by Andrea Orr / Reuters –
SAN FRANCISCO (August 28, 2003) — Environmental groups filed a lawsuit this week to block the construction of biowarfare labs at two national nuclear weapons facilities, saying both units lacked the sound safety records required to handle extremely dangerous materials like anthrax.
“My organization is not opposed to biodefense research,” said Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CARE (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment). “What we are trying to do is force a detailed analysis of the risk of putting these facilities at Livermore and Los Alamos.”
The facilities are designed to conduct research into various biowarfare agents such as anthrax, plague, and botulism.
The suits were filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco against the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM.
She said she was concerned because the US Department of Energy had a “horrific environmental record,” including multiple spills and accidental releases of chemicals and radioactive material. Kelley said she felt that any biowarfare research would be better handled by a public health agency like the Centers for Disease Control.
Colin King of Nuclear Watch, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, argued that placing a biowarfare research facility in a nuclear weapons lab might also inadvertently start a “biological weapons arms race.”
Both groups said they were concerned that the planned facilities would pose numerous safety and security threats including sabotage, transportation accidents, escaping research animals, and leaks during natural disasters.
The Department of Energy, which operates both the Lawrence Livermore and the Los Alamos weapons labs, said it has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. However, it said in a statement that environmental assessments had already been conducted on the proposed projects and had concluded that the effects on the environment would be minor and would therefore not require more extensive environmental impact statements before construction began.
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