Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
DHS Threat Analysis of Biodefense Lab Better, But Problems Remain: Report
The U.S. Homeland Security Department's latest analysis of the potential threat posed by a planned biodefense laboratory in Kansas is a "substantial improvement" from a 2010 assessment, but still does not sufficiently describe the potential dangers related to the site, according to an independent expert report issued on Friday (see GSN, June 6).
The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is to be built near the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan as a replacement for a decades-old animal disease research site on Plum Island in New York. The site would house Biosafety Level 4 research space, which is authorized to handle viruses and other agents for lethal diseases that have no cure.
The Obama administration has requested no funding for construction of the site in the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.
Among the diseases that would be researched at the facility are foot and mouth, along with infectious agents that can be passed from animals to humans.
The National Research Council in 2010 determined that the Homeland Security Department employed "flawed methods and shortcomings" in producing a threat analysis for the facility. Lawmakers in Washington then demanded that the department redo its assessment, which would again be studied by a group of independent specialists.
Homeland Security has resolved a significant number of the issues of concern noted on its 2010 threat analysis, according to the new report from the branch of the National Academies. "The new version uses more conventional risk assessment methods and conceptual models, presents clearer descriptions of the approaches, and complies better with standard practices than the previous version," the National Research Council said in a press release.
The department's 2010 threat analysis suggested there was close to a 70-percent likelihood that the escape of foot-and-mouth disease during the site's expected 50-year operational period could lead to people becoming infected. The new assessment determined "that for 142 possible release events, the cumulative probability of a release leading to an infection is 0.11 percent, or a 1 in 46,000 chance per year," the release says.
While some of the lowered danger could be linked to updated blueprints for the site, the new DHS analysis "underestimates the risk of an accidental pathogen release and inadequately characterizes the uncertainties in those risks," the National Research Council said.
"Moreover, the committee found that the updated probabilities of releases are based on overly optimistic and unsupported estimates of human-error rates; low estimates of infectious material available for release; and inappropriate treatment of dependencies, uncertainties, and sensitivities in calculating release probabilities," according to the release.
It adds: "The low estimates of risk found throughout the updated assessment are not in agreement with most modern, complex industrial systems, and in many instances the committee could not verify results because methods and data were unevenly or poorly presented. The updated assessment also contains inconsistent information, which made it difficult to determine the degree to which risks were underestimated."
The most recent blueprints for the facility seem "sound," the experts found. They said that problems with the threat analysis cannot be said to suggest troubles with the blueprint (National Research Council release, June 15).
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The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection examines implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date.
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In this issue brief, senior experts at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies examine eight nonproliferation decisions that the second Obama administration cannot avoid.
This article provides an overview of the United States’ historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.