Local Citizens Decry Lab Transfer Of Potentially Radioactive Waste

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Berkeley residents are working to stop the transfer of potentially hazardous and radioactive material from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A resolution stopping the waste transfer will be presented to the Berkeley City Council tonight.

The lab began the seven-year project to dismantle the Bevatron, an outdated particle accelerator which played a formative role in the development of particle physics since its creation in the 1960s.

The Bevatron has played a role in the discovery of some of the elements on the periodic table. With the creation of newer machines, however, the Bevatron was shut down in 1993.

The lab said that eight trucks per day will move material off the lab's property. The lab will either send uncontaminated material to be recycled or to a landfill in Richmond.

Pieces with detectable radiation will be transported to a federal waste site in Nevada.

Though the health threat from the material is still undetermined, the resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Dona Spring, calls for a "cessation of all demolition of Bevatron and all handling ... until an Environmental Impact Report," is submitted to the public.

The resolution calls on the city to urge further action from the state and federal governments to stop the transportation of the materials.

"They should do an environmental impact report and record all of that information in the review and submit it to the public," said Gene Bernardi, a member of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste. "The community has a right to know what is being shipped and put into other areas."

The lab is not bound to produce an environmental impact report because material transported contains radiation far below legal disclosure levels, lab spokespeople said.

"The threshold for requiring a report is not even reached," said Ron Kolb a spokesperson for the Lawrence lab. "We are nowhere close to the threshold. We can only surmise that we are within legal boundaries Most of the stuff is non-detectable and doesn't even record. Others record so little it's hardly worth mentioning."

Legal experts at UC Berkeley said that under the law, the lab probably does not have to release a report.

"If there are no significant environmental impacts then there can be an exemption to reports," said John Dwyer, dean of the UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law. "The federal government determines what is and is not hazardous. Since the lab is owned by the federal government, the lab determines whether or not the environmental impact report is needed."

Dwyer added that lab could, however, be challenged in court.

Members of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste said that even undetectable radioactive particles may be unsafe.

"There are scientists that say that no dose of radiation is a safe dose. There is a whole controversy over what is called safe levels of radiation." said Mark McDonald, a member of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste. "The trend has been to lower the safety limits again and again (until) long term exposure is dangerous."

Because the federal government controls the lab, a local government may be paralyzed to take action, Spring said.

"The lab believes that there are no hazards," Spring added. "They are regulated by the federal government. Unless there is someone higher up who says to do an Environmental Impact Report, they don't."


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