Tri-Valley CAREs'

Tri-Valley CAREs'

New Plan to Expand Nuclear Weapons Activities Revealed: Plutonium from Los Alamos Lab to be Moved to Livermore

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 1999 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Note -- In last month's Citizen's Watch, we made public DOE's plan to ship some of Rocky Flat's plutonium to Livermore Lab. Now we have uncovered a proposal to bring plutonium from Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico to Livermore.

Read on ...

The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) is poised to make major changes in its nuclear weapons program and move more plutonium work to the Livermore Lab, according to materials used by DOE to brief high-level Clinton administration officials on the plan.

Tri-Valley CAREs obtained the briefing papers from the federal Office of Management and Budget and released them to the media and the public in August. The proposed 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.

DOE will give Livermore Lab plutonium pit work now performed at Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. A "pit" refers to the plutonium core of a nuclear weapon. This plan will include moving nuclear weapons to Livermore for plutonium pit surveillance. Additionally, 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.

Until now, this plan has gone forward in secret, and the public has been inappropriately excluded from any knowledge or decision-making role.

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, in March 1999, not to conduct a new site-wide environmental review. Put simply, they lied.

Tri-Valley CAREs and its colleague organizations in the Bay Area are demanding full environmental review and public hearings before any money is allocated or any nuclear materials are moved.

Moreover, the DOE plan extends beyond shifting "Stockpile Stewardship" functions between labs. It expands the so-called "Stewardship" program and further enhances U.S. nuclear capability -- demonstrating once again a "do as I say and not as I do" proliferation policy on the part of the U.S. That hypocrisy will not go unnoticed by other nations, some of whom will use it to justify their own pursuit of new nuclear weapons capabilities. The result will be an increase in environmental risks locally and proliferation dangers worldwide.

Major Changes Proposed

  • DOE will "move promptly" the W80 nuclear warhead workload from Los Alamos Lab in Mew Mexico to Livermore Lab in California. This will increase the plutonium pit work at Livermore. The briefing papers also reveal what appear to be changes in the warhead that go far, far beyond mere maintenance procedures to preserve the existing weapon's "safety" or "reliability" while it remains in the arsenal. The W80 "upgrade" proposed here is sufficiently extensive to raise new questions about DOE plans to (re)design nuclear weapons in the 21st century. The W80 was originally designed by Los Alamos, and this plan marks the first time that responsibility for a nuclear weapon designed by one of the labs will be shifted to the other.

  • DOE will also "move promptly" the plutonium pit surveillance mission and workload from Los Alamos to Livermore. DOE expressly says one of the aims is to give Livermore Lab more plutonium work. This means pits from weapons besides those of the W80 discussed above will come to Livermore, where the Lab already has about 880 pounds of plutonium and is slated to get more from Rocky Flats.

  • Los Alamos Lab's Appaloosa program will be expanded. 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 inside above-ground tanks.

  • DOE will consolidate hydrodymamic testing at Los Alamos, although administration officials have been told by DOE that Livermore Lab will hang on to its hydrodynamic test program, including the new "Contained Firing Facility," now under construction at Livermore Lab.

  • DOE will build a huge, new 50 gigaelectron volt proton accelerator at Los Alamos Lab. The existing LANCE facility will become merely an injector beamline for the new mega-machine, according to DOE.

  • DOE will conduct additional underground subcritical nuclear tests for the W80 and W88 programs. The briefing papers specify that additional subcritical shots will involve "weapon relevant shapes."

  • 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. These two programs will be used to develop technology that will allow for "explosively driven pulse power for future special nuclear material [i.e., plutonium] experiments in U1A." The U1A is the underground tunnel complex where subcritical nuclear experiments are detonated. These pulse power tests are of a new type.

  • 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."

Collectively, these plans substantially ratchet up U.S. nuclear weapons activities. We must act swiftly to counter this.

The DOE briefing papers make it clear that one of plan's "drivers" is the desire to keep Livermore Lab operating as a full-service nuclear weapons design lab -- with a robust plutonium workload to match its weaponeers' fusion aspirations, fueled by the National Ignition Facility.

Tri-Valley CAREs is preparing a letter outlining our objections. Call the office for details, or come to our meeting on September 23rd to discuss next steps.

(For those groups receiving this article by email, just let me know if you can sign on. An electronic copy of the letter will be available by mid week. Let me know if you wish to see a copy. --Marylia)

Don't just get mad -- get organized with us!

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.