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Bevatron Demolition Plan Alarms Residents By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday April 05, 2005

Environmental activists and North Berkeley residents told Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory officials Thursday night to leave intact an unused building full of toxic and low-level nuclear wastes on its present four-acre site atop the Hayward Fault in the Berkeley hills. 

The activists and neighbors said the alternative—tearing down its long-abandoned particle accelerator and carting the waste out of Berkeley in tarp-covered trucks—was unacceptable. 

That was the conclusion of a public scoping session held by the lab last week at the North Berkeley Senior Center as a first step in a long-in-the-planning process to demolish the Bevatron and its surrounding building. 

The largest machine in the world at the time of its construction in 1954, the 180-foot diameter, 11,000-ton Bevatron was used for the next 40 years for atomic and subatomic experiments and discoveries. Use of the Bevatron ended in 1993, and LBNL officials say they have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get federal money for the demolition project. 

Terry Powell, LBNL community relations officer, said that Bevatron demolition money was recently released by the Department of Energy and placed in this year’s department budget. 

LBNL literature says that it no longer has any use for the building or the accelerator itself, and says that because of “the significant contributions in the fields of particle and nuclear physics that were made there,” the building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Under California law, the LBNL has the authority to approve the demolition project itself, but must first complete an environmental impact report (EIR) after giving the public the chance to give information, raise questions, and suggest alternatives. Last week’s scoping session was the first in that series of mandated public input processes. 

Margaret Goglia, Project Manager for the Bevatron demolition, said Thursday night that the accelerator and its surrounding building contain such toxic wastes as asbestos, PCBs, mercury, lead, and machine oil, as well as low level radioactive waste, which she called “low even for this category.” She said the lab would “address the specific level of radioactive waste in detail in the EIR.” 

If the demolition project is approved, Goglia said the lab plans to remove several tons of concrete blocking surrounding the accelerator, dismantle the Bevatron, demolish the surrounding building, remove layers of soil from the site, and re-soil with fresh earth. 

Goglia said that “a lot of the demolition work will taken place indoors,” inside Building 51 that houses the accelerator, and that the waste and soil would be removed in “several thousand one-way truck trips” on a route from Hearst to Oxford to University Avenue and then to Interstate 880. Goglia said this route was “preferred by the City of Berkeley.” 

She also said that the demolition project would operate with 50 employees at its peak, far fewer for most of its duration. The project is scheduled to last between four and six years. 

While Goglia said that the lab has no new plans for building on the site, Community Relations Officer Powell said, following the meeting, that this does not necessarily mean there won’t be such plans in the future. 

“We’re moving forward now because we have the money from DOE and we feel the site needs to be demolished,” Powell said. 

But a string of community speakers told LBNL officials Thursday that leaving the Bevatron intact was preferable to demolition. 

Jim Cunningham, a North Berkeley resident who said he has taught at the university, said that a further discussion was needed “on the alternatives of demolition versus allowing the radioactive material to decay in place.” Cunningham also said he wanted verification of the level of the radioactive waste on the site to be done by “someone other than lab officials.” 

Mark McDonald, a member of the Berkeley-based Committee To Minimize Toxic Waste, said he was “concerned about the airborne contaminants” that would be released during the demolition. 

“LBNL should be on the cutting edge on demolition and disposal of these types of structures,” he said, “but they’re still doing this in the same old sloppy way.” 

A leaflet put out by the Toxic Waste Committee prior to the scoping session criticized the demolition, stating that “an alternative to demolition and removal would be to allow the Bevatron and its containment to remain onsite in relative containment.” The leaflet called on residents to express their concerns to the LBNL “if you don’t want Radioactive Asbestos Dust in your neighborhood, stores, or at bus stops, or in a truck next to your car on the street.” 

Berkeley resident L.A. Wood criticized the lab for moving the Bevatron demolition ahead of its long range development plans, suggesting that “maybe it’s being rushed ahead to duck” the added scrutiny called for in a formal LRDP.  

“Maybe the Bevatron should be preserved and made a shrine to the 1950s when the lab put these things in place in our community, with no community involvement, because they could,” Wood said. 

Speakers suggested various measures should the demolition be approved, such as, “leave the site fallow after demolition so it can heal itself,” use an alternate route for trucks up Grizzly Peak to Highway 24 rather than going through the heart of the city, restore the network of creeks presently running under the structures in culverts, hire an independent agency to supervise the cleanup, and organize a field trip so that residents and activists can view the Bevatron site itself while the EIR process is going forward. 

LBNL officials said public comment on the project would be accepted through April 16, and all questions raised would be addressed in the draft EIR, which will then be presented to the public. Documents concerning the proposed demolition have been placed on the LBNL’s website at