In November 2017, Livermore Lab proposed to significantly increase the weight and size of open-air high explosive tests at Site 300 on Corral Hollow Road, a few miles east of Livermore.
Site 300 is an 11-square mile experimental bomb range that supports the Lab’s nuclear weapons development programs. It is an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund clean-up site contaminated with toxic materials, with an 80-year timeline for restoration.
The Lab’s proposed action would increase its daily limit of explosive testing at Site 300 by 10 times (from 100 to 1,000 lbs.) and its yearly limit by 7.5 times (1,000 to 7,500 lbs.). In addition, 121 hazardous substances are listed that would be released into the open air by the explosions.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued the Lab a preliminary permit and authority to construct in June 2018. SJVAPCD’s preliminary decision did not address the varied, detailed, and critical comments submitted by numerous organizations and individuals prior to its issuance. Further, the air district’s preliminary decision inappropriately stated that the project was exempt from the thorough analysis mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.
A “last minute,” hurry-up, public hearing announced in the Tracy Press by SJVAPCD took place in July 2018. The hearing drew more than 80 concerned citizens and involved multiple hours of public comment. I attended this hearing, since I live downwind to the west of this blast site. I also share the concerns of my friends in Tracy who live nearby to the east of Site 300. I was surprised to see that the SJVAPCD did not have any transcriptionist present, as is common for public hearings.
Numerous environmental issues were raised at the hearing: release of hazardous substances into air, land and water; overall regional air quality; noise impacts; re-suspension of radioactive material from previous blasts; open air burning of wastes from the explosions; the delay in Superfund clean-up projects at the site due to the proposed blasts; human health and safety; endangered species impact; environmental justice, etc.
Surprisingly, the Lab’s permit application did not involve any air-pollution control technology, nor did the Lab cite alternatives regarding open-air explosive testing. For instance, they could build a large “containment chamber” for the blasts at Site 300, as this technology exists, according to SJVAPCD documents. The Lab could conduct the explosive tests in its contained Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) at the Nevada site. Indeed, this is what the lab is presently doing. It is unclear why explosive testing for nuclear weapons research requires more than one location, especially given the increasingly urbanized environment with new home construction around Site 300.
The SJVAPCD has not yet released its final decision regarding the permit for the open-air explosive testing at Site 300. Therefore, there is still time for the public to advocate that the SJVAPCD do the right thing and deny the permit application – or at least mandate an Environmental Impact Report with a thorough review of impacts pursuant to CEQA before a decision is made.
I suspect that the air district is “caught” between the desires of a large federal agency with giant, insatiable military contractors, and the desires of a local and regional citizenry who want to protect health with clean air, land and water.
As we enter 2020, this is a major, unresolved environmental question that hangs, like the air, over all of us in the Tri-Valley and Tracy. For more complete info and to take action on this issue, contact Tri-Valleycares.org.