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Thursday, July 12, 2007  
UC Out of the running for controversial biodefense lab

By: David Perlman, Science Editor
Published In: San Francisco Chronicle
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/07/12/BAG61QV3GK1.DTL

LIVERMORE--



The University of California lost its bid Wednesday to build a huge new biodefense lab where scientists would study highly dangerous microbes at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's property near Tracy, federal officials announced Wednesday.



Scientists at the new defense facility would research some of the world's deadliest disease-causing pathogens that terrorists or enemy forces might employ as biological warfare agents, according to plans disclosed a year ago by the Department of Homeland Security.



At that time, nearly 30 sites across the nation were under consideration for the huge lab, and now only a few sites in five states are under consideration -- Mississippi, Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, according to a Livermore spokesperson.



UC officials had lobbied strongly for selection of the Livermore lab as home for the new facility. Livermore scientists had planned to locate the lab at the Site 300 property near Tracy -- well away from the main Livermore campus.



But local opposition may have helped derail the plan.

Tri-Valley Cares, the activist organization that has long been a thorn in the side of the Livermore lab's nuclear weapons work, vigorously lobbied against locating the new biodefense facility anywhere near Tracy or Livermore.



More than 3,000 petitions and 2,000 e-mails from Tracy residents, plus 2,000 paid telephone messages carried by the Working Assets Long Distance phone service, opposed the new lab, according to Marylia Kelley, a leader of the organization formally known as Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment.



The Tracy City Council also voted to oppose the lab, and the Homeland Security proposal had listed community support as a major requirement for selecting the final site, Kelley said.



"We're ecstatic," she said.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is planned as a huge, heavily shielded structure covering more than 500,000 square feet -- larger than five average Wal-Mart stores. Within the building, under a variety of high-tech containment labs, scientists and technicians would study the effects of the world's most dangerous microbes on animals and seek new ways to protect both humans and domestic animals against the germs, according to homeland security planners.



A statement from UC's Washington office said the university "is disappointed" that it was not selected and added that it is "a leader in the field of biotechnology and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the area of biosecurity research. We will continue to apply our premier scientific and technological expertise to the homeland security work of our nation."



E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com.




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