, DOE glossed over the impact of a terrorist attack in a shoddily revised, still cursory assessment, stubbornly refusing to conduct a full EIS.

The Present Case

The DOE flaunted both science and the law to reach a conclusion that because terrorists could obtain some pathogens from the environment, the Livermore BSL-3 would not be "an attractive target" for terrorism. Therefore, no further analysis was needed, claimed the DOE.

On January 25, 2008, the Department issued itself a "finding of no significant impact" (FONSI) on the basis of this unsupported claim and secretly began conducting experiments with deadly pathogens. Neither the final revised environmental assessment nor the FONSI were circulated for public review and comment. In fact, neither was even posted on the DOE website before the BSL-3 went operational. Our present lawsuit, which should be filed by the time this reaches you, asks the federal court to grant us interim injunctive relief, in effect stopping the operation of the BSL-3 while our case is being considered. We are asking the court to consider four counts against DOE.

The 4 counts are: (1) failure to prepare an adequate environmental assessment and FONSI, (2) failure to prepare an EIS and hold public hearings, (3) failure to supplement the environmental assessment when significant new information became available (including a government report on serious problems in BSL-3s and Livermore Lab's prior violation of multiple laws and regulations that led to an anthrax release), and (4) failure to comply with applicable regulations, including the one governing the circumstances under which a FONSI must be circulated for public review and comment before it can be finalized.

Local & National Significance

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director said, " I fear the consequences if this BSL-3 is allowed to operate without further review. The Livermore Lab has already contaminated its workers and polluted the community with radioactive spills. The threat of a catastrophic release of deadly microbes in an earthquake, accident or terrorist attack is too real and too serious to disregard, as DOE has done in saying 'no significant impact.' Our lives are worthwhile, and we are suing to save them."

The group's Staff Attorney, Robert Schwartz summed up the precedent setting nature of the case, "We are asking the court to determine the adequacy of the terrorism analysis for a bio-warfare agent research facility located in a major metropolitan area. This is an issue of regional and national importance. The outcome of this case will influence how well or how poorly the DOE and other federal agencies analyze the risks of terrorism from this day forward."

(Donations to defray our legal expenses are gratefully welcomed.)

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