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Livermore Lab to Escalate Depleted Uranium Testing

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If it's news to you, you're not alone. Livermore National Laboratory has been testing radioactive devices - exploding depleted uranium and tritium into the open air - just 50 miles east of San Francisco since 1961. And now the lab has a permit to raise the amount of radioactive material they detonate yearly from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds.

Those who know are spreading the word and calling on the Bay Area to turn out for two meetings next week in protest: the Tracy City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m., at Tracy City Hall, 325 East 10th St., and the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District Hearing Board meeting Wednesday, Feb. 7, 10 a.m., at 4800 Enterprise Way in Modesto.

The test site, called Site 300 by the Livermore nuclear weapons lab, is located on 11 square miles in the Altamont Hills between Tracy and Livermore. Like the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, formerly the site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, Site 300 is a Superfund site, one of the most contaminated places in the U.S. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Site 300 "is operated by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) primarily as a high-explosives and materials testing site in support of nuclear weapons research."

Site 300 Manager Jim Lane downplays the danger, saying in the Site 300 Annual Report: "Depleted uranium is used routinely. ... It contains a trace amount of radioactivity. However, it is less than normal daily exposure to the sun."

Marion Fulk, a highly respected Manhattan Project and Livermore atomic scientist, however, says that depleted uranium "is perfect for killing lots of people." That, in fact, along with contamination of the land, is the purpose of the devices being tested.

The tests at Livermore Site 300 use exotic high explosives to detonate weaponized uranium gas in solid metal form. The uranium metal catches fire and burns at more than 3,000 degrees, producing fumes of radioactive gas - or aerosols - that are deadly to all life forms.

Even a microscopic particle of these depleted uranium (DU) - mostly Uranium-238 - aerosols lodged inside a human lung can cause severe health problems, from cancers to diabetes, asthma, birth defects, organ damage, heart failure and auto-immune system diseases. And this radioactive gas travels long distances.

Nine days after the U.S. began its "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Iraq on March 21, 2003, Dr. Chris Busby found DU aerosols in giant high volume air filters in England, 2,500 miles from Baghdad.

The 7 million residents of the San Francisco Bay Area are all endangered by the testing at Livermore Site 300, as are the people and produce of the agriculturally rich Central Valley. In reality, San Francisco and Northern California are under attack by the Livermore nuclear weapons lab.

Since the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued Livermore the new permit on Nov. 12, "(t)wo appeals have been filed, one by a housing developer and the other by a resident who lives about five miles from the radioactive blast location, Site 300," writes Washington, D.C., area-based investigative journalist Cathy Garger. A large turnout at the meetings Feb. 6 and 7 will show support for those appeals.

"Lawrence Livermore representatives will not reveal to Tracy residents precisely how many bombs might be 'tested' in a year," writes Garger. "Tracy Press reports that the only reason given by Lawrence Livermore for the eight-fold annual increase in explosives testing is 'national security,' according to air district spokeswoman Kelly Morphy."

Bob Nichols is a Project Censored Award winner, newspaper correspondent and a frequent contributor to various online publications. Now completing a book based on 15 years of nuclear radiation war in Central Asia, he is a former employee of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. He can be reached at To learn more, read Cathy Garger's story and blog at and Bay View staff contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Livermore Site 300 1961 radioactive device test.jpg

CAPTION: This photo and the following comment come from the Livermore Laboratory archives: "Hydrodynamic (bomb core) test on a firing table at Site 300, 1961. The bright 'streaking' effect in the photo is likely from shards of pyrophoric metal, such as Uranium 238, hurtling through the air. U-238 is one of the contaminants of concern in the Site 300 Superfund cleanup."

Photo: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
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Bob Nichols is a Project Censored Award winner. He is a newspaper correspondent and a frequent contributor to various online publications. Nichols is completing a book based on 15 years of nuclear radiation war in Central Asia. He is a former (more...)
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