America's nuclear program gets a makeover

March 18, 2008 1:01:33 PM PDT
This week, you'll have the chance to tell the Department of Energy what you think about a plan to re-make the nation's nuclear weapons facilities.

The proposal includes significantly downsizing operations at the Livermore Lab. But critics have serious doubts about the government's intentions.

It's called "Complex Transformation," the process whereby the Department of Energy plans to reorganize.

They say dramatically downsize this country's nuclear weapons production capability, including at the Bay Area's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

Lauren Martinez is a spokesperson for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

"What we want to do is go from a nuclear weapons complex that was designed in the Cold War and move to a nuclear weapons complex for the future. This complex would be smaller, safer, more secure, less expensive and more efficient," said National Nuclear Security Administration spokesperson Lauren Martinez.

Over the next decade, the government will decommission two of eight nuclear arms-making facilities around the country.

There will be a 90 percent reduction in the space devoted to weapons production.

The current staff of 30,000 would be reduced by 20 to 30 percent. And buildings, some dating back to the 1940's will be destroyed, reducing their number by 30 percent.

Perhaps most importantly for the Bay Area, within the next several years, virtually all 90 percent of the nuclear material now housed in Livermore will be moved someplace else.

"The sort of main theme in complex transformation is the consolidation of what we call special nuclear materials -- uranium and plutonium. The attempt is to consolidate those to fewer sites, which will make it easier to protect," said Lawrence Livermore Lab Weapons Program Manager Diane Bird.

At the Livermore Lab, there would still be research and production of nuclear weapons, on a smaller scale.

But at Tracy's "Site 300" there would be a move away from its current role as a test facility for high explosives.

"We're looking at energy products, Department of Homeland Security, perhaps other Department of Defense activities," said Bird.

But those who oppose nuclear weapons of any kind say "complex transformation" is just another term for something else.

Marylia Kelley is executive director of "Tri-Valley Cares," the citizens' watchdog group that's full-time mission is to keep a close eye on Lawrence Livermore.

"In fact, complex transformation, or "bombplex" will revitalize the infrastructure of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex in order to move forward with militarily modified nuclear weapons and with new nuclear weapons," said Marylia Kelly from Tri-Valley Cares.

Rather than modernizing its ability to produce nuclear weapons, opponents say the government should transform all its arms-making facilities for more benign purposes, like clean energy.

"Personally, I want to live in a world without nuclear weapons. It wasn't possible, wasn't foreseeable for my parents. But now, it is entirely possible and entirely feasible to live without that threat," said Jedidjah de Vries from Tri-Valley Cares.

The public will have their say on the issue of complex transformation during a series of hearings starting Tuesday in Tracy and Livermore.

Complex transformation hearings:

Tuesday, March 18th
Holiday Inn Express
3751 N. Tracy Blvd, Tracy

Wednesday March 19th
Attend either session:
11am- 3pm or 6pm-10pm
Robert Livermore Community Center
4444 East Ave., Livermore