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UCLA to Dismantle Its Nuclear Reactor

August 07, 1986|BARBARA BAIRD | Times Staff Writer

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted UCLA permission to dismantle a controversial research reactor that the university shut down in 1984 after a five-year battle with anti-nuclear activists.

All of the nuclear fuel was removed in 1984, after Chancellor Charles E. Young announced that the university was permanently closing the facility because students and faculty no longer needed it.

Although university officials said the decision was unrelated to intense opposition from the West Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, the anti-nuclear group called the closing a victory.

"This teaches us that we can control our nuclear technology rather than being controlled by it," Executive Director Steven Aftergood said in an interview Tuesday. "It shows we can make choices and shut it down when we decide to do that."

The committee had said the reactor was unsafe and posed a threat to people on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods. It questioned whether the reactor might become a tempting target for terrorists during the 1984 Summer Olympics.

The reactor was closed for repairs in 1984, and that June, two months before the start of the Games, Young announced his decision to close shut it down permanently.

Decline in Interest

Officials said the protests had no relationship to the closure. They said the reactor was shut down because faculty and student interest in it had declined and the need no longer justified the $200,000-a-year cost.

The 100-kilowatt reactor in Boelter Hall generated only a fraction of the power of a commercial reactor, producing about the amount of electrical energy it would take to run two households, said Walter Wegst, UCLA's director of research and occupational safety.

The facility opened in 1959 with a 20-year license and UCLA sought to renew the license in 1979, he said.

After a long fight with the Committee to Bridge the Gap, UCLA withdrew its application and received approval to remove the nuclear fuel in 1984. UCLA submitted a plan for dismantling the reactor late last year, and received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week, Wegst said.

The plan calls for the removing reactor equipment and measuring the depth to which radiation has penetrated the five-foot-thick concrete shields around the reactor, he said. A plan for disposing of the radioactive concrete safely and discarding the remaining materials will be submitted to the commission for approval, he said.

Wegst said officials hope the process will be complete in a year, freeing the site for other purposes.

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