Plutonium, Tritium and Anthrax
Americas Premier Weapons Lab Makes Plans for the Next Ten Years
August 16, 2002
What could be worse than having a nuclear weapons lab in your backyard? How about a nuke lab with a main-dish security problem and a side-order of anthrax? Californias Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), a sprawling complex in the suburbs east of San Francisco, is undergoing a review of its Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS). Tri-Valley CARES, a local citizens watchdog group, has taken a magnifying glass to the SWEIS and doesnt like what it has discovered.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco.
Far from being an ordinary extension of LLNLs traditional nuclear weapons work, the SWEIS proposes granting the labs a BSL III permit to handle anthrax, botulism, bubonic plague, small pox and other lethal bio-toxins. Tri-Valleys Executive Director Marylia Kelley asks whether the introduction of a deadly array of lethal bio-toxins is really the best course of action for a facility located in a heavily populated area.
When it filed its last SWEIS in 1992, LLNL promised that its operations would be absolutely benign and would produce no future impacts. But in the past 10 years, Kelley recalls, LLNL has experienced uranium fires, a filter-shredding accident that contaminated workers with curium, a chlorine gas leak that forced an evacuation, tritium accidents, an explosion that sent one employee to the hospital, plutonium that had to be cut out of a workers hand and more.
In addition to building an Anthrax Lab, the SWEIS would allow LLNL to reverse its stated plan to reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium stored on site. (LLNL currently is allowed to maintain up to 1,540 pounds of plutonium, 1,100 pounds of enriched uranium and 6,500 pounds of uranium ore in its facilities.)
LLNLs National Ignition Facility (NIF), a trouble-plagued, budget-busting boondoggle, is supposed to allow scientists to modify existing nuclear weapons and test the survivability of the new Star Wars weapons that the Pentagon plans to start placing in orbit within the next few years. According to Kelly, LLNL researchers plan to conduct NIF experiments using plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and large amounts of lithium hydride. Like other residents of the nearby town of Livermore, Kelly has cause for concern. Plutonium, uranium and tritium from past Lab operations have polluted our environment, she says. What will the future hold with NIF?
The SWEIS talks about building new nuclear weapons, about modifying the B83 bomb to turn it into a bunker-busting earth-penetrator. LLNL is also tinkering with the Pentagons W80 warhead, a device that is small enough to fit atop a cruise missile. Designing new nuclear weapons would violate a number of US laws and international treaties.
LLNL is currently host to the worlds second largest supercomputer, the ASCI White. Under the SWEIS, LLNL would build a new 70,000 square-foot computer complex and invest in an even bigger Purple supercomputer. With California facing a future of rising temperatures, growing power needs and declining reserves of drinkable water, expanding LLNLs tool chest of nuke-building toys makes little sense to local residents. As Kelly is quick to note, these behemoth mega-machines are enormous drains on our water (for their cooling systems) and energy resources.
For the first time since the lab began submitting environmental impact statements, the DOEs new SWEIS includes a classified nuclear project. Kelly is one of many left wondering, What could be so deeply classified it cannot even be named in the SWEIS?
LLNLs security has been repeatedly called into question. The former president and vice-president of LLNLs Security Police Officers Association have brought whistleblower lawsuits against the lab claiming that they were terminated after pointing out serious security failings.
Finally, the SWEIS fails to address the geological bottom-line fact that the LLNL sits within 200 feet of an active earthquake fault. LLNL also lies close to several other faults. In 1980, an earth tremor on one of these marginal faults caused more than $40 million in damage to LLNLs facilities and showered the surrounding community with a cloud of escaped tritium.
The SWEIS process is supposed to consider a full range of alternative actions. Instead, the DOEs document offers only three options: (1) business as usual, (2) business as usual plus plutonium experiments and classified defense technologies and, (3) a reduced operation alternative that is so vague as to be meaningless.
The SWEIS includes no option to close the site, to wind down its work fabricating toys for the Apocalypse and to put those liberated tax dollars to work cleaning up the labs chemical and radiological residues. So its up to us to outline our alternative, Kelley argues. How about LLNL as a Green Lab devoted to peaceful and environmentally friendly science?
Thats an option well worth pursuing.
For more information contact:
Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment), 2582 Old First St., Livermore, CA 9451, (925) 443-7148, fax: -0177, www.trivalleycares.org.