Public Comment

BELLA Project Slipping Through Under Cover of Summer

By Mark McDonald
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:49:00 AM

It’s summer with hordes of folks heading out of town and once again Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) has decided this is the time to process their new controversial development projects like their proposed BELLA laser atom smashing accelerator. The Department of Energy (DOE) is skipping the normal environment impact review and instead have issued themselves an “environmental assessment” which means they have decided that the project offers “no danger to the public.” Proposed for site 71 which in the past has experienced unique seismic problems and located 500 feet from the Lawrence Hall of Science children’s museum should be enough reason to employ a normal review, but local folks have paid expert proof that they should be concerned about the operation of an accelerator in their neighborhood. 

Ten years ago the Berkeley City Council hired an independent scientist for $35,000 to evaluate radiological impacts from lab operations particularly the National Tritium Facility which for decades had been unloading clouds of tritium, a dangerous isotope out a stack 10 feet from the children’s museum back play area. The analysis by IFEU scientist B. Franke contained numerous alarming conclusions seriously challenging the professionalism and integrity of the lab’s declarations and handling of radioactive operations. Despite decades of assurances of careful handling and recycling at the Tritium Facility, the scientist declared the records were such a shambles that no meaningful conclusion could be made, itself an indictment. Mr. Franke also declared that the lab significantly underestimated radiation exposures to children attending the adjacent museum from any potential accident similar to the one that occurred when their incinerator for radioactive chemicals was operating unattended one weekend. The scientist also reviewed historical data from a boundary monitor and revealed that persons living in the neighborhoods received alarmingly higher doses of radiation from the past operations of accelerators at the lab. That boundary monitor has been removed and now there is no method of determining off boundary exposures to neighbors. LBNL differs from other DOE research sites because it operates in a densely inhabited neighborhood without the normal ‘buffer zone’ required for some hazardous activities. LBNL recently acknowledged that they had not notified local neighbors about the accelerator proposal.  

The Berkeley City Council should demand an extended comment period and a real examination of whether it is safe to live with a new accelerator which is more powerful than the Bevatron atom smasher, which is currently being demolished and whose 4,700 tarp-covered truck trips of asbestos, mercury and radioactive dusts are being hauled down Shattuck Avenue to the highway. The public can offer comment on the BELLA project until 5 p.m. July 18 by e-mail at or by mailing with one’s name and address to Kim Abbott, NEPA Document Manager, DOE Berkeley Site Office, 1 Cyclotron Road-MS 90-R1023, Berkeley Ca. 94720. 


Mark McDonald is a Berkeley resident.