Tri-Valley CAREs'

Tri-Valley CAREs

Communities Against a Radioactive Environment

Press Release

Date sent: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 13:31:19 -0700 (PDT)
From: (marylia)
Subject: New DOE weapons megastrategy

for further information Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs (925) 443-7148
Mike Veiluva, Western States Legal Foundation (510) 839-5877
for immediate release, Thursday, August 19, 1999

Secret Energy Dept. Plan Will Move More Plutonium to Livermore Lab:
Proposal to Expand Nuclear Weapons Activities Will Endanger Bay Area and Chill Global Disarmament, Say Analysts

LIVERMORE -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is poised to make major changes in its nuclear weapons program and move more plutonium work to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, charge Bay Area nuclear policy analysts who have obtained heretofore unpublished materials used by DOE to brief high-level Clinton administration officials on the plan. (The DOE "vugraphs" used for this presentation are available on request.)

"These changes will have far-reaching, negative consequences for Bay Area public health and safety, for national efforts to reign in the escalating nuclear weapons budget and for international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament goals," said Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Livermore-based organization, Tri-Valley CAREs, which obtained the briefing papers from the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The DOE proposal means more plutonium "pits" (bomb cores) in Livermore.

DOE will give Livermore Lab plutonium pit work now performed at its more-remote Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. This will include moving nuclear weapons to Livermore for plutonium pit surveillance. Moreover, the workload for the W80 submarine and air launched cruise missiles is slated to move to Livermore Lab from Los Alamos. This, too, will mean more plutonium pits at Livermore Lab. (More information is contained in the fact sheet that follows.)

"This plan has gone forward in secret, and the public has been inappropriately excluded from any knowledge or decision-making role," Kelley stated. Earlier this year, DOE and Livermore Lab hosted a public meeting at which officials testified that no major changes were contemplated to the Lab's operations over the next 5 years. On that basis, DOE and Livermore Lab decided on March 10, 1999 not to conduct a new site-wide environmental review. "Put simply, we were lied to. We are demanding an environmental review and full public hearings," insisted Kelley.

"In a democracy, we should not have nor should we tolerate nuclear weapons projects being built, augmented and operated in the dark. Look at what has happened at other DOE facilities, such as Paducah and Portsmouth, where the workers and the public were misled for years and the result was plutonium contamination," Kelley pointed out.

"DOE's proposal is an outrage," fumed Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation in Oakland. Cabasso explained: "As the U.S. decreases the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the DOE should also be dismantling its nuclear weapons infrastructure. This plan moves in exactly the opposite direction. It enhances U.S. nuclear capability."

"Further, it is hypocritical of the U.S. to build up its nuclear weapons design and development capabilities at a time when the Clinton administration is telling other nations to forego such activities. This plan demonstrates the worst aspects of a 'do as I say and not as I do' proliferation policy. This will be noticed by other nations, some of whom will use it to justify their own pursuit of new weapons capabilities.

The end result of this plan will be to increase nuclear proliferation dangers worldwide," Cabasso summed up.

Fact sheet outlining changes planned by DOE, along with some analysis and a few pertinent questions

  1. DOE will "move promptly" the responsibility and workload for the W80 nuclear warhead from Los Alamos Lab in Mew Mexico to Livermore Lab in California. This will mark the first time that responsibility for a

    weapon designed by one lab has been shifted to another, and the Los Alamos Lab's stockpile systems manager, Luis Salazar, recently quit that position in protest of the pending move. The W80 warhead has both submarine and air launched cruise missile versions.

    Livermore Lab will "upgrade" the W80 warhead, according to the DOE. This will involve more plutonium "pit" (core) work at Livermore, among other things. The briefing materials reveal what appear to be changes in the warhead that go far, far beyond any maintenance procedures that may be necessary to preserve the existing weapon's "safety" or "reliability" while it remains in the arsenal.

    The DOE materials include notes on the development of brand new electronic "microsystems" that will become "an integral part of the W80 surety upgrade." Another notation says that DOE will "build and support the future hydrodynamics radiography infrastructure" to meet W80 upgrade "requirements." This means more test shots with high explosives and surrogate pits using uranium and/or plutonium 242.

    Some of those shots will take place at Los Alamos, though some future shots are likely to take place at Livermore as well.

    The DOE reveals that it will conduct additional underground "subcritical" nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site to support the W80 "surety upgrade." Finally, the DOE materials disclose that the W80 "surety upgrade" will "require primary recertification in 03/04... 05 timeframe." The primary is the bomb's initial atomic blast, and a subcritical nuclear test is one that stops short of creating a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

    In addition to unresolved environment, safety and health issues, the W80 "surety upgrade" poses serious questions about the DOE assertion it is not currently designing new nuclear weapons. The abovementioned electronics changes (most likely involving arming, firing and fusing), the additional hydrodynamic and subcritical tests, plus the requirement for a recertification of the warhead core's performance characteristics mean that a considerable amount of "tweaking" of the existing W80 at Livermore Lab is planned by the weapons designers. From the DOE materials presented, there is not enough detail to determine whether the W80 will be enhanced with new military features or capabilities when the weapons designers are finished, but it is worth noting that the B61 was converted into an earth-penetrator via an "upgrade" recently. From the information that DOE does present, the amount of "tweaking" and the scope of changes to be done to the W80 appear to be somewhat greater than what it took to "upgrade" the B61 to give it its new, earth-penetrating capability.

    The extent of the W80 "upgrade," its technical justification (or the technical justification for moving the workload), its potential environmental, health and safety impacts and its overall cost (including microsystems development, testing and plutonium pit recertification) are missing form the DOE materials.

  2. DOE will "move promptly" the plutonium pit surveillance mission and workload from Los Alamos Lab to Livermore. DOE expressly says one of the aims is to give Livermore Lab more plutonium. This means pits from weapons in addition to those of the W80 discussed above will come to Livermore. Livermore Lab already has about 880 pounds of plutonium.

    Livermore Lab also has a history of accidents, spills, leaks and plutonium safety violations, and its plutonium facility was recently shut down on the recommendation of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. It is just now "restarting." Livermore Lab is in a highly-populated area, with over 6

    million people within a fifty-mile radius. And, Livermore Lab is in an area riddled with earthquake faults and jolted by frequent tremors. Further, the DOE notation suggests that some or all of the destructive surveillance workload for each of the weapon types in the U.S. arsenal will come to Livermore Lab. This would mean nuclear weapons coming into Livermore to be taken apart and "destructively tested."

    That plutonium work at Livermore Lab will increase is stated. However, the extent of the increase and any analysis of the attendant risks are missing.

    So is the cost estimate for the moving, modifying, designing and manufacturing of equipment etc. at Livermore Lab, whose current plutonium facility and capabilities have been configured differently than at the "donor" location, Technical Area 55 (TA55) in Los Alamos.

  3. DOE will use the space at TA55, newly created by moving plutonium pit surveillance to Livermore Lab, for increasing its Appaloosa program. Appaloosa is the code name for a new hydrodynamic test program wherein, essentially, high-explosives and surrogate pits (including with plutonium 242) are set off above ground inside tanks. Environmental impacts, cost and need are all missing from the DOE materials.

  4. DOE will consolidate hydrodymamic testing at Los Alamos Lab, and will open up a new "national program office" there. However, Clinton administration officials have been told by DOE that Livermore Lab will still build and keep its new hydrodynamic test facility. Therefore, any fiscal savings DOE may claim is attached to this consolidation is suspect.

  5. DOE will build a huge new 50 GeV [gigaelectron volt] proton accelerator at Los Alamos Lab to "get neutrons out of proton collisions." The existing LANCE facility at Los Alamos would become merely an injector beamline for the new mega-machine, according to DOE. The mission goal or any technical justification for the project are missing from the DOE materials. So is its price tag.

  6. DOE will conduct additional underground subcritical nuclear tests for the W80 and W88. The W88 is the submarine launched warhead on the Trident D-5 missile, currently being extensively "upgraded" by Los Alamos Lab. The DOE briefing materials specify that additional subcritical shots will involve "weapon relevant shapes." There is no discussion of proliferation impacts, cost or environmental effects -- or of whether U.S.

    national security will be improved or degraded by "upgrading" these weapons.

  7. DOE will move ATLAS and Pegasus from Los Alamos Lab to Nevada. ATLAS is a new fusion facility being constructed at Los Alamos.

    Pegasus is an older machine. Again, technical justification, skill base questions, cost issues, etc. are missing from the DOE materials.

  8. DOE will use ATLAS and Pegasus to help develop the technology that will allow for "explosively driven pulse power for future SNM [special nuclear material - i.e. plutonium] experiments in U1A." The U1A facility is the underground complex of tunnels and rooms where subcritical nuclear experiments are now detonated. Underground explosively driven pulse power experiments on plutonium would be a new type of experiment; one which may have implications for the development of new generations of weapons. The DOE briefing materials do not offer any rationale for these tests. Nor are their costs, environmental impacts, potential weapons application or related proliferation risks mentioned.

  9. DOE will build a new "infrastructure for weapons microsystem components ...MESA" at Sandia Lab in New Mexico. This capability will "support future AF&F (arming, firing and fusing) needs." The only weapon type specifically mentioned as justifying the need for this new capability is the W80 "surety upgrade." MESA is reportedly a several hundred million dollar project. And, while DOE's materials don't discuss it, Sandia Lab has publicly stated that it could become the production center for new weapons electronics as well as the design center in the future, if DOE so desires.

    These are big moves. Collectively, they ratchet up U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. Nowhere has DOE put this plan before the public, justified the changes or analyzed their myriad negative consequences -- at least not in any publicly-available, independently-reviewed forum.

    The DOE has completed a Stockpile Stewardship & Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. It stands silent on this plan. Moreover, some of the siting elements in the SSM PEIS actually ran contrary to this latest DOE scheme. OMB is on record stating that DOE must undertake a revision of the SSM PEIS before moving forward. DOE, however, went forward to request initial monies from Congress to begin.

    -- end --

    Marylia Kelley Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment) 2582 Old First Street Livermore, CA USA 94550 - is our web site, please visit us there!

    (925) 443-7148 - is our phone
    (925) 443-0177 - is our fax

    Working for peace, justice and a healthy environment since 1983, Tri-Valley CAREs has been a member of the nation-wide Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in the U.S. since 1989, and is a co-founding member of the international Abolition 2000 network for the elimination of nuclear weapons.