OT: Energy Department Moving Ahead With Plans To Ramp Up Production Of Plutonium And Other Materials For Rejuvenated Nuclear Weapons Program

From the article at: http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/2004/so04/so04lortie.html
No plans for new nukes here! By Bret Lortie

If you thought all the talk about new nuclear weapons was just hot air, the proposed environmental plan for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a cool reminder that the Energy Department is moving ahead with plans to ramp up production of plutonium pits and other materials for a rejuvenated nuclear weapons program.
It has been more than 10 years since Livermore's "Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement" has been updated, and the National Environmental Policy Act required that Energy produce a review to cover Livermore's planned operations for the next 10 years. The proposal offers a rare glimpse into the government's plans for the top-secret weapons lab.
If Energy gets its way, Livermore will be allowed to house twice the plutonium and work with nearly 10 times the radioactive tritium it does now, reports the February 21 Contra Costa Times. The lab will also start research on how to manufacture plutonium pits (nuclear weapon cores) using modern robotic manufacturing techniques. The lab currently cannot separate large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium or fabricate the dense metal into pits, things that Los Alamos National Laboratory (Livermore's "sister" lab) is able to do.
The nearly tenfold increase in tritium-handling capacity, reports the February 26 Tri-Valley Herald, would allow Energy to resume nuclear weapons testing in 18 rather than 36 months if President George W. Bush ends the 12-year moratorium on nuclear testing. Tritium is used in the sensitive instruments used to evaluate nuclear explosions.
Livermore scientists would also use the tritium for filling small metal or glass spheres used as targets in fusion experiments at the National Ignition Facility--the world's largest laser--whose construction is beginning to wind down.
Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Livermore watchdog group Tri-Valley CAREs, says that in the mid-1990s her organization was told that Livermore would never fill targets on site because the lab is just too crowded. "Lo and behold," she says, "that is what they want to do. And every time they increase their tritium workload, more tritium gets into the environment."
"The most important thing in all this," says Kelley, "is that this is a 10-year planning document--and it demonstrates that this administration is planning a long-term future for making weapons at the lab."
She says it's ironic that while Livermore is planning to double the amount of plutonium it can handle (from 1,540 to 3,300 pounds), some Energy officials want to "de-inventory" Livermore because of security problems.
Many of Livermore's security problems are linked to the lab's location, Kelley says. Unlike Los Alamos, where plutonium facilities are spread out over 43 square miles of remote land, Livermore's plutonium facilities are crammed into an area just 1.3 square miles in size. "Livermore lab is unique in the weapons complex because of how close the buildings are to each other," she says.
"The plutonium facilities are next to tritium facilities, which are next to both the lab's internal streets and local public roads. There are people driving right next to the Superblock where work with radioactive materials takes place. It's a very difficult complex to defend because it's an extremely crowded site." With nearly 10,000 employees and subcontractors coming and going through the lab's gates, it is also very busy.
Kelley adds that more than 7 million people live within a 50-mile radius of the complex, and there are several airports in the area with flight paths carrying planes directly overhead. "This is not a place where you can house plutonium and defend it easily," she says, noting that in addition to overflights the danger posed by either terrorists or disgruntled employees is very real.
"This is why Tri-Valley CAREs supports the de-inventorying of plutonium and highly enriched uranium at Lawrence Livermore."
Where does Kelley suggest Energy do the work? "A good deal of the work done at this lab duplicates the work done at Los Alamos," she says, and her organization rejects the idea that new labs need to be built if Livermore's plutonium and tritium-handling capacities are not increased. "This is an opportunity to make Lawrence Livermore safer and to build down the dangerous, duplicated, and unnecessary activities of the nuclear complex.
"If you want to maintain the current arsenal, you do need some plutonium capacity, but what exists at Los Alamos is far in excess of what's needed. But if you're hell-bent on new weapons, what's planned for Livermore is exactly what you'd do."
Another dangerous proposal in the Livermore plan is to triple the at-risk limit for how much plutonium can be in a single room at one time. The amount requested is not arbitrary but linked to specific projects such as developing prototype plutonium bomb cores and new processes for separating plutonium with lasers. "They want to be able to do anything they want to do and not tell anyone about it," says Kelley.
"We think this is extremely dangerous for the community and for proliferation. New nuclear weapons seem to absolutely be their intent. What's new is that this is now being disclosed."
Does Kelley think the plan can be stopped? "If the public, scientific community, and our legislators come together to oppose these actions, they're stoppable," she says. Energy plans on proposing a "record of decision" by January 2005, when the agency will advance its decision to expand activities at Livermore. Kelley says that if Energy chooses to go forward with the plan, her organization will consider litigation.
"It's a shocking blueprint for an increasingly aggressive and robust nuclear weapons program," Kelley concludes. "And we're going to stop it if we can.
"It's a moral, scientific, and political imperative."
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Well, I suppose that is metal related.
Vaughn
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