Nuclear Weapons Information
 Ballistic Missile Defense & Space
 Health & Environment
 Organizing for Abolition
 Documents Library

Fact Sheet - Hazardous Waste Facility Permit for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Back to Livermore National Laboratory Health and Environmental Impacts


December 1999


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is a national nuclear weapons research facility owned by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by the University of California. It is also one of the larger generators of hazardous and radioactive wastes in the bay Area. In 1997, LLNL generated 2,769,600 pounds of hazardous waste and 243,200 pounds of mixed hazardous and radioactive wastes. “Site 300", a non-contiguous DOE facility 15 miles away, transports hazardous wastes for treatment at LLNL. LLNL adjoins one of the fastest-growing urban communities in the Bay Area.

LLNL operates non-exempt hazardous waste management facilities subject to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the state Hazardous Waste Control Act (HWCA). DOE initially contested state jurisdiction to regulate hazardous wastes generated and treated at LLNL. Eventually, DOE conceded the state’s authority to regulate non-radioactive hazardous wastes under RCRA. Since 1983, LLNL has operated under Interim Status Documents, pending consideration and approval of LLNL’s RCRA Part B application which has been pending for over fifteen years. No final RCRA part B permit has been issued up to now.
Both the LLNL main site and Site 300 are heavily contaminated. The LLNL main site (in 1987) and Site 300 (in 1990) were listed as national priority sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

LLNL’s Hazardous Waste Permit Application

In June 1996, LLNL submitted a revised Part B permit application to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) for operation of its hazardous waste management facilities at LLNL, including construction of new treatment and/or storage units. DTSC circulated a Special Initial Study, pursuant to CERCLA in September, 1996. The public comment period closed in December 1997; however, LLNL substantially revised its application in Many of the substantive changes were in response to DTSC’s investigation of the “July 1997 Shredder Incident”, which involved contamination of three workers at LLNL October 1998. Despite these revisions, no hearings or opportunity to comment took place.

On May 27, 1999, DTSC issued its notice of intent to issue a final Part B permit to LLNL. On June 30, 1999 attorneys from Western States Legal Foundation and the Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, on behalf of Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (TVC) and Physicians for Social Responsibility, Bay Area Chapter (PSR), petitioned the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to appeal its final decision of May 27, 1999 to issue a Hazardous Waste Facility Permit to LLNL.

LLNL’s History of Violations

There have been many incidents at LLNL involving radioactive and hazardous materials and wastes in recent years, including:

  • Underground tank leakage and seepage of tritium into the soil and groundwater
  • Workers contaminated with tritium while packaging radioactive wastes
  • Contamination of three workers during filter shredding operation
  • Evacuation of employees from a waste bulking operation
  • At least 14 above permitted limits hazardous releases into the Livermore waste water treatment facility in a one-year period
  • Numerous citations for violating 90 day limit for temporary holding of hazardous materials subject to movement to and treatment at LLNL’s hazardous waste facility

After the close of the comment period in 1997, the following incidents have occurred at LLNL:

  • Injury of a chemist by a ruptured receptacle for transient waste collection in April, 1998
  • Improper combination of 2 waste containers sent to a landfill without appropriate treatment

The Shredder Incident of July, 1997 showed violations involving failure to make an adequate hazardous waste determination before any treatment or storage of mixed waste, failure to maintain proper records, failure to notify DTSC until 15 days after the incident, and submission of false and misleading information in the operating record of the shredder.

To date, DTSC has not completed any written notices of violations at LLNL for the years 1998 and 1999.

DTSC Cannot Issue A Permit Without Full Environmental Review

Because significant environmental effects or impacts may result, the proposed project requires a full environmental impact report (EIR) before issuance of the permit. The cursory Initial Study (IS) and Negative Declaration did not adequately describe the routes and destinations of transporting hazardous waste from LLNL. The IS failed to adequately identify or address waste streams generated by LLNL activities to be treated at the Project. DTSC has not identified the volume of wastes or health risks to the community. The agency instead relied on environmental analysis in an outdated 1992 EIR.

In 1987, Western States Legal Foundation and TVC sued the University of California to compel a full environmental impact report of LLNL activities. As a consequence of the lawsuit, a more complete review was conducted in 1992. Since then, no significant review has occurred, even though DOE is reorganizing, and many nuclear weapons development missions formerly located at other facilities are being consolidated at LLNL, resulting in increased volumes of hazardous and radioactive waste.

Return to Top