Livermore Lab security leaves nuclear material vulnerable to attack

 In Nuclear Weapons


Photo of Lawrence Livermore National Lab from

For the seven million people like myself living in the Bay Area, the news that a mock terrorist team was able to reach mock nuclear material at Lawrence Livermore National Lab is not comforting.

Livermore Lab houses enough fissile material (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) to build an estimated 300 nuclear weapons, making it an attractive target for would-be terrorists. Experts told Time magazine that the security exercise’s outcome is an “embarrassment” and has highlighted the “most dangerous security weaknesses ever found at the lab.”

The security flaws exposed in the recent test could exacerbate public opposition to nuclear weapons material being stored at Livermore, which is located near a major highway interchange, atop a vital agricultural irrigation canal and within a mile of two elementary schools, a preschool, a middle school and a senior center. In 2005 the Energy Department approved the doubling of the amount of plutonium stored at Livermore, less than five months after a scientific panel recommended, for security reasons, that nearly all of it be moved to a safer, more remote site.

The alleged failure of Livermore’s truck-mounted Gatling guns could also draw heavy criticism. Those weapons have long been controversial because they can fire 4000 rounds a minute and kill a person more than a mile away, raising fears among local residents about what might happen if the guns were ever discharged. The weapons are also supposed to be tested on a regular basis, and the reason for their reported failure remains unclear.

The Project on Government Oversight cited security concerns when they released a new report two months ago recommending that plutonium and highly enriched uranium be removed from Livermore Lab within the next year. Security lapses are all the more concerning because a terrorist group could simply detonate the material once it was reached without worrying about how to smuggle it out.

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  • Anonymous

    tO Peace-Action and peace-People:
    Since before the nuclear-Missile: silos went on 24/7 alert in 1972, this nation has had the immense “need” for fissile and chemical “radionuclides” clean-Ups. That the Nat’l Ignition Facility has only helped to maintain the “dept-of-War” paradigm for many Congressional-districts around the u-S has also implemented the continuation of cold-War “defense-Spending rhetoric” but backed by those anarchaic methods of cold-War expenditures. The RRW and the pit-making scheduled for Pantex, LANL and other labs is that continuation of affrontal, for which clean-Up should have assuredly happened to all the pu-240 in disposal form @ Livermore Lab, also. That 300 “total-Weapons” should be the whole arsenal makes the current accounting of pu-239 @ the Lab a concurrence of aggression-Measures, continuing the old polemnic of don’t worry about clean-Up.
    However, clean-Up has not happened upon the levels of 1998 which were thwarted, abnd was approximating $110 for 10-Years? The bases overseas must also be brought “home” under current pro-War un-Constitutionality. Adjusting to a 300 total-Premise may be a better attestation to the despicable contrast that that pu-239 or 240 is accounted and not repositoried, which is where the undeclared-Wars needs be “declared” in order to end the vituperations of Congress “corrupt”?
    In any account, your report contexts the tonal lapses so prevalent in current war-Time–last 24-Years without one year at war–insubordination to national- Laws (treaties are laws enforceable). The Pentagons like wars so that “clean-Ups and nuclear-Weapons” are not conversational table-Books. However, 300 total bombs in both forms is a measure of interest for all activists, presently!
    yours from the peace-Warrior,
    “R” Addison

  • Cara Bautista

    Thanks for your comment! You’re right that significantly more money goes to creating and maintaining nuclear weapons than to cleaning them up. This year’s budget request is no exception, with little money requested for environmental cleanup. Lack of funding causes cleanup projects to fall behind schedule while costs continue to rise. Unfortunately, the 300 number mentioned in the post refers to the number of additional nuclear weapons that could be built from fissile material stored at Livermore Lab. All of us concerned by nuclear weapons will have to keep working to see stockpile reductions down to the level of 300 and eventually zero nuclear weapons.

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