Public Comment

Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You!

By Pamela Shivola
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:50:00 AM

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) are proposing to build an experimental High Energy Plasma Laser Accelerator Facility (“BELLA”) just 448 feet from a residential neighborhood in Northeast Berkeley, and 516 feet from the Lawrence Hall of Science, a children’s school and museum. 

The proposed facility is to be located at LBNL in an existing building (Building 71), which was previously deemed seismically unsafe and is located in a landslide area. The site is crisscrossed by several earthquake faults according to a 1984 Converse Consultants Report. It is also next to the North Fork of Strawberry Creek and one of the many springs of the Strawberry Creek Watershed. Past operations of the HILAC accelerator, in the same building, contaminated groundwater and soil in the area with volatile organic compounds, Freon, radioactive Curium 244 and tritium, according to LBNL’s Site Restoration Program Reports. 

DOE is currently circulating an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on this project, for the purpose of soliciting public comments on the assessment, which can be obtained from LBNL’s website, comment period ends July 18.  

The Petawatt-class laser accelerator will be capable of accelerating beams to energies in the order of 10 billion electron-volts (GeV). The 10 billion electron-volt BELLA is 60 percent more powerful than LBNL’s Bevatron accelerator, now in the process of being demolished, which reached 6.2 GeV as reported by Franke and Greenhouse (“Review of Radiological Monitoring at LBNL: Final Report,” City of Berkeley, 2001). 

Operating accelerators produce a variety of radiation fields, including neutrons, gamma rays, muons and other radiations. This accelerator is no different. The Franke and Greenhouse Report also revealed that in the past 800 mrem/y radiation doses, measured at the Olympus Gate monitoring station, (located between the homes and Building 71), exceeded the then allowed annual dose of 500 mrem/y by 60 percent. 

Is it a coincidence that this monitoring station no longer appears on LBNL’s Site Environmental Report maps, and that the station now, surrounded by vegetation, seems abandoned? 

A full blown environmental impact statement under NEPA and an environmental impact report under CEQA is essential, due to the proposed facility’s proximity to sensitive receptors and the natural (the Hayward Earthquake Fault Zone, High-Risk Fire Area) and man-made hazards (contamination) of the site. 

Email your comments to before the July 18 deadline. 


Note: In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences Panel: BEIR VII, Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation determined that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation, no exposure level below which dosage is harmless!  


Pamela Sihvola is a member of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste.