DOE Releases Final Environmental Impact Statement for Livermore

* The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released the final Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. The statement recommends that Livermore pursue increased operations site-wide. The statement also advocates for nearly doubling Livermore’s plutonium inventory.

The Livermore laboratory was founded in 1952 in order to facilitate the development of the hydrogen bomb. It is located on 821 acres in Livermore, which is 40 miles east of San Francisco, and another 7,000 acre experimental site near Tracy, California. The smaller site is located approximately three miles from Livermore's central business district. Like Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Livermore is managed by the University of California for DOE.

Areas of concern at Livermore include the National Ignition Facility, the Superblock and the proposed Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory (BSL-3). The National Ignition Facility is a $1.2 billion dollar laser that creates nuclear fusion between particles of deuterium and tritium. The statement proposes to add experiments with plutonium and other fissile materials at the facility.

The Superblock at Livermore includes the Plutonium Facility, Tritium Facility and Hardened Engineering Test Building. DOE proposes to increase plutonium storage at each of these facilities. With these proposed changes, Livermore would store approximately 1.5 tons of plutonium altogether. DOE also proposes allowing workers to handle more than 80 pounds of plutonium in any given room. Many of the more than 9,000 public comments received by DOE regarding the draft statement expressed strong opposition to these proposals.

Commentators also expressed serious concerns about the BSL-3 that DOE has proposed for Livermore. A BSL-3 may handle live species of deadly pathogens, including plague, smallpox and tuberculosis. DOE has also proposed such a facility for LANL, despite public opposition. Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CAREs), in conjunction with Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, sued DOE for a more thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of such facilities.

Marylia Kelly, of Tri-Valley CAREs, said, "A comprehensive environmental review, public hearings and serious consideration of safer alternatives are all legally required. Instead, DOE hastily and capriciously gave a 'green-light' to novel and dangerous operations in two states."

DOE announced months ago that they would soon prepare a similar environmental impact statement for LANL in order to analyze the cumulative health and environmental impacts from activities there. However, DOE proposes that the statement not review the entire LANL complex, but instead specific areas of LANL that have undergone major changes or have been developed since the last statement was prepared in 1999.

Community members have requested that a new environmental impact statement be prepared in order to address the significant environmental changes at LANL since 1999, including the Cerro Grande fire. Further, the 1999 statement included no provisions for cleanup at LANL. However, activists argue that the new statement must include LANL's requirements under the New Mexico Environment Department's Order on Consent, which requires them to investigate and clean up contamination sources site-wide. Activists also believe that a new statement should be developed as a new contractor prepares to begin management of LANL.

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