Court delays opening of California bioterrorism defense lab, citing safety concerns

Published 20 October 2006

They say about some do-gooders that they love humanity — it is people they don’t like; the same with biodefense labs: Communities love the idea of more jobs, more money, and more development which these biodefense labs bring, they just don’t like the associated safety risks; in the latest case, a court puts on hold the construction of a lab at Lawrence Livermore

A San Francisco federal appeals court ruled earlier this week that the construction of a new research laboratory at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory must undergo further review before it can open. The lawsuit was brought against the lab and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) by Tri-Valley CAREs, a community organization concerned with the impact of nuclear weapon development, especially at the Livermore lab.

The suit, which was heard in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, claimed that DoE had violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 by not fully investigating the environmental implications of the facility, including the possibility of a terrorist attack. All claims were dismissed by the court, with the exception of the claim that DoE has not fully studied the possible dangers that could arise in the event of a terrorist attack on the facility. The court ruling postponed the opening of the facility indefinitely until additional analysis has been performed on this issue. The lab will focus on developing technologies to detect and prevent the possibility of bioterrorism, said lab spokesperson Stephen Wampler. “The purpose of the facility is to protect Americans against terrorist attacks,” Wampler said.

DoE has not yet decided what course to take in investigating the issue, as the court ruling did not specify how the investigation should proceed, Wampler said. The lab has already undergone four safety reviews and is equipped with security measures such as fences, security officers and alarms, he said.

The total cost of the research facility was approximately $1.5 million dollars, of which $700,000 to $1 million has been invested in the development of security and safety measures.

-read more in Tierney Allen’s and Corinna Matlis’s Daily Californian report [