The Department of Energy said last week it plans to remove all “nuclear bomb useable” quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by the end of 2014, establishing a new plutonium megaplex at another location. The lab is at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. Only last November, DoE announced plans to double the amount of plutonium at the facility, despite widespread concerns about the safety and security of the plutonium already in use there.

While calling the long-term plan to remove the highly radioactive materials a victory, the environmental watchdog organization Tri-Valley CARES (Tri-Valley Communities against a Radioactive Environment) is warning the new announcement does not mean DoE has given up its program to greatly increase plutonium at the lab in the meantime. The group urges that the materials be removed much more quickly, under safe conditions, and stored safely and securely at a remote location.

In a telephone interview, Tri-Valley CARES Executive Director Marylia Kelley pointed out that DoE’s plan to build the new plutonium megaplex is linked to the controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which seeks to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal despite objections by several leading scientific advisers.

“We wholeheartedly support ending all plutonium and highly enriched uranium activities at Livermore Lab,” Kelley said, “because the activities are not safe and the materials are not secure” against an earthquake or a terrorist attack, potentially imperiling 7 million residents of the highly urban area. “At the same time,” she added, “we are reiterating our long-standing objection to new nuclear weapons and to the idea that a plutonium megaplex should be built anywhere.”

Kelley warned that the radioactive materials must be packaged safely to protect workers, communities along transportation routes and the ultimate host community. She noted that last year the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety board cited the lab for keeping plutonium in paint cans and food cans.

As Congress considers the fiscal year 2007 budget, Kelley said, pressure is urgently needed to eliminate the $27.7 million specifically being proposed for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. Though the request seems modest, she said, the proposed budget contains nearly 100 other references to the RRW program that don’t contain actual dollar amounts, but which add up to approximately $300 million.

Particular pressure points, Kelley said, are the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees, but all members of Congress should hear from their constituents that they want plutonium removed from the labs quickly and safely and they do not want the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

“One of the dangers of activism,” Kelley said, “is that when there is a victory, people think it is the final victory, and they are not active, and real change does not take place. I want folks to celebrate this victory with us, but in the context of all these other dangers we need to work on.”

Tri-Valley CARES is redoubling efforts to get signatures on its petition to stop DoE from doubling the plutonium at Livermore Lab. For more information, visit www.trivalleycares.org/action.

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