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Monday, June 05, 2006  
Judge to rule June 13 on planned Livermore 'hotlab'

By: Betsy Mason
Published In: Contra Costa Times

A federal judge will consider Lawrence Livermore Lab's plans to build a new "hotlab" to study anthrax, plague and other deadly pathogens.

The hearing, scheduled for June 13 in the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, is the latest development in a battle over the "Biosafety Level 3" facility.

Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Enviroment, and other watchdog groups, claim the Department of Energy didn't do an adequate assessment of the potential environmental impacts of locating such a facility in Livermore.

"It is outrageous that the DOE granted itself the go-ahead to operate this facility without conducting thorough analyses of the risks to workers and neighbors," said Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment.

The group's main concerns are potential for damage to the lab by terrorist attacks and earthquakes. They argue that combining nuclear materials and biowarfare agents in the same facility would make the lab an even more attractive target for terrorists, and two active earthquake faults lie within two miles of the proposed facility.

Tri-Valley CAREs originally sued the Energy Department over proposed hotlabs at Livermore and Los Alamos national Laboratories in August 2003. The following December, a federal judge barred shipments of biological agents including botulism, anthrax, plague, valley fever and Q fever until a final decision on the lawsuit was made. In September 2004, the judge gave Livermore's biosafety lab the go-ahead.

"We felt that that decision was proper," said Livermore lab spokesman Steve Wampler.

"We consider the siting of a new biosafety facility to be critical to our efforts to rapidly develop biodetection technologies for fighting terrorism and for public health uses," Wampler said.

The watchdog groups appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court in November 2004, which resulted in the upcoming hearing.

In November 2005, the DOE announced it would do a full environmental impact review for the proposed hotlab at Los Alamos.

The Livermore facility is expected to be ready to open in two months pending safety and readiness reviews.

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Betsy Mason covers science and the national laboratories. Reach her at 925-847-2158 or bmason@cctimes.com.




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