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In support of Lawrence Lab

David M. Smith
Monday July 08, 2002

To the Editor: 


Michael Bauce's letter (July 5), while dismissing the need for understanding the relative magnitudes of radiation risks in making public policy, perfectly illustrates why such education is necessary. 

Natural sources (e.g. naturally-occurring uranium, thorium, radon and cosmic rays) give all of us an unavoidable annual dose of ionizing radiation about 10-20 times higher than a medical x-ray and a thousand times higher than the dose received by the average worker at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory due to tritium released from the National Tritium Labeling Facility (a report on the amount of tritium released and the associated health risks is available at The increase in the rate of cancer mortality for the 11,000 people closest to LBNL is estimated to be 5/1,000,000 for a full lifetime of exposure, compared to a total rate of 9,000/1,000,000 from other causes. That additional risk is very small but not zero, and it could be part of an informed debate comparing this risk to the benefits of the medical research that the facility performs. Speaking only for myself, as someone who works within a mile of LBNL, I find that risk acceptable and those benefits obvious. 

As an environmentalist and a scientist, I'm concerned when other environmentalists waste two precious commodities battling activities that carry low risks. The first commodity is our effort, which could be spent instead opposing tremendously harmful activities such as the excessive human production of greenhouse gases and the discharge of toxic chemicals into fragile river ecosystems. The second commodity is our credibility. When some vocal environmentalists have no knowledge (and worse, no concern) about relative levels of risk, it taints the entire environmentalist movement and provides ammunition to those conservatives and corporations who seek to block progress on crucial environmental issues. 


David M. Smith 

El Cerrito