NNSA Approves BSL-3 Facility at LANL

Hiroshima Peace Walkers Visit New Mexico

* The National Nuclear Security Administration (or NNSA) this week approved the new Biosafety Level-3 (or BSL-3) facility proposed for Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL). According to the NNSA press release, "This decision was based on analyses which indicate that design, construction and operation of this facility will not have significant impacts to human health or the environment."

LANL currently operates a BSL-2 facility, which is allowed to handle only DNA samples of infectious bioagents. However, BSL-3 status would mean that LANL would be allowed to work with live samples of anthrax, tuberculosis, smallpox and plague. NNSA claims that, "[the construction and operation] of this facility will safely and securely leverage [LANL's] science base to enhance national threat reduction."

LANL's BSL-3 facility would be the first under operation by the Department of Energy (or DOE), and one of nine national laboratories operated by NNSA under the Chemical and Biological National Security Program (or CBNP). CBNP has been plagued by safety and security problems since its inception in 1997. Activists believe CBNP is required by federal law to undergo a program-wide environmental review before LANL's BSL-3 can begin construction, although LANL and DOE disagree.

NNSA's decision comes despite requests from New Mexico's Congressional representatives, Senator Bingaman and Representative Udall, to conduct more extensive environmental studies on the proposed facility, including a full environmental impact statement. Activists, including CCNS, believe that a more thorough investigation of the facility was necessary before it could be approved. Also, activists worry that worker health and public safety were not adequately addressed in the draft environmental impact statement released in October 2001.

Peggy Prince, of Peace Action New Mexico, said, "... we feel that the decision of no significant impact is precipitous, hasty and unwise. We will continue to work for a full environmental impact statement on this facility and support a program-wide study for all proposed BSL facilities in the nuclear weapons complex."

* The Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage passed through New Mexico last week on its way from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to the World Trade Center for a Mother's Day ceremony. The pilgrimage is carrying a 57-year old flame from the fires of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. The intent of the pilgrimage is to spread the importance of peace and love, and to call for nuclear disarmament and an end to the U.S. missile-defense programs.

More than 40 walkers joined the flame in Los Alamos, where the bomb that decimated Hiroshima was designed. Following the Hiroshima bombing, the flame was kept burning by Buddhist monks who used it to illuminate their altar for more than ten years. Sister Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist from Albany, New York and leader of the pilgrimage, said, "I feel like I have to pray a lot with this flame." Joining her in the pilgrimage are a diverse group of people, ranging from three Buddhist monks to a fifteen year old Hawaiian girl who has dedicated five months to the journey.

Although LANL officials forbade the peacewalkers from marching on its property, they were able to pray near the facility before they continued their march to Albuquerque.

To read the on-line journal of the Peace Walk of 15-year old Annie Elfing, from Honolulu, visit anniewalk.4dw.com.

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