University Scrutinized for Nuclear Research

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UC Berkeley once again appeared on a list with other top universities last week - but this time, it was a U.S. Energy Department listing of more than 40 colleges that may have conducted nuclear weapons research over the last 50 years.

UC Berkeley's Gilman Hall and chemistry facilities were among 577 public and private sites reviewed in 1995 for possible nuclear contamination due to past involvement in nuclear energy-related research. The final list of possible contamination sites was released Thursday.

"The list is part of an ongoing process," a department spokesperson said. "We will continue to go through the list and review it."

The list is one step toward Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's goal of "full disclosure," the spokesperson said.

Not all of the facilities on the list necessarily engaged in nuclear weapons research or were contaminated, the department said. Some sites were used primarily for administrative tasks or engineering works. Several facilities on the list, including Stanford University, have already been cleared by the department as free of nuclear contamination.

Per Peterson, chair of UC Berkeley's nuclear engineering department, said radioactive materials are currently being used on campus and have been used in the past. He said, however, that he did not believe such activities could have left residual contamination and current materials are under strict supervision, posing no danger.

"We had a research reactor until it was decommissioned in 1990," he said. "We still use radioactive materials but we have all the necessary safeguards and campus licenses."

Some programs at other universities referred to in the list date back as far as the 1940s, but Peterson said he is highly doubtful the microscopic quantities of radioactive material used at the time could have created danger still existing today.

"It would be hard to visualize any contamination from these quantities," he said.

The report did not come as a surprise to many city residents, said Mark McDonald, a member of Berkeley's Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste.

"We've been saying for a long time that this whole thing is underrated," he said. "We know they have acted irresponsibly and continue to do so with radioactive substances up there. It fits a pattern."

McDonald called Berkeley's students and residents "guinea pigs" in the contaminated environment.

"We want to know as much about it as possible because we live here," he said. "They're not going to tell you everything. You're going to have to fight for every bit of information and then you've got to make them clean it up."

UC Davis' Laboratory for Energy-Related Health Research and a handful of local sites including Stanford University and the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco also appear on the list.


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