The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
MAY - JUNE 2004
Lawrence Livermore Lab needs to rethink expansion
The Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has proposed new projects that would double the plutonium-storage limit at the site and that could threaten rare ecosystems, including endangered plants and animals.
The Laboratory's draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS), released in February, calls for major expansion at the 7,000-acre Site 300, which contains rich biological diversity, including one of the largest remaining native grasslands in California. The proposal includes construction of the Energetic Materials Processing Center, a 40,000-square-foot high-explosives processing facility with three magazines capable of storing up to 3,000 pounds of high explosives. Site 300 is Livermore Lab's high-explosive testing range near Tracy.
The Energetic Materials Processing Center would be constructed in red-legged-frog habitat. One of the areas that is proposed to mitigate loss of the frog's breeding habitat has been detected with low levels of tritium (radioactive hydrogen).
In addition to major new construction projects, "continuing operations" at Site 300 threaten 24 species of birds that are listed as species of special concern. The explosives testing that occurs on a routine basis could possibly affect the golden eagle, prairie falcon, northern harrier, black-shouldered kite, ferruginous hawk, and red-tailed hawk. Such diurnal raptors that forage directly over the facilities are vulnerable to flying debris and shock overpressure.
Another project that could wreak major environmental havoc is the plan to double the plutonium limit to 3,300 pounds at Livermore Lab's main site. No method currently exists to dispose of much of this highly-toxic radioactive element. In fact, the primary reason for the increase is that the Lab is close to its current limit of 1,540 pounds, but has no way to dispose of its stock. In 1992 the Lab planned to reduce its on-site plutonium to 440 pounds, but other Department of Energy facilities would not take the plutonium that the Lab had intended to send away. If more plutonium is brought in, we can only expect it to remain indefinitely, with no plan or means for ultimate disposal.
One of the new dangerous projects that uses plutonium at Livermore Lab is the Plutonium Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation project. The Lab proposes to vaporize plutonium and then shoot laser beams through it to separate isotopes. To do this, the Lab plans to triple the allowable amount of plutonium "at risk" in a single room from 44 pounds to 132 pounds. By making plutonium airborne, the project would dramatically increase the risk of release, exposure, and accident.
Another proposed plutonium project would create a mini-chamber where plutonium would be fissioned and exploded in the National Ignition Facility mega-laser. After just one experiment, this chamber would be shipped to the Nevada Test Site and buried as radioactive waste. When NIF was initially proposed, it did not include plutonium experiments, in part due to the hazards to workers and the environment.
What You Can Do
Speak up against the doubling of plutonium at Lawrence Livermore Lab. Come to public hearings on:
Livermore Site Office Document Manager Mr. Tom Grim
7000 East Ave.; MS L-293
Livermore, CA 94550
The 41-page SWEIS is at: www-envirinfo.llnl.gov/
For more information, contact Sierra Club member Will Easton at (925) 443-7148 or: www.trivalleycares.org
© 2004 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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