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Tuesday, June 13, 2006  
Appeals Court considers Livermore 'hot lab'

By: Chris Metinko
Published In: Contra Costa Times

Watchdog groups want the federal government to further investigate the

impacts of possible terrorist attacks before it proceeds with its plan

to open a laboratory to study anthrax, plague and other deadly pathogens

at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.



At a hearing Tuesday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San

Francisco, the Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a

Radioactive Environment and Nuclear Watch New Mexico groups argued the

Department of Energy did not do an adequate assessment of the potential

environmental impacts of locating a "hot lab" in Livermore.



The groups' main concern is what it sees as a failing by the DOE to

consider possible terrorist attacks against the lab and what that could

mean to residents of the Bay Area if a deadly pathogen is released. The

groups argued such a study is crucial because combining nuclear

materials and bio-warfare agents in the same facility would make the lab

an even more attractive target for terrorists.



DOE lawyer Todd Aagaard said the department looked at a variety of

catastrophic events -- including earthquakes -- to see what the impacts

could be on the area. He told the panel of federal judges the lab's

environmental assessment report studied disasters that could be

considered even worse than a terrorist attack. He added the DOE could

not study every type of disaster in great detail for its assessment, but

did study what it thought to be most critical.



Steve Volker, Tri-Valley CAREs' attorney, questioned why the DOE did not

investigate possible alternative sites for such a lab, instead choosing

to put it in the densely populated Bay Area. That question seemed to

strike a chord with at least one of the three judges on the panel.



"What I find to be the most troublesome thing is this is being built in

a very highly populated area," said Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder.



Volker said he hopes the appeals court will have a decision sometime

before August, which is when the lab is expected to open. He would like

the court to order a new environmental assessment or for the DOE to do a

full-blown environmental impact statement.



Tri-Valley CAREs originally sued the Energy Department over proposed hot

labs 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.



The watchdog groups appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court in

November 2004, which prompted Tuesday's hearing.



In November 2005, the DOE announced it would do a full environmental

report for the proposed hot lab at Los Alamos.



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Reach Chris Metinko at 510-763-5418 or cmetinko@cctimes.com




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