Community Fears Bevatron Demolition Debris

By Judith Scherr
Monday July 21, 2008 - 05:07:00 PM

Fearing adverse health effects related to toxic debris from dismantling the Bevatron and the associated Building 51 at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and trucking the materials over several years through the streets of Berkeley, Councilmember Max Anderson is sponsoring a resolution for Tuesday’s City Council meeting—originally coauthored by recently deceased Councilmember Dona Spring—asking for a full environmental report on the impact of the demolition. 

Lab spokesperson Don Medley, who did not return calls for comment, sent a copy of a letter written to the mayor and council to the Planet in which he asks the council to oppose the resolution and asserts that the demolition will be conducted safely and according to state and federal regulations. 

At its 7 p.m. meeting, the City Council will also consider the reorganization of the Community Energy Services Corporation, Tom Bates Regional Sports Field maintenance and landscaping contracts, bee-friendly vegetation in parks, opposing the ban on marriage between same sex couples on the state ballot, the extension of residential parking permits to new neighborhoods, a moratorium on wireless telecommunication facilities, wording for the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance referendum title on the November ballot, an extension of the Panoramic Hill Urgency Ordinance, establishing a “sustainable energy financing district” and more. 

At a 6 p.m. workshop, the council will hear a presentation on “Economic development trends in urban industrial land use,” by Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley and a talk on sustainability by Billi Romain of the Energy and Sustainable Development division of planning. 


Bevatron demolition  

The Bevatron is a 54-year-old defunct nuclear accelerator located at LBNL, which is owned by the Department of Energy and managed by the University of California. Hazardous materials known to be present at the facility include low-level radiation, mercury and asbestos. 

“This is a city that says how green it is,” Mark McDonald, a member of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste (CMTW), told the Planet, arguing that trucking toxics through town is contrary to city “green” policies. 

The CMTW originally called for preservation of the Bevatron building, which the city named a historic structure. Having lost that battle, the CMTW is leading the charge for a safe demolition. 

In addition to calling on the lab to prepare an environmental impact statement, the resolution before council asks the lab to respond to 25 questions, including dates when the demolition is scheduled and routes through Berkeley where debris is to be trucked. The resolution also calls for assurances that the hazardous material will be tightly covered and that the shell of the Bevatron will be maintained during the demolition of the interior of the facility. 

McDonald said there had been a cursory environmental review that did not take into account the 4,700 trips planned through Berkeley streets and the degree of toxicity of the material to be trucked. 

Lab spokesman Medley’s letter responds to some of the issues raised in the resolution. It asserts that an environmental impact statement is not required. “The Department of Energy completed an environmental assessment on the Bevatron and Building 51 demolition, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act,” the letter said. “Based on this assessment, the Department of Energy determined that the project does not require an environmental impact statement.” 

The letter gives the project dates: between August 2008 and October 2011. And it also gives the routes for the 4,700 truck trips: Cyclotron Road to Hearst Avenue, south on Oxford Street, then west on University Avenue to I-80. 

McDonald noted the lab has not revealed its future plans for the site, but the lab letter said it would be used for “in-fill” space for potential future activities. 

The preferred option, other than turning the facility into a museum—which has been rejected—is to seal the facility, McDonald said. “Leave it alone and let it decay in place,” he said. “It’s not a problem as it is.” 

The lab letter responds to this issue, saying that “the Berkeley Lab will dismantle and remove the Bevatron and surrounding blocks prior to the demolition of the building that contains them....” 

The extent of mercury at the site is just coming to light, McDonald said, pointing to a May 20, 2008 letter to the City Council by Otto J.A. Smith, professor emeritus in the UC Berkeley Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department. Smith was professor in the department from 1950 to 1954, at the time the Bevatron was shipped to the university  

“Every time that the system was operated with both inverters connected, one Mercury Arc Ignition tube exploded,” he wrote the council. “The public deserves to know what tests have been made on mercury liquid in floors, walls, ceiling and tests of mercury vapor in the power room at the Bevatron.” 

“We don’t know what happened to all that mercury,” McDonald said, adding, “How would you feel about 4,700 truckloads with low-level radiation, mercury and asbestos going by your house?” 

The lab letter underscored the safety of the transported debris. Non-hazardous materials will be transported via trucks covered with tarps and, “All hazardous and radioactive material will be packaged in accordance with regulatory requirements. For example, all hazardous and radioactive material that is in the form of dust will be fully enclosed in containers,” it said. 

For a number of documents and articles on the Bevatron see: www.berkeleycitizen.org/bevatron/ 

For environmental assessment documents, see: www.lbl.gov/community/contruction/b51.html. 


The council will also consider: 

• a recommendation that the Community Energy Services Corporation, a $2.2 million nonprofit whose governing board is the city’s Energy Commission, begin to sever its ties with the city; 

• whether to place on the ballot a proposal to set a deadline for early withdrawal of troops from Iraq; 

• a $100,000 contract with Lifelong Medical for services to 10-15 persons identified under the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative (PCEI) to receive housing with support services; 

• a $200,000-per-year contract for the PCEI host program (see below, “Eyes and Ears for Berkeley Shopping Areas May Help, May Criminalize”) 

• execution of an agreement with the Association of Sports Fields Users under which it will collect parks fees from users and use the revenue to schedule, operate and maintain the Tom Bates Sports Complex at the foot of Gilman Street. 

• referring to the Parks and Recreation Commission a recommendation to have pollinator-friendly vegetation in the parks 

• opposing the marriage ban initiative.