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No to LBNL incinerator

Mark McDonald (acting co-chair) Committee to MinimizeToxic Waste Berkeley
Tuesday January 08, 2002


Last September, the National Institutes for Health defunded the controversial Tritium Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab for lack of worthwhile activity there. Community leaders and activists rejoiced that a 10-year campaign to close this radioactive nightmare had succeeded. For over 30 years this building had been continuously dumping clouds of rad-waste out a stack 25 feet from the fence of the Lawrence Hall of Science children’s museum. The site is super-fund eligible. 

Well, it’s time to put the corks back in the bottles as LBNL’s nuclear wizards are not done using Berkeley for a radioactive trash can. Defunded, the tritium work for the large corporations they have been doing may actually cease, but LBNL has restarted its incinerator for mixed waste - dioxins, heavy metals and other cancer-killers that have become radioactive. The lab is calling the device an oxidation chamber which is as honest as calling the process a “treatability study,” a sham which allows them to operate the incinerator without the normal permits that even they would have trouble obtaining.  

The so-called oxidation chamber, cleaner than a crude incinerator, involves the igniting of oxidizers, volatiles and rad-waste in a contained chamber which introduces the real possibility of an explosion. Previously, they operated their mixed waste treatability study in secret for three years on a slightly different kiln-type incinerator until a horrible accident on July 24, 1998 dumped at least 50 curies of tritium and who knows what else onto the museum. LBNL waited 10 days before admitting the accident which did nothing for the kids, parents and workers at the museum that day. Do we really need to be doing this kind of dangerous experimental work next to the area’s largest children’s facility? Why doesn’t LBNL ship their rad-waste (and their oxidizing incinerator) to Idaho like all the other Dept. of Energy operations? 

Unfortunately, LBNL won’t be dismantling the highly contaminated exhaust stack, building or other equipment until they study-incinerate all the remaining waste from the tritium fiasco. As to whether LBNL will just continue processing mixed waste from their other operations or even other DOE facilities, they are staying tight-lipped though one of their lawyers let it slip that the schedule for the treatability study is “open - ended.” Every day I hear of a new cancer, leukemia or other genetic malady which has been directly linked to exposure to these poisons. LBNL cannot be trusted with the well-being of our children or our community and we should send Dr. Strangelove, his rad-waste and his oxidizing incinerator packing.  

Incidentally, the new chair of Berkeley’s Environmental commission, Elmer Grossman, has been leading a one-man campaign to re-fund the Tritium Facility, including an investigation of NIH and why they pulled the money plug. Only in Berkeley.  


Mark McDonald 

(acting co-chair) Committee to MinimizeToxic Waste