Livermore, CA- Thirty-nine organizations seeking to enforce the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) today asked U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin to issue a preliminary injunction to stop construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) after excavation uncovered a large unlicensed, undocumented hazardous waste dump at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory site.
Earlier this month, crews digging the football arena-sized construction pit for the nuclear weapon program's megalaser facility uncovered more than one hundred two foot-by-two foot capacitors containing carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, chromium, mercury and molybdenum. They also found 75 crushed waste drums marked "radioactive."
"Evidence indicates that Defendants have long been aware that hazardous, toxic and radioactive wastes may have been buried under the NIF site over the course of several decades," said Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and lead attorney for the 39 plaintiffs. "Yet the Department of Energy (DOE) did not disclose or analyze these risks in the NIF Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)," Finamore continued. That EIS is part of the Programmatic EIS on DOE's Stockpile Stewardship and Management program, and a focus of the lawsuit.
"DOE and Livermore Lab willfully ignored this very real threat to human health and our environment," charged Tri-Valley CAREs president, Marylia Kelley, who lives and works only about a quarter-mile from the Livermore Lab. "Further, it appears possible, even likely, that additional hazardous wastes could still be hidden underground, like a ticking time bomb, in the area. If toxic wastes are broken into by a backhoe, as happened with the PCB-laden capacitors, or allowed to continue, undiscovered, migrating and off-gassing through the environment, this could pose a significant health risk," she added. "DOE and Livermore Lab must thoroughly investigate this area and safely deal with any additional hazards that may be lurking there before proceeding with construction of the NIF. We are extremely alarmed that DOE and Livermore Lab have declined to do this, and that workers are right now digging up the site, full speed ahead, health and environmental risk be damned."
Livermore Laboratory initially informed local newspapers by phone on Friday, September 5 that three PCB-laden capacitors had been discovered by a backhoe digging on the site, and that a fourth might be still in the ground. In fact, the contamination was more serious and widespread than originally disclosed.
According to various officials, Livermore Lab unearthed about 118 PCB-laden capacitors, likely buried during the 1960s from Livermore's magnetic fusion energy program. Each capacitor is bigger than a microwave oven, roughly 2 feet by 2 feet, and each contains around 2 pounds of PCB-contaminated oils. The soil in the area was wet with the oily PCBs.
Adjacent to the leaking capacitors, Livermore Lab discovered severe soil contamination, including readings as high as 120,000 to 200,000 parts per billion (ppb) of chromium, mercury at 240 ppb and molybdenum at 400 ppb. In a nearby trench, also, Livermore Lab found buried crushed drums marked as radioactive, and each containing a layer of concrete, about one inch-thick, at their bottoms. Within a week, about 75 such drums were unearthed, though no radioactivity was measured in the soil, according to Livermore Lab. Officials there speculate that the drums may have been prepared but not used for disposal of radioactive wastes that Livermore dumped off the Farrallon Islands, off the Northern California coast, during the 1960s.
As plaintiffs outline in their Motion put before the court today, during excavation in 1984, Livermore Lab uncovered an unregulated, old landfill containing both toxic and radioactive wastes. That dump site, called the East Traffic Circle area, is a scant 200 feet away from the newly unearthed toxic wastes under the NIF site. Moreover, only another 200 or so feet south of the East Traffic Circle dump, Livermore Lab discovered a third, undocumented hazardous waste dump.
"The events of the last several weeks provide compelling additional evidence to support Plaintiffs' claim that Defendants have violated NEPA by failing to take a 'hard look' at the environmental impacts of the National Ignition Facility," says the Motion filed today. In essence, this Motion asks the Court to reconsider part of its earlier decision on the plaintiff groups' original Motion for Preliminary Injunction. In that decision, Judge Sporkin had ruled that construction of the NIF could proceed while DOE provides plaintiffs with some of the additional environmental review sought in the suit, and while plaintiffs pursue the case on its merits.
In addition to uncovering buried hazardous wastes, plaintiffs have also recently discovered that the area to be excavated for the NIF will come within five feet of a contaminated groundwater aquifer that lies under the Livermore site. Defendants have obtained a dewatering permit to pump water from under the excavation in the event the construction crew digs into the polluted aquifer.
"The continued excavation of a three-story deep hole without further analysis and disclosure of potential groundwater impacts poses a threat to workers as well as a risk of interfering with the complex groundwater program now underway at Livermore Lab," explained Finamore. In 1987, Livermore Lab's main site, where the NIF construction is occurring was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's "National Priorities List,", also known as the Superfund list, of worst contaminated sites in the nation. Livermore Lab's site 300 was added to that list in 1990.
Contact: Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, Livermore, CA (510) 443-7148
Barbara Finamore, NRDC, Washington, DC (202) 289-2371
Bob Schaeffer, Military Production Network, (617) 489-0461