LIVERMORE -- Nuclear watchdog groups spoke out at a panel Wednesday against a federal proposal they say could result in the trucking of weapons-grade plutonium from New Mexico to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for testing.
"We're here to ask how and why we can stop plutonium shipments to Livermore," said Scott Yundt, staff attorney for Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, which sponsored the forum.
Government representatives say there is no such plan to move plutonium from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Bay Area for diagnostic testing. But during the presentation, panelists from Livermore and New Mexico said although no plan has been formalized, the idea has been discussed by U.S. Department of Energy officials and in documents from the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"There's no question that this is the proposal," said Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelley. "What would be the fair thing to say is that the final decision hasn't been made."
Tri-Valley CAREs convened the forum to draw attention to elements of the draft Revised Plutonium Strategy, a NNSA alternative to a delayed multibillion-dollar nuclear facility at the Los Alamos lab. Periodic diagnostic testing on plutonium "pits," the panelists said, is being considered for Livermore's Superblock facility, starting in 2014.
According to the NNSA website, "Plutonium pits are a critical core component of a nuclear weapon. To ensure the reliability, safety, and security of nuclear weapons without underground nuclear testing, weapons go through a surveillance process, where they are regularly taken apart, examined, and tests run on their components."
Lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said any decision to move plutonium would be up to the NNSA, an agency within the Energy Department.
—The bottom line is this is an NNSA decision regarding these pits, and right now this is only a discussion," Seaver said. "Until NNSA tells us they're going to do this, we can't do anything else."
She also confirmed Superblock is the only place in the country that can do this type of diagnostic testing.
In September, the NNSA removed all Category I and II special nuclear material from the Livermore lab -- a class including enriched uranium and high-grade plutonium -- in an effort to reduce operating costs and improve security. The move, according to the agency, saved taxpayers about $40 million.
Al Stotts, an NNSA spokesman, said Tuesday the agency doesn't plan to ship plutonium to Livermore or reverse the lab's security downgrading but didn't shut the door completely.
"NNSA has no plans to return Security Category I/II material such as pits and secondary assemblies containing (special nuclear material) to LLNL," Stotts said in a prepared statement. "Should it become necessary to revisit this decision, NNSA would only do so after carefully evaluating the policy and program implications of such a change."
Stotts said any change requires going through a strict environmental process, including National Environmental Policy Act studies.
Yundt, Tri-Valley CAREs attorney, said if the agency does decide to move plutonium to Livermore, it should conduct a full NEPA report, otherwise the group would pursue "judicial action."
Another panelist was Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, who said any decision to bring weapons-grade plutonium back to Livermore could have "profound implications" on the lab's direction.
"I think this is a winnable issue," Coghlan told the audience.
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