LANL Has Plans to Open Lab Using Live Biological Agents
WIPP truck stranded in Springer due to bad weather
Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) hopes to get approval from
the Department of Energy (DOE) to build a high-level Biosafety facility to
study infectious bacterial agents. The lab states their goal is to develop
techniques to identify bioterrorist organisms and learn ways to counteract
them. Critics are concerned about LANL's plan to expand the scope of
biowarefare agents already at the lab.
The rationale the lab gives for wanting to go further into biowarfare
investigation is their scenario that if someone dropped anthrax into the
air from a plane, it could be identified so people could then be
vaccinated. Critic's question how enough detectors will be spread around
the country in order to detect this possible toxin and how people will get
vaccinated soon enough. Some biowarfare agents kill within minutes. If LANL
plans to work with live strains of deadly organisms, the quality assurance
must be incredibly tight. Critics point out that incidents and accidents
occur frequently at the lab, therefore having a lack of faith that an
accident won't happen. LANL states the building will not have windows and
that they will control the air pressure so deadly bio-agents will not
escape to the outside. However, LANL has the same criteria for plutonium,
and with over 50 years of experience, they still emit plutonium into the
air. Likewise, on a regular basis LANL emits tritium into the air.
The proposed new facility would have a Biosafety level-3 approval.
This allows LANL to grow live deadly organisms. LANL has already been
working with biowarfare agents such as anthrax under a level-2 approval.
Anthrax is almost always lethal when inhaled because it multiplies in the
lymph system and eventually causes internal hemorrhaging. There is a
vaccine but it needs to be administered quickly.
If LANL builds a level-3 lab, other live organisms scientist might
cultivate include influenza, tuberculosis or the plague. LANL's plan is
causing great concern to people living in the area surrounding LANL. It is
interesting to note that a recent government report criticizes the DOE for
negligent oversight of LANL and Sandia National Laboratories current
Biological and chemical weapons became illegal in the U.S. under
President Nixon. Critics of LANL's plans to expand work with materials used
in biological weapons, point out that other countries will see this as a
sign that the U.S. might be developing its own biological weapons.
LANL officials say they do not plan to develop biological weapons.
They say scientists will just run experiments to observe how the microbes
evolve and how they react to the environment.
Presently there are around 250 level-3 labs in the U.S. There are just
a few labs that have the level-4 rating, which allows them to handle
incurable strains of microbes such as Ebola. LANL officials say they don't
plan to seek a level-4 approval.
Critcs point out that if LANL cannot contain things they have been
working of for 50 - 60 years, how can citizens expect them to contain
something that is new to them.
Citizens will have an opportunity to give their input on LANL's plan to
have deadly organisms close to our communities. Over the next six months,
LANL will hold public meetings. These meetings are part of the
Environmental Assessment process, which gives the public a way to voice
their concerns. CCNS will inform the public of the dates and places for the
meetings as soon as they are published.
snow over the weekend of January 27th along Interstate 25 in northeastern
New Mexico caused the drivers of a waste truck bound for the Waste
Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) to stop near Springer, New Mexico
for two days. Because of bad road conditions in New Mexico, the
state police suggested to the DOE, the federal agency responsible
for WIPP, that the truck park in Trinidad, Colorado. Despite the
advice, the drivers decided to keep moving, until they got stranded
at a truck stop outside of Springer. This is the second time this
winter a WIPP truck was stranded there. The waste truck was loaded
with plutonium-contaminated nuclear waste from the Idaho National
Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
According to an agreement between DOE and the State of New Mexico, in
bad weather the drivers are supposed to stop at secure areas, such as the
military base in Pueblo, Colorado. Activists have long been concerned about
the possibility of waste trucks being stranded in places where the general
public can be exposed to radiation from the truck. In 1990, a WIPP
oversight group recommended the careful study of safe parking for the
trucks to minimize radiation exposures to the public. The group estimated
that a restaurant employee who is exposed to 10% of all of the WIPP
shipments at a distance of 100 feet for 45 minutes would receive 14
millirems of radiation over 25 years. Activists believe Governor Johnson
should be discussing procedures with the governors of Washington, Idaho and
Colorado so that waste trucks do not leave their states when bad weather is
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