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Tritium poses threat of hysteria

Steve Geller
Thursday July 04, 2002

To the Editor: 

I'm glad to read that Gene Bernardi (letter June 2) was annoyed by my May 27 letter. The Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste (CMTW), like many Berkeley pressure groups, raise its probability of being heard at City Council by stuffing the system with speaker cards. 

I don't “blindly trust the Department of Energy,” but I'm sure not going to accept the CMTW propaganda instead. The CMTW, judging by what Bernardi and others say, is truly clueless about physics. 

Tritium is a low level source of radioactivity. It is a beta emitter, not a gamma emitter like plutonium. tritium is used as a radioactive tracer precisely because it is so low level. Tritium does not “dissolve in water” – it is water, a hydrogen atom in H2O. Tritium is not “a threat to public health for more than 100 years.” It has a half-life of about 12 years. It does not occur naturally, but must be generated in anaccelerator. 

The CMTW hysteria rises to a crescendo with statements like this (fromB ernardi): “... it is clear that there is NO threshold dose-level (no safe dose, so risk-free dose) of ionizing radiation. Thus, nuclear pollution, in the aggregate, causes premeditated random murder.” 

We all live with danger. One can get cancer from the sun, from air pollution, additives in our food. Rational citizens understand the concept of acceptable risk, and do not stay home hiding under the bed. 

Tritium, in the small amounts that might leak from LBNL, is much less of a risk than being run over in a crosswalk by a speeding driver – and we accept that kind of risk every day. 


Steve Geller