Plutonium Missing at California Weapons Lab
Livermore Laboratory cannot account for 12 pounds of
plutonium--enough for several bombs--but this is not a problem
according to Lab officials. Lab representatives went to great
lengths to attribute the missing 12 pounds of measurement notes
and radioactive decay over the past 30 years. Their latter
explanation fails to take into account that the isotope in
question, plutonium 239, has a radioactive half-life of over
24,000 years. A half-life is the amount of time it takes half the
atoms of a radioactive substance to disintegrate. Moreover, if
random weighing errors were solely to blame, logic suggests they
would not all be shortages.
A more credible explanation is that some portion of the 12
missing pounds found its way into our environment--both up the
stacks and down the drains of the facility. Various accidents,
leaks and spills have already been documented, including one that
sent one-half gram of plutonium: to Livermore's sewage treatment
plant. During the latter part of the '60s and the '70s local
residents were allowed to take the contaminated sludge home for
use in their gardens as soil conditioner. Further, soil samples
analyzed last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the
Laboratory revealed dramatically elevated levels of plutonium at
the Lab itself and offsite in a Livermore city park--Big Trees
Park--west of the Lab. And, the DOE Tiger Team found unexplained
high levels of plutonium in air monitors east of the Lab.
Another possible factor contributing to the 12-pound loss
may be that larger pockets of plutonium dust exist within the
pipes and duct work of the plutonium facility than have been
discovered as yet. Too, while Livermore Lab officials do not
believe that any plutonium has been stolen, neither could they
entirely rule out the possibility. In essence, none of the
potential explanations, from lousy bookkeeping to deposition of
plutonium particles in our air and lungs, is good. At best,
Livermore and the other facilities in the nuclear weapons complex
have been too cavalier with this dangerous material.
Livermore Lab's inventory discrepancy came to light as part of
Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's declassification initiative.
Nationwide, 6,050 pounds of plutonium are missing out of 111.4
metric tons of the deadly metal acquired since the mid '40s.
According to new DOE figures, 93.5% of U.S. plutonium has come
from U.S. government reactors, 5% from 14 other countries and
1.5% from U.S. civilian nuclear plants. About 89% of that 111.4
metric tons remains in inventory, while 3.1% has been used in the
Nagasaki bomb and nuclear tests, 3.1% is waste, 2.5% is
unaccounted for, 1.1% has been lost due to fission transmutation,
0.5% was transferred to other countries, 0.4% decayed and 0.1%
was transferred to civilian industry.
This report reprinted from CAREs Feb. 1996 Citizen's Watch. To
obtain a copy of the DOE summary, which includes additional
information on the declassification activities and plans, contact
Tri-Valley CAREs @ 5720 East Ave., #116, Livermore,CA 94530.
Marylia Kelley works with Tri-Valley Citizens Against A
Radioactive Environment, Livermore, CA.
Spring, 1996, "Nukewatch"
By Marylia Kelley
(Reprinted from the Nukewatch PATHFINDER, Spring, 1996)
THE PROGRESSIVE FOUNDATION
P.O. BOX 2658
MADISON, WI 53701-2658