By Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs
On Wednesday, Tri-Valley CAREs will host a time-critical community forum featuring environmental, legal and nuclear weapons experts from New Mexico and California. We will discuss the potentially illegal transport of plutonium bomb cores from Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico to Livermore Lab.
These bomb cores are part of the government's "Life Extension Programs" for nuclear weapons. After arriving by truck at Livermore Lab, the plutonium cores will undergo a series of tests, including vibration, thermal and drop tests, to determine how the bomb cores will perform in a "storage, transportation or use environment." Following the diagnostic tests, the plutonium bomb cores will be put back on trucks and sent on the highway again to Los Alamos.
On Sept. 30, 2012, Livermore Lab's security status was downgraded from a Category I/II facility to the lower threshold of a security Category III facility, meaning it is no longer authorized to handle, test or store bomb-usable quantities of plutonium, including these plutonium bomb cores.
According to various officials I interviewed, the Dept. of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration has yet to complete any detailed written plan, and so the number of bomb cores that will be put on the road is not known. One official told me the shipments could go back and forth "around six times a year." The number could vary greatly, however, depending on the nuclear weapon "campaigns" going on that year. There has been no stringent environmental review of the hazards, which could be extreme.
Livermore Lab stands at a crossroad. Without the large quantities of plutonium and security infrastructure it once had, its nuclear weapons R&D capabilities are necessarily limited. Thus, the Lab faces two options. It can hang on to its bomb-testing apparatus and give itself security variances (potentially violating environmental and safety laws), or, instead, it can forge a new path, focused on cleanup of the poisons that have already leaked in our environment and far safer civilian science missions like non-polluting renewable energy technologies and global climate modeling.
The Jan. 30 forum will feature Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Coghlan has worked on issues involving Los Alamos Lab, nuclear weapons and the environment for 22 years. I will speak as Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director with 30 years of experience investigating programs at Livermore Lab, its role in the nuclear weapons complex and its impacts on community and worker health and the environment. Together, we will share information from numerous meetings with decision-makers in Washington, DC.
The forum will also feature Tri-Valley CAREs Staff Attorney, Scott Yundt, on the legal questions posed by the plutonium plan, and Peter Strauss, an environmental scientist and technical advisor on the Superfund cleanup of toxic and radioactive contamination at Livermore Lab.
There will be Spanish translation available, refreshments and plenty of time for community discussion. Presented free of charge, the event takes place from 7-9 pm on Wed., Jan. 30 at the Livermore main library, 1188 South Livermore Avenue. For more information, contact Tri-Valley CAREs at 443-7148 or www.trivalleycares.org.