Activists Picket Meeting of Local Tritium Task Force

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Community activists, some of them clad in costumes and others bearing musical instruments, picketed a meeting of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Tritium Sampling Task Force on Wednesday night.

Members of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste and other protesters gathered outside the Clark Kerr campus dining area and auditorium with signs decrying the formation of the task force. The task force was created to review a tritium sampling plan employed by the laboratory for self-investigation and to explore the dangers of the laboratory's release of tritium, a highly radioactive form of hydrogen.

Protesters alleged that the current task force is made up largely of unqualified representatives and members of groups designated solely by the laboratory. They added that the task force has been virtually void of any unbiased community representation.

"Do these people have the time and the skills to do a scientific, objective review of the sampling plan?" asked Gene Bernardi, co-chair of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste and a member of the task force. "This is crazy. How do they know where the samples should be taken? They have a real estate agent on the task force. How is a real estate agent supposed to do that?"

Pamela Sihvola, the committee's other co-chair, voiced concern for the safety of children and pregnant women who visit the laboratory, saying the lab's claims that the emissions are well below the allowable standard refer to standards for an adult male. Sihvola relocated to Berkeley from Finland in order to escape the effects of nuclear disaster in the nearby Ukraine.

Other task force members, however, said the laboratory does not pose any serious dangers.

"I am a resident of Berkeley too, and I would be just as concerned if I thought there was a threat of radioactive tritium, but there isn't," said Keith Matthews.

Phillip Williams, the manager of the tritium site, said that views of radioactive isotopes are subjective, explaining that some individuals see radioactive decay as therapeutic. He also insisted that lab tritium emissions do not exceed the federal standard and urged protesters who disagreed with lab standards to work to change them.

"Some people claim that one kind of radioactive decay causes cancer, and some people think that another type of radioactive decay is good for you," Williams said. "The lab strives to ensure safety."

The first Tritium Issues Work Group disbanded last April after seven members withdrew, claiming that the meetings had been "futile" and that after two years the group had failed to review existing data for tritium releases.

"When I am told by a lab scientist that I should be concerned about the tritium in the exit signs in Berkeley, my belief that anything positive will come out of the process quickly disappears," said James Cunningham, another committee member.

In response to concerns about the unauthorized release of tritium from the laboratory's National Tritium Labeling Facility, the City of Berkeley contracted Bernd Franke, a member of Germany's Institut fuer Energie und Umweltforschung, an independent research organization.

Franke, who has been in Berkeley for a week, is being paid $30,000 to review and comment on the laboratory's current sampling plan and to make recommendations for future sampling. Franke plans to present a report on his findings in June and the final results in December.

"I am here to independently review the accuracy of the data," Franke said. "There are many obvious inconsistencies and I have pointed them out to the laboratory. My client is the City of Berkeley and nobody else."

One protester at the meeting chose to express herself by playing her accordion and singing her own composition-"The Tritium Trot."

"I am sad to say that it leaked one day," sang Carol Denney, a Berkeley citizen. "My health is down, my three heads turning round, I had to live with tritium trickle down."


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