|Date:||Fri, 12 Mar 1999 12:32:15 -0800 (PST)|
|Subject:||Plutonium Filter Problems at Livermore Lab!|
Hello cpeo folks. This has broad implications as HEPA filters are used government and industry-wide. Read on... Peace, Marylia Contact: Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, (925) 443-7148 Sally Light, Program Analyst, (925) 443-7148 or (510) 527-2057 For Release 3/11/99 Livermore Lab's Plutonium Facility -- A Ticking "Time Bomb"? Community group calls on Energy Secretary to close plutonium facility; conduct immediate investigation of filter problems. Formerly secret documents form basis for group's demand. On March 11, 1999, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment) will send a letter to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson demanding that he immediately shut down operations in the main plutonium building at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) while a thorough, open investigation of the problem-riddled facility is carried out. The main plutonium facility at LLNL, called Building 332, houses 880 pounds of plutonium, enough for nearly 100 modern nuclear bombs. Tri-Valley CAREs, the Livermore-based environmental "watchdog" over the weapons laboratory, has recently received documents from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in response to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information concerning LLNL's High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in its plutonium facility. The documents were not provided until Tri-Valley CAREs, after waiting almost nine months for a response to its April 1998 request, filed a FOIA lawsuit against DOE, the Livermore Lab's parent agency. These formerly secret documents, which total approximately 500 pages, can be made available to reporters upon request at Tri-Valley CAREs' office. They are the basis for the group's urgent letter to Secretary Richardson. Several documents are excerpted below. The DOE documents reveal a long history of serious problems with Bldg. 332's HEPA filters, which are supposed to protect Lab workers and the public by preventing the release of plutonium into the air. Plutonium, a radioactive material derived from neutron bombardment of uranium 238, is used in the making of nuclear weapons. Plutonium 239, the weapons grade isotope oft used at Livermore Lab, has a "half-life" of over 24,000 years. Among the documents are many memos from LLNL's own filter experts outlining serious technical concerns about Bldg. 332's filter system and containing chilling warnings about potential and actual failures. Other documents describe accidents that spread plutonium around Bldg. 332, which includes many rooms and, in its entirety, covers most of four acres. Excerpt from FOIA-ed memo of 6/6/90: "I hope it doesn't take a release like we had in late 1979 - early 1980 to spring the money necessary to solve the current problems." -- James S. Johnson, LLNL to Chuck Folkers, LLNL "The records indicate that measurable plutonium releases to the outside air occurred in 1979-80 due to HEPA filter failure," stated Sally Light, Tri-Valley CAREs' Nuclear Program Analyst. "According to these documents," Light continued, "at least one type of Bldg. 332's HEPA filters is not totally qualified for nuclear applications. Further, the documents show that these filters, which are made by hand from glass paper and glue, may fail when wet, hot, cold or under too much air pressure, as well as when too old. Livermore Lab experts state in the documents we received that HEPA filters should remain in service for only 8 years maximum. Knowing this, the Lab has continued to use some of the filters in the plutonium facility for 20 to 30-plus years!" Excerpt from FOIA-ed memo of 3/6/95: "Old filters should be discarded or only used in non-critical applications because aged filters are structurally weak." -- Werner Bergman, LLNL to Ray Kahle. And, on 2/16/95: "LLNL has stored filters to 10 years prior to use and has functioning filters with 32 years of service." -- HEPA Filter Studies, by Werner Bergman, LLNL Light went on to say that there is a risk of major plutonium releases if a fire -- always a possibility with plutonium -- occurs in Bldg. 332, causing the "blow out" of plutonium-laden filters when fire sprinklers turn on. "We are extremely concerned about this possibility, because a major plutonium fire and HEPA 'blow out' has already actually happened at another DOE facility, Rocky Flats, in Colorado," she said. Excerpt from FOIA-ed memo of 3/6/95: "As stated in all three documents, the most important issue is the potential for HEPA filter blow out during fire conditions." -- Werner Bergman, LLNL to Ray Kahle According to Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs, HEPA filters work similarly to a filter in a coffee pot, which doesn't prevent numerous small coffee particles from passing through. "Even when the HEPA filter is working perfectly, it does not capture 100% of the plutonium. If the filters are allowed to get old, crusty, brittle and failure-prone, as the ones in Bldg. 332 have, then this may show one possible pathway by which plutonium made its way into the surrounding community, including Big Trees Park," Kelley explained, referring to the recent "plutonium in the park" controversy. Community concern continues to rise as elevated levels of plutonium were discovered for a third time at Big Trees Park, just one half mile west of the Lab and next to an elementary school. Kelley also stated that some of the DOE documents include Lab memos describing the long-standing inadequacy of funding for research into both filter problems and their remedies. A recent memo shows a Livermore Lab employee trying hard to juggle and stretch what little DOE funding there was in order to even partially address existing filter problems. Excerpt from FOIA-ed memo of 3/21/98: "I no longer have any support for HEPA filter tasks and cannot charge my other projects... Because of the serious accusations regarding these filters and the potential consequences to Bldg. 332 and the Lab, I quickly conducted a series of tests (using about 100k dollars of my DOE monies initially intended for other filter tasks) to mitigate the most serious questions regarding the closed filters." -- Werner Bergman, LLNL to Tim Roberts, LLNL "Historically, there's been very little guidance from DOE as to the filters for the entire nuclear weapons complex. Instead, each facility has been left largely on its own," Kelley said. Excerpt from FOIA-ed document of 2/16/95: "DP [Dept. of Energy's Defense Programs] facilities have many old HEPA filters because there is no guidance and no disposal site" -- HEPA Filter Studies, by Werner Bergman, LLNL "We will continue to monitor the serious HEPA conditions at Livermore Lab's plutonium facility, as well as the other problems there, including the epidemic of plutonium criticality safety violations that resulted in the months-long shut down of Bldg. 332 during 1997-98," said Sally Light. "As a priority, we are urging the community to join us in writing the Secretary of Energy, as well as Representative Ellen Tauscher, to demand that Bldg. 332 be closed while an immediate, thorough and open investigation of these serious risks to public health and the environment is undertaken." -30- A copy of the letter to Secretary Richardson is available by fax on request. ++++ Please note that my email address has changed to <email@example.com> on 3/1/99 ++++ Marylia Kelley Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment) 2582 Old First Street Livermore, CA USA 94550 <http://www.igc.org/tvc/> - is our web site, please visit us there! Our web site will remain at this location. Only my email address has changed on 3/1/99. (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.
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