The Chronology by Barbara George 9/8/00 Copyright © 2000
1928 - In fierce competition against East Coast
and European universities, the University of
California at Berkeley ("the University") seeks to capture
the lead in the hot new field of atomic science. It is
already known for developing electrical and
military technology. The University pledges ample
facilities, equipment, and staff, plus freedom from
teaching chores, to hire ambitious, charismatic young
physicist Ernest Orlando Lawrence away from Yale.
[Lawrence and his Laboratory, Vol. 1, by J.L. Heilbron and
Robert W. Seidel, Univ. of California Press 1989, Chapter 1]
1931 - Lawrence establishes the University's
Radiation Laboratory (nicknamed "RadLab"), builds
the first of many atom smashers, a "cyclotron,"
at LeConte Hall on the Berkeley Campus. Cyclotrons uses magnets to accelerate atoms in a circle until
they smash into a target with enough force to shatter
atoms. Atom smashing creates radioactive
substances and waste, makes the machines themselves
radioactive, and releases radiation into the atmosphere.
1935 - Ernest's brother, John, an M.D., joins
the RadLab and raises big money to build a giant,
60-inch cyclotron (dubbed the "medical
cyclotron"). During the Depression, the Rad Lab begins to
emphasize medical applications of radiation because
money is available for medical research, while
other physics funding is scarce.
late 1930's - Ernest and John experiment on
their mother, exposing her to whole body neutron
radiation from their cyclotron. From this time forward, RadLab
scientists experiment with radiation on thousands
of people and animals.
[The Plutonium Files, by Eileen Welsome, Dial Press 1999,
1938 - Using the 60-inch cyclotron, RadLab
scientists discover tritium, along with numerous other
["Lawrence and his Laboratory: Nuclear Science at
Berkeley," by J. L. Heilbron, Robert W. Seidel, and Bruce R. Wheaton,
article in LBL News, Fall 1981)
1939 - E. O. Lawrence predicts that his
discovery, radioactive sodium, will replace radium for
medical treatment. Famous for his showmanship, he goes
on a national lecture tour which features
volunteers drinking the sodium and Lawrence tracking its
course through their bodies. Volunteers include
RadLab colleagues Robert Oppenheimer (who became
the Director of the Manhattan Project, which
developed the atomic bomb), Luis Alvarez (discoverer of
tritium) and Joseph Hamilton, who later establishes
the RadLab's radiation health and safety program.
Hamilton, too, gives public talks about the
benefits of radioisotopes, in which he drinks a
glassful of radioactive iodine and holds a Geiger counter
up to his neck to show how iodine concentrates in
the thyroid gland. He spends the war years carrying
out research on radiation effects on animals for the
Manhattan Project, and begins an extensive program
of radiation experiments on humans (see sidebar).
Hamilton dies in 1957 at the age of 49, two
years after being diagnosed with leukemia. Lawrence
dies of colitis in 1958, at the age of 57.
Oppenheimer dies of cancer in 1967 at age 62.
[Heilbron, 1981, p. 25; Plutonium Files p. 29, 161]
1940 - Construction begins on the184-inch
cyclotron, on the hill above campus where most of
the Lab moves after the war. The "184" operates
from 1946 to 1987.
1940's - Lawrence establishes the Donner Lab
specifically for radiobiology experiments. RadLab
operations remaining on Central Campus include Donner Lab, Crocker Lab, LeConte Hall and
1941 - Glenn Seaborg discovers that plutonium
will split ("fission"), indicating it could be used for
a bomb or power plant. Day and night for 2-1/2
years, RadLab scientists and grad students use the
60-inch cyclotron to manufacture plutonium for the
Manhattan Project's research on the atom bomb.
July 1944 - When a special reactor for
producing plutonium comes online in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee, the RadLab's 60-inch cyclotron shuts down for
decontamination and overhaul after 20,000
continuous hours of operation.
[Heilbron, 1981, p. 43]
July 16, 1945 - The first bomb is exploded in a
New Mexico test: "Trinity."
August 6, 1945 - The first atomic bomb used in
war instantly kills over 160,000 people in
Hiroshima; thousands more die of radiation exposure over
the next weeks, months, and years up through the present day.
August 9, 1945 - The bomb dropped on
Nagasaki kills another 70,000 people immediately, causing
lingering death for tens of thousands more.
September 10, 1945 - Oppenheimer and
Leslie Groves, the Army General in charge of the
Manhattan Project, hold a press conference at the
Trinity site. They claim the Japanese are lying, and
deny that radiation could cause such hideous, painful
suffering in spite of reports to the contrary that
they are receiving from Manhattan Project doctors
who have travelled Japan to observe the effects.
In November, Groves testifies about
radiation at a Congressional hearing: "As I understand it
from the doctors... they say it is a pleasant way to die."
[Plutonium Files, pp. 112, 118]
1947 - The Atomic Energy Act establishes the
Atomic Energy Commission and develops a system of
contracts with universities to administer a network
of Labs involved in nuclear weapons research. The RadLab becomes part of the network. UC
Berkeley gets the contract to run the Radiation Lab,
Los Alamos Lab (New Mexico) and Lawrence Livermore Lab (built in the 50's in Livermore, Calif.)
[Heilbron, 1981, p. 49]
1954 - The massive Bevatron accelerator is
completed, costing ten times as much as the "184."
1957 - Upon Lawrence's death, the University
renames the Radiation Lab the "Lawrence
1957 - The Heavy Ion Linear Accelerator
(HILAC) is built. The Bevatron and HILAC operate until
the early 1990's. High Radiation Levels!
1959 - The Olympus Gate monitoring station (at
the northwest edge of current Lawrence Hall of
Science parking lot) measures 825 millirem/year of
neutron radiation from the RadLab's accelerators, way
over the exposure limit for the general public. At that
time, the limit was 500 mrem/yr; now it is 10
mrem/yr. (See Jan. 2000: a new LBNL study claims the
1959 exposure was not really this high.)
[Review of Radiological Monitoring at LBNL;
Preliminary Technical Report, by Bernd Franke, IFEU, 6/30/00, p. 21-23]
1961 - The 88-inch sector-focused cyclotron is
completed (still operating in 2000).
1961 - Melvin Calvin receives the Nobel Prize
in Chemistry for his study of organic compounds
"labeled" with Carbon-14 at the RadLab. (See
sidebar, Tritium Labeling.) His group, the Division of
Chemical Biodynamics, obtains a new building on
campus, ultimately named the Melvin Calvin Lab.
Tritium is one of several radioactive substances
1962 - LBNL replaces the Outdoor
Radioactive Waste Storage Area at Building 5 with a new
Hazardous Waste Handling Facility at Building 75,
which remains at this site until approximately1998. Radioactive and toxic waste is stored, handled, treated and prepared for shipment in this area.
"During early LBL operations, liquid waste was primarily disposed to the sewer... Disposal of wastes was generally undocumented. Waste handling procedures remained unchanged until 1973 when the Atomic Energy Commission required that LBL begin submitting annual site waste management plans, which described operations, practices, facilities, and plans related to waste management and decommissioning."
[1991 US EPA Superfund Assessment, p. 8]
1969 - After five years of site preparation and construction, the Lawrence Hall of Science opens to the public, featuring programs for school children. The center of the main floor is devoted to displays portraying the excitement of nuclear research. The Hall is not part of the Lab, but is located on the hill directly above Building 75, which later becomes the National Tritium Labeling Facility.
At this time (1969) Building 75 is the Radioisotope Services Building. It is divided into six laboratories, including the Radiogas Tritium Laboratory and the Hot Lab, which handles a variety of dangerous radionuclides. The Hot Lab has a vent pipe that goes up to the roof, follows along it, turns 90 degrees, goes underground and comes up again in a eucalyptus grove 100 meters from the Hall of Science. This vent is now known as the "tritium stack."
1971 - The name, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, is changed to "Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory."
1982 - Building 75 is converted to the National Tritium Labeling Facility (NTLF), which begins to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The facility is capable of handling thousands of curies of tritium annually.
Accident! Monitor Removed!
February 27, 1984 - "The neck of a reaction flask broke... releasing 240 curies of tritium [as tritiated water vapor] from the Building 75 tritium stack." A monitor measures 100,000 picocuries of tritium per cu. meter of air, ten times more than EPA's current (year 2000) maximum permissible level for the general public of 10,000 picocuries.
This is the only monitor located on the ground level right outside the NTLF, where people walk around and wait for the bus. A footnote in an LBL report states that this monitor "was discontinued 7/17 due to construction and 'replaced' [sic]" by another monitor that is several hundred feet further away from the NTLF.
[LBL's1984 Annual Environmental Monitoring Report, Table 6]
High Radiation Levels!
1985 - Tritium concentrations measured in sewer water in Strawberry station reach a maximum of 700,000 picocuries per liter of sewer water; average 40,000 picocuries per liter for the year.
[4/15/97 Summary Tables of Environmental Tritium Measurements at Berkeley Lab, submitted by LBNL to the Tritium Issues Working Group]
High Radiation Levels!
1986 - LBL reports tritium concentration of 107,000 picocuries per kilogram (pCi/Kg) in vegetation (eucalyptus leaves) close to Bldg. 75. This is 1000 times the level of background radiation.
[Environmental Monitoring at LBL, East Canyon Preoperational Survey, 1986; Feb. 1988 DOE Environmental Survey for LBNL]
1987 - The 184 accelerator is decommissioned and replaced on the same foundation by the Advance Light Source (ALS) accelerator (which is still operating as of 2000). Uranium contamination is discovered under the foundation but not removed.
This contamination "was traced to a sump which drained to an underground pipe. The contaminated pipe was left buried without being characterized for the quantity of contamination in the pipe or the migration of contamination in the surrounding soils. There are also no operations records, final radiological and chemical reports, or final project reports for this activity."
[US DOE Tiger Team Assessment of LBNL, Feb. 1991]
High Radiation Levels!
1988 - LBNL reports 570 curies of tritium are released from the NTLF stack during this year. Tritium concentrations measured in rainwater collected near the NTLF reach a maximum of 775,000 picocuries per liter (38 times the permissible level for drinking water), an average of 221,000 picocuries
Gate (the Hall of Science parking lot).
In addition, LBNL changes the sampling frequency of the four remaining monitors from weekly to monthly, so fewer samples are collected in 1996. This could give false low readings, because the monitors absorb no more tritium if they become saturated. (See sidebar, Monitors Unreliable )
[EPA's 8/4/98 Superfund Reassessment, Table 3-1, p. 3-6]
1995 LBNL Site Environmental Report, p. 3-31]
November 9, 1995 - The Dept. of Toxic
Substances Control extends for six months LBNL's
temporary authorization to store radioactive/hazardous
"mixed" waste in excess of permitted capacity.
December 1995 - An article by Tore Straume
in Health Physics magazine describes tritium
radiation as more harmful than gamma rays, which were
previously considered the most damaging form of radiation.
1995 - The Pineapple Creek monitor, which
showed high tritium concentrations in 1993, is removed
sometime in 1995 along with monitors in five other
creeks in Strawberry Canyon: Banana Creek, No Name Creek, Ten-Inch Creek, Ravine Creek and
Cafeteria Creek. Only four stormwater sampling locations
[1995 LBNL Site Environmental Report, p. 5-8. Figure
5-3 "Stormwater Sampling Locations" shows sampling
locations "Discontinued in 1995"]
1996 - LBNL Draft Fact Sheet summarizing Tritium Risk Assessment claims 80% of tritium is recycled. However, based on the Lab's shipping documents from 1990 through Aug.1, 1998, it appears that less than 30% is recycled. (See also October 1998)
["Tritium Purchases, Releases, Shipments and Disposal 1969-Present" (Aug. 1, 1998)]
February 5, 1996 LBNL holds a public meeting on permit modifications to increase storage and treatment of radioactive/hazardous "mixed" waste at the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility.
Waste Handling Error Closes NTLF!
March 96 - The NTLF is closed through October 1996. An NTLF employee tells CMTW it is closed because benzene was found mixed with tritium waste.
[Spring 1996 telephone conversation between CMTW and NTLF employee]
March 5, 1996 - A Lab memo mentions that LBNL wants DOE to expand the limits of tritium they can store without becoming a Category 3 Nuclear Facility. (See September 1997).
[Memo 4/22/96 from Robin Wendt, head of Waste Mgmt, LBNL to Carol Kilusiak, CEQA/NEPA officer at LBNL] (
March 7, 1996 - The Dept. of Toxic Substances Control holds a Public Hearing, although not required by law, because of public outcry about LBNL's request for permanent permit modification to increase storage and treatment of radioactive/hazardous "mixed" waste at the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility (HWHF) in Strawberry Canyon.
May 10, 1996 - The Dept. of Toxic Substances Control issues a Consent Order allowing LBNL to exceed its maximum storage capacity for radioactive/hazardous "mixed" wastes at the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility until DTSC makes a final determination on the permit modification.
July 22, 1996 - LBNL initiates its "Tritiated
Mixed Waste Treatability Study," (without telling the
community about it until after there is an accident, see
7/24/98). The designation "study" gives LBNL an
exemption from the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control permit process, allowing it to oxidize
"mixed" (radioactive/ hazardous) waste from the NTLF.
The NTLF has 2000 curies of mixed waste
that waste storage facilities won't take because it is
difficult to store and requires a complex oxidation
process; however LBNL is not supposed to keep it because it's not a permanent waste storage site.
Oxidation takes place at the NTLF, and
releases radiation and a variety of toxic compounds into
the environment, possibly including dioxin.
The treatment is a multi-step process,
including heating the waste in a steel kettle,
combustion with spark plugs, and drying in a kiln.
After oxidation, LBNL must go through
EPA to get the waste "delisted" (certified that
hazardous chemicals have been removed and what is left
"pure" radioactive waste).
[2/8/99 letter from Communities for a Better Environment to
Rep. Barbara Lee; 8/16/00 communication between author and DTSC]
September 17, 1996 - The Berkeley City
Council passes a unanimous Resolution to close the
NTLF and clean up the site. The Council expresses
extreme concern about the potential for radioactive
contamination in the event of a landslide, fire or
earthquake. The Lab sits astride the Hayward fault.
November 27, 1996 - Dr. Menchaca's contract
at LBNL is not renewed. She protests: "I was told
my work, my results, the data that I produced, and
the reports that I submitted to my superiors were
'not existent' and I was not allowed to publish or to
talk about work...at the Laboratory... I was told that
my most recent reports were shredded on my last day
of work... I believe that the termination of my
employment was a planned retaliation for having told
Calif. Dept. of Health Services staff and Dept. of
Energy staff about the concentrations of tritium that I
was finding...my research was exposing errors in the handling and analysis of environmental samples
[11/27/96 letter from Dr. Leticia Menchaca to Phil Williams
1997 - The Dept. of Energy adds the word
"National" to their labs, so Lawrence Berkeley Lab is now
called "Lawrence Berkeley National Lab" (LBNL).
January 1997 - LBNL creates the Tritium
Issues Work Group (TIWG). EPA and California's
Dept. of Health Services are cochairs; the Dept. of
Toxic Substances Control is to assist the Dept. of
Health Services in collecting samples and evaluating
data; the City of Berkeley's Citizen's Environmental
Advisory Commission (CEAC) is to participate in
all phases; CMTW is to act as watchdog and active
participant. LBNL and the Dept. of Energy are
supposedly not members, are only there to provide
resources. Two years later, community members walk out and TIWG disbands. (See April 21, 99)
January 6, 1997 - In a letter to the City of
Berkeley, the Dept. of Energy refuses to close the NTLF,
claiming that its work is in the "national interest."
The letter says DOE has requested its Oakland office
to review NTLF tritium emissions monitoring, in cooperation with other responsible federal and state
of California agencies.
[1/6/97 letter from DOE to Sherry Kelly, City Clerk, City
March 31, 1997 - First waste shipment to
Hanford after Hanford lifts the moratorium. CMTW
believes that the radioactivity listed for these drums may
actually correlate with what's inside.
April 1997 - LBNL's Health-Risk Assessment
for Tritium Releases at the NTLF estimates
organically bound tritium in vegetation as 81 picocuries per
kilogram, although Dr. Menchaca actually measured up to 345,000 picocuries per kilogram of
organically bound tritium in vegetation in Zone 2 between
the tritium stack and the Hall of Science!
[Final Environmental Health-Risk Assessment for
Tritium Releases at the NTLF, April 1997,Table 4-10, p. 4-30
"Tritium Concentrations in Zone 2, Assuming a Release of 100 Ci/Year"]
None of the maps in the Health Risk
Assessment show the location of the tritium stack. On
the Site map (p. 1-5) the tritium stack is not used as the
center for Zone 1: "the highest likely exposure." If the stack were the center, the Hall of Science would be within the highest zone of exposure. Instead, the center is the Northeast corner of Bldg. 75, where the oxidizer which converts tritium gas into tritiated water vapor is located. The monitor that was closest to this area was removed in 1984 after only 6 months' operation, with measurements as high as 100,000 picocuries per cu. meter of air.
The Health-Risk Assessment states that approximately 1 in 100 lifelong residents of Berkeley will die of cancer due to exposure to natural background radiation.
[Final Health-Risk Assessment, 1997, Table 1-1, p. 1-10 Health risks from Background Radiation]
May 6, 1997 - LBNL officially declares that the proposed permit modifications to the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility will not result in new significant impacts, and therefore does not require an Environmental Impact Report.
[LBNL's 5/6/97 Notice of Determination, Subsequent Mitigated Negative Declaration]
May 97 - The Cities of Berkeley and Oakland support a lawsuit by the Group to Eliminate Toxics, calling upon the University of California, as manager of LBNL, to set aside its approval of the permit modification for the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility and prepare an Environmental Impact Report. In June, 1998, a judge rules against the lawsuit on a technicality.
July 9, 1997 - In a letter to Mayor Dean, David Wemmer (head of NTLF) describes concerned Berkeley citizens as "the opposition." (See Brookhaven sidebar, last page)
September 1997 - The Dept. of Energy increases the Category 3 Non-Reactor Nuclear Facility tritium inventory threshold from 1000 curies to 16,000 curies a direct benefit for LBNL.
September 1997 - The Dept. of Energy renews UC Berkeley's five-year contract to manage LBNL.
approx 1998 LBNL's new Hazardous Waste Handling Facility starts operating. The 5/10/96 Consent Order from the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control allows it to increase storage of mixed waste although the permit modification has not yet been approved.
February 3, 1998 - Dr. Tore Straume, hired by the City of Berkeley to review LBNL's Tritium Environmental HealthRisk Assessment, states that tritium causes more biological damage than X-rays or gamma rays. Gamma rays were previously thought to be the most harmful form of radiation, based on studies of fallout from nuclear weapons.
March 20, 1998 - An EPA review of LBNL's monitoring plan criticizes LBNL for using outdated sampling techniques that fail to identify what radioactive substances are present in the soil. EPA points out that very affordable modern technology that could identify the substances is readily available. It also questions why LBNL only plans to keep monitoring records for 5 years; "Isn't a time period of 10 years more commonly used for legal documents' retention times?"
[3/20/98 memo from John Griggs, EPA's National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory, to Periann Wood and Shelly Rosenblum of EPA Region 9]
April 20, 1998 - The Lab unlawfully discharges 160 gallons of water contaminated with tritium, arsenic, mercury and lead into City of Berkeley storm drains. It fails to report the release, and when asked why, the Lab sends a letter stating that it isn't required to report such incidents. The City of Berkeley disagrees and refers the matter to the Alameda County District Attorney.
[7/15/98 letter from Nabil Al-Hadithy, City of Berkeley's Toxic Management Division, to David McGraw, Dir. of Environment, Health and Safety Div. of LBNL]
July 24, 1998 Unplanned release of at least 35 curies of tritium from the Waste Treatability "Study" at NTLF. The release goes out through a vent in the roof of NTLF, not the main stack on the hill; therefore it is not measured by the special monitor on the stack. The amount released is deduced after the fact from measurements in "silica gel" monitors. (see sidebar, Monitors Unreliable)
A special monitor on the NTLF tritium stack is supposed to give a continuous record of tritium measurements, like a series of snapshots. However, according to David Balgobin, this "real-time" monitor (named "Overhoff," for its manufacturer) has never been successfully calibrated.
Silica gel monitors have problems, too. They collect tritium like a sponge collects water, but when they become saturated, like a sponge, they fail to collect anything more.
[8/00 communication between author and David Balgobin; 7/00 communication between author and Dr. Menchaca]
CMTW demands an investigation of the accident; two years later, in August, 2000, the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control begins to investigate, although it only has authority over the toxic materials
released, not the tritium.
From 1995 on, there is no external agency
responsible for ongoing oversight of radiation at LBNL; the Department of Energy is in the
position of monitoring itself. (See jurisdiction questions
August 4, 1998 US EPA issues a Superfund
Reassessment, per CMTW request, stating, "Based
upon a preliminary Hazard Ranking System score, the
US EPA has determined that LBNL is eligible for
the National Superfund Priorities List" for
cleanup. However, further investigation must take place
before any final decision to place LBNL on the National Priorities List. Tritium sampling, which is
in dispute as of August 2000, is key to this
investigation (see 1/26/00, 5/1/00 and 6/30/00 for issues
September 1998 - The Berkeley City Council
reaffirms its Resolution asking for permanent
closure of the NTLF.
October 1998 - LBNL sends a shipment of
recaptured tritium for recycling, with a shipping
document claiming it contains 6,850 curies. CMTW
questions the amount of radioactivity in the
shipment, since LBNL has not received more than 5,000
curies of tritium since the last recycling
shipment. CMTW asks the recipient of the shipment
(Lawrence Livermore Lab) how much was received, and are
told: only 3200 curies. When this issue is brought to the attention of the radiation expert hired by the City of Berkeley, Bernd Franke, in 2000, he follows up on the discrepancies, and finally LBNL admits that it had indeed overstated the amount of tritium in the shipment. However, it now claims it sent 4550 curies, and proceeds to adjust the Dept. of Energy's database (NMMSS) by only 2500 curies.
December 11, 1998 - CMTW letter to US EPA after a meeting on Sept. 10 at Congressmember Barbara Lee's office, asks EPA to perform a comprehensive radiological survey of the site, including other radionuclides in addition to tritium, as part of their review for Superfund National Priority Listing. EPA forwards these requests to the Dept. of Energy, and it says we're already looking at these problems under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). However, CMTW notes that there is no radioactive oversight under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Also, under the Superfund law, the community would be more involved in the site investigation and cleanup process.
April 1999 - The Dept. of Health Services states that in the Census Tract southeast of LBNL, which includes the top of Panoramic Hill and the area around the Claremont Hotel, "The observed number of breast cancers is higher than the expected number at a statistically significant level."
[4/1/99 letter from Eva Glazer, California Dept. of Health Services]
April 1999 - City of Berkeley hires radiation expert Arjun Makhajani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) to review LBNL's radiation performance. Makhajani spends nine months trying to obtain information from LBNL, and finally withdraws in December, 1999, citing the Lab's non-cooperation. He says dealing with LBNL was a "Kafka-esque nightmare."
April 21, 1999 - After more than two years of meetings, all community members of the Tritium Issues Work Group withdraw, because of the non-cooperation by the Lab. The Work Group is disbanded.
May 5, 1999 - The Dept. of Toxic Substances Control asks for radioactive materials to be removed from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
(RCRA) process because DTSC has no jurisdiction over radionuclides.
[5/5/99 letter from Sal Ciriello of DTSC to Iraj Javandel of LBNL's Site Restoration Program]
June 1999 The Dept. of Toxic Substances Control approves LBNL's permit modification for increased storage of mixed waste at the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility. CMTW files an appeal, saying the Lab should have done an Environmental Impact Report. To date (August, 2000) no decision has been made on the appeal, and LBNL continues to operate the Hazardous Waste Handling Facility under the Consent Order.
July 14, 1999 - In a meeting arranged by Congressmember Barbara Lee, a panel of scientists and a physician ask the National Institutes of Health not to renew their grant to the NTLF. The NIH later informs Rep. Lee that because of the concerns expressed in the presentation, in addition to renewing the NTLF grant they will supplement it so that NTLF can hire a Health Physicist.
December 21, 1999 - The City of Berkeley contracts with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), in Germany, to review past and present radioactive exposures from LBNL.
January 2000 - A new LBNL study argues that the 1959 neutron doses recorded at the Olympus Gate monitoring station should be revised; that the Lab really didn't exceed the exposure limit.
[IFEU Preliminary Report, 6/30/00, p. 22]
January 2000 - Energy Sec.Bill Richardson acknowledges that some nuclear workers were made ill from radiation on their jobs. He promises compensation, but some complain that a complex procedure may make it difficult to collect.
January 26, 2000 - LBNL creates another group to give the appearance of public participation, the Environmental Sampling Project Task Force. This time, the Lab maintains full control, and handpicks all 23 members of the panel. It invites representatives from only two community groups and two neighborhood groups; the rest of the panel consists of staff and contractors of LBNL, the Dept. of Energy and the University; regulators; and representatives of the biomedical and nuclear medicine industries.
The Lab wants this group to sign off on its Tritium Sampling Plan, the same plan that was submitted two years earlier to the Tritium Issues Working Group, which deemed it inadequate, cursory, superficial and inappropriate, since it did not address the full extent of radiological contamination at the site. The Lab intends for this survey to determine whether LBNL will be on the National Priorities List for Superfund cleanup.
April 11, 2000 - The Alameda County School Board votes to recommend a moratorium on school visits to the Lawrence Hall of Science, because of radiation danger from the NTLF.
April 25, 2000 - After pressure from LBNL, the School Board revises its resolution, advising parents, teachers and administrators to investigate for themselves the hazards at the Hall of Science from LBNL's tritium emissions.
May 1, 2000 - The Water Board demands that groundwater be included in LBNL's Tritium Sampling Plan because groundwater is one of the four key pathways for exposure that EPA uses to calculate the Hazard Ranking Score, which determines whether the site will be on the National Priorities List for Superfund cleanup. Past contamination in the groundwater has exceeded EPA's permissible limit for drinking water.
[5/1/00 letter to LBNL from California's Regional Water Quality Control Board]
May 7, 2000 - A fire set by forestry personnel flares out of control near Los Alamos National Lab in Northern New Mexico, the second of three nuclear weapons labs managed by UC Berkeley. The Lab is closed May 8, and the entire town of Los Alamos is evacuated May 10. The inferno sweeps through canyons where waste has been stored and comes within yards of Lab buildings, but officials claim there is no danger from radiation. The fire devours 46,000 acres and 235 homes before it is declared under control (but still burning) May 24.
June 30, 2000 - A brush fire started by a highway collision rages near the Hanford nuclear weapons and waste facilities in southeast Washington State. Officials claim there is no danger from radiation.
June 30, 2000 - The City of Berkeley's radiation expert, Germany's Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) submits its first report, which states that the Lab's radiation monitors are inadequate and unreliable, contamination is more widespread than previously understood, and inventory data is so inaccurate (±30%) that it is useless for determining how much tritium has excaped.
The report reveals that tritium is not released gradually, but in short bursts, during NTLF operations. Therefore, a person nearby would get a higher dose in a shorter time than the Lab's computer model (CAP 88) indicates. IFEU recommends an investigation of whether such doses exceeded legal limits.
The Lab's monitors could miss the bursts, because there are too few of them, and they monitor only the predominant wind directions.
In its review of the Lab's Tritium Sampling Plan, IFEU calls for groundwater sampling, more air monitors and more thorough soil sampling.
[Preliminary Technical Report on Radiological Monitoring at LBNL by IFEU, 6/30/00]
"DOE: Labs contaminated forever!"
August 7, 2000 - The National Academy of Science announces that LBNL and 143 other facilities that played a role in U.S. nuclear weapons programs will never be clean enough for unrestricted public use. According to the NAS study, "At many sites, radiological and nonradiological hazardous wastes will remain, posing risks to humans and the environment for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years."
The report says the government does not have the technology, money or management techniques to prevent the contamination from spreading; and restrictions against public access are unlikely to endure but the Department of Energy has failed to consider the costs to society of containment failure. For instance, the Los Alamos fire set the stage for mudslides in the upcoming rainy season that could contaminate the Rio Grande with radioactive and toxic chemicals.
In an interview, the chair of the study committee comments, "The Dept. of Energy often makes a plan as if things were going to work which don't always work. [Their] planning assumption should be that things may turn out to be wrong." The report says, "Much of our current knowledge of the long-term behavior of wastes... may eventually be proved wrong," and most systems intended to contain radioactive waste "will eventually fail."
["Four Bay Area labs a long-term hazard," West County Times 8/8/00; "Nuclear Sites Called Permanently Unsafe," SF Chronicle, 8/8/00]
WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
The question of who regulates radiation at LBNL came up at the July 1999 Quarterly Meeting LBNL holds with regulatory agencies to keep them abreast of its Site Environmental Restoration program, headed by Iraj Javendel. (No members of the public, or even the City of Berkeley, are allowed at these meetings, although Javendel gives briefings for the City's Environmental Commission.)
At this meeting, regulators express considerable confusion about who's in charge. "Michael [Michael Rochette of California's Regional Water Quality Control Board] noted that he had been under the impression that the 1993 memorandum of understanding (MOU) of agency responsibilities was still in effect and that the Dept. of Health Services (DHS) had been overseeing issues related to radiological contamination. The DHS had been given oversight responsibility for radionuclide issues by the DTSC [California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control] as part of the Agreement in Principle (AIP) with the DOE.
However, the AIP is no longer in effect and DHS has not been overseeing radionuclide issues. Tony Natera [of DTSC, who first called attention to this problem] noted that in the 1993 MOU, the intent was to have the DHS oversee radiological conerns for mixed waste. Michael noted that the RWQCB [the Regional Water Board] understands that the DOE is the lead regulatory agency for radionuclide issues but under the Porter Cologne Act, the RWQCB has jurisdiction of radionuclides in water. The RWQCB wants to assure that there is review by a California State agency where there is radionuclide contamination in soil above a groundwater plume. He asked if the MOU identifying agency roles and responsibilities could be rewritten. Iraj responded that if possible he would schedule a meeting..."
This meeting has never happened.
[Environmental Restoration Program Quarterly Review Meeting Minutes, 7/28/99]
AEC - Atomic Energy Commission, created after World War II to oversee and promote the use of nuclear technology for weapons, electric power, medicine and industry. Later splits into the Dept. of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
AIP - California Agreement in Principle Program, funded by the Dept. of Energy and operated by California's Dept. of Health Services (DHS) Environmental Management Branch, designed to provide independent confirmation of LBNL'senvironmental monitoring.
CAP 88 - Computer model used to determine compliance with air pollution standards (NESHAPs). Assumes flat ground, therefore does not reflect conditions on a steep hillside like LBNL, where the top of the tritium stack is below the Hall of Science, and wind speed and direction varies with land contours.
CEAC - The City of Berkeley's Citizens' Environmental Advisory Commission
CERCLA - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (the "Superfund" law)
CMTW - Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, started in 1992 as a subcommittee of the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Assn.
DOE - U.S. Department of Energy
DTSC - California's Dept. of Toxic Substance Control. Ordinarily has no jurisdication over radioactive substances; however they allowed themselves to be used by LBNL as if they were the lead agency on radiological concerns until 5/5/99.
EIR - Environmental Impact Report
EPA - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
HWHF - Hazardous Waste Handling Facility
HALF-LIFE - Referring to any radioactive substance, half the atoms will lose their radioactivity ("decay") in the first half-life, half of the remaining atoms will lose their radioactivity in the next half-life, etc. It takes more than ten half-lives for radiation to decay to practically nothing. Tritium has a 12-1/2 year half life, so it takes 125 years for tritium to become harmless.
ISOTOPE - various forms of radioactive elements, with different atomic weights
NESHAPs - National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
MIXED WASTE - radioactive waste mixed with hazardous (flammable, corrosive or reactive) chemical constituents
NIH - National Institutes of Health
NRC - Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has the dual mission of promoting and regulating nuclear power.
NTLF - National Tritium Labelling Facility
PANORAMIC HILL ASSN. - Neighborhood association in neighborhood on the hill south of LBNL.
RADIONUCLIDE - A radioactive substance
RADIATION STANDARDS - see sidebar, p. 5
RCRA - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates toxics, but not radioactive substances
RWQCB - California's Regional Water Quality Control Board
TIWG - Tritium Issues Work Group
TRITIUM - A radioactive form of hydrogen, see sidebar p. 3
TRITIUM LABELLING - see sidebar, p. 3
A VERY DIFFERENT STORY AT
BROOKHAVEN NAT'L LABORATORY
January 17, 1997 - Brookhaven National
Lab, on Long Island, New York, announces tritium leak of five curies from High Flux Beam
May, 1997 - Article on Brookhaven tritium
leak in May 1997 Nature magazine hits newstands. Brookhaven Director Nicholas Samios
"retires." Energy Secretary Federico Pena terminates
the contract with Associated Universities, Inc., which ran Brookhaven for 50 years. AUI
included Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and MIT. Pena admonishes Lab officials for referring to
concerned community members as "the opposition."
Nov. 99 - High Flux Beam Reactor shuts down.