Public Comment

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s BELLA Laser

By Mark McDonald
Thursday July 30, 2009 - 11:14:00 AM

I was one of several commentators who penned an opinion piece for the July 9 Berkeley Planet which criticized Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) for their fast-tracked and inadequate review of potential hazards from their proposed BELLA laser-accelerator facility.  

By issuing themselves a “No Danger To the Public” environmental assessment unlike a normal EIR review under the NEPA-CEQA federal and California statutes which allow citizens a chance to inquire, learn and comment on any development in their area, and by issuing it to themselves at this time when many folks are on vacation, LBNL has once again demonstrated arrogant disregard for the well being of neighbors. The brief comment period for the assessment has already ended, so there is no point in anybody sending anything now because it will be ignored. 

The proposal to erect another accelerator facility deserves extra scrutiny at this time because an independent expert scientific consultant hired at Berkeley taxpayers’ expense revealed that LBNL had under-calculated the amount of dangerous radiation Berkeley citizens living outside the lab’s perimeter received from past accelerator operations. The consultant, B. Franke from IFEU of Germany, was hired after LBNL refused to cooperate with the Berkeley’s first consultant, IEER, an American scientific outfit, to evaluate operations at LBNL’s controversial Tritium Labeling Facility which has been closed. 

In the July 16 Daily Planet, former Berkeley Environmental Commission Chair Elmer Grossman took issue with some of my points and I leave it to the reader to decide who’s blowing blarney here. The Tritium Facility first came to the public’s attention years ago when two papers, one by a post-doctorate student, measured dangerous levels of tritium in surface water in Albany and Kensington, and another by a post-graduate student measured dangerous tritium levels in vegetation at the Lawrence Hall of Science Children’s Museum, which sits just north of the facility’s chain-link fence. I stated that the Tritium facility was dumping clouds of radioactive tritium 10 feet from the Children Museum’s back play area. The emission stack was 10 feet inside the fence at the Tritium Facility’s property. The corner of the museum building is 130 feet from the stack. Numerous times when I went to the back of the museum to photograph the stack, I witnessed adults and children outside in the back recreation area which was eventually made into an environmental science exhibit. 

Then, like now, the public had access to the back where the tritium stack was unloading its invisible, tasteless, odorless killer cloud. I really do not know why Mr. Grossman would quibble 10 feet versus 130 feet as I wouldn’t feel that much safer in either case. 

    The two research papers triggered public reaction and a radiation monitor was placed inside the Lawrence Hall of Science to calculate tritium content in the museum air. The monitor showed levels that exceeded EPA safe levels for adults which made the Hall of Science eligible for Super-fund clean-up. The monitor was immediately removed. Since then, the national deciders on radiation exposure, the American Academy of Sciences in their Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation 7 report, have concluded that there is no safe exposure to anyone. Children have always been assessed as more vulnerable to long term ill effects from radiation exposure. Mr. Grossman in the recent past has called for the re-opening of the Tritium Facility and thus has become the only environmental board member I have ever heard of who supports the re-opening of a controversial polluting facility. Before the BEIR 7 report he could hide behind the now discredited ‘threshold’ theory, but now that threshold has been debunked, his call to reopen a facility which made an adjacent children’s museum Superfund eligible is unconscionable. 

   Concerned folks should contact Berkeley Councilmembers and Congressmember Lee and demand an EIR for the BELLA laser. 


Mark McDonald is a Berkeley resident.