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Letters to the Editor

Monday March 12, 2001

Lab’s tritium report is lacking 


Gene Bernardi wishes to exclude Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from the city workshop on the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research report regarding tritium (Daily Planet Feb 2). Given Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste’s oft quoted stand on the tritium issue this would be the political equivalent of a kangaroo court. CMTW appears to want LBNL to have safety problems, and they don’t want LBNL to fix them, because they want LBNL to shut down. 

The IEER statement that has received the most press is that LBNL’s claim that a fire would not cause significant localized consequences due to tritium exposure “may be false.” The report does not provide a detailed analysis to support this charge, and in fact notes that the large volume of work and its finite resources did not “allow addressing every question in appropriate depth.” 

At issue is whether a complete abrupt release, conversion of the entire inventory of tritium into HTO (or T2O), and venting of the HTO could occur without a major fire. IEER posited this as a possibility, and then noted that in a worst case scenario this could cause a significant dose to member of the public. 

To be dangerous the tritium has to be released as HTO. One possibility is mechanical disruption of the tritium apparatus and a fire which heats the apparatus to 660° F or above to drive off the tritium and then oxidizes it. A second possibility is a fire that heats the apparatus above 1100° F, as this would make the apparatus leak. To get the tritium outside the building the LBNL safety analysis document assumed that the fire burns a hole in the roof (the facility has no windows, and the walls are masonry), but this large a fire dilutes the exposure to an insignificant level. The IEER report does not describe how a fire can be both big enough to release HTO, and small enough not to dilute it. 

For a further dose of unreality, all this supposedly happens despite the presence of an automatic sprinkler system with its own backup water supply, plus manual fire extinguishers. 


Robert Clear 



Drug companies  

willing to kill? 


I am outraged that a pharmaceutical executive would tout the glories of intellectual property as millions in Africa die from AIDS (see BDP Forum Mar 2) . Didn't millions of Americans die in a civil war to prove that just because something is called a property doesn't mean that it is? Echoing the sentiments of plantation masters who claimed that they were kind to their negroes, and had no incentive to grow cotton or tobacco without slave properties; he went on to say how kind they were to Africans, while at the same time faithfully declaring that without intellectual property there is no incentive to innovate. Well I digress, hasn't America already had this discussion. If pharmaceutical executives truly believe in these kind of property rights, then we should be asking how many people are they willing to kill to “defend” these rights? 


David Christy 

San Diego 


San Francisco, Marin windmills may help power  


During dry years, hydro-electric power from Washington and Oregon is only sparingly available to California, and the transmission grid at Lob Banos up from the south is stated to be inadequate. Consequently, increased power generation in North and Central California is highly desirable.  

Would it not be possible for the federal government to enable windfarms to be speedily installed (by the state?) on the federally-owned headlands of San Francisco Bay in Marin County and the western Presidio and possibly Fort Funston? The Presidio National Park Trust appears to be ready to rent land for commercial building to the Lucasfilm outfit.  

The emplacement of slender propeller-like blades up on poles could surely make the prevailing winds from the Pacific as reliably remunerative as may be the nearly permanent blockbuster encampment of the digital progeny of Mickey Mouse — and at an earlier date, and to satisfy a much greater immediate need.  

Possibly, San Francisco’s Park and Recreation Department might allow installation of a small windfarm atop the escarpment of Sutro Heights. Its revenue could bridge the financial gap to complete restoration of the historic and beautiful glass conservatory of flowers in Golden Gate Park, etc.  


Judith Segard Hunt 



Tritium doctor seems at odds  


I found the Daily Planet’s Feb. 27 front page news article on the controversy surrounding Community Environmental Advisory Commission member Dr. Gordon Wozniack (“Chairman Won’t Quit”) very interesting.  

As a District Eight constituent, I am puzzled as the why Dr. Wozniack apparently does not consider his employment status as a potential commission conflict of interest issue.  

According to the Feb. 27 article, Dr. Wozniack is employed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is also acting chair of the Environmental Commission and represents District Eight residents (part of the LBNL facility is located within District Eight’s boundaries).  

The Environmental Commission periodically discusses and takes action upon agenda items directly connected to LBNL. It seems to me, given this situation, that it is reasonable to expect Dr. Wozniack to rescue himself from voting on LBNL agenda items.  

Another LBNL employee, Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio, has recused herself on a half dozen occasions — to avoid potential conflict of interest — from voting on Council LBNL agenda items over the last several years. I don’t understand why Dr. Wozniack feels compelled to ignore this particular parliamentary rule policy and tradition.  


George Azar 



Bush’s oil policy 


President Bush’s report to Congress was full of promises and covered many topics, except a few important ones: Women’s’ reproductive rights were not mentioned (does he think that they have none?) and nothing was said about the administration’s foreign policy (does he have one?).  

The president was mainly concerned with returning the current surplus of funds to the tax payers. He logically claims that the tax refund would help most lower and middle class tax payers to pay for the recent increase in oil and energy prices (his own words, as reported in a front page article of the S.F. Chronicle Feb. 6). Of course, the public could be helped if the administration imposed restraints on the price of gas but Bush would not want to cut the profits of their friends in the petroleum business.  

Despite our own shortage, the oil currently recovered in Alaska is mostly sent to Japan for sale. The president now proposes to extend oil recovery to still another part of Alaska which is suspected to contain a measly supply of six months on the domestic market. I actually heard a person phoning in to a talk radio program that the sight of oil rigs along a coast line were beautiful. I wonder if the polar bears and caribou feel the same way?  


Max Alfert