Science  10 Feb 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5762, pp. 757

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  1. Biosafety Building Gets NIH Nod

    Despite vociferous opposition from neighbor-hood groups, Boston University (BU) will soon begin construction on a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab at its medical campus in the city's South End. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is funding most of the $178 million project, granted final approval last week after completing review of BU's environmental impact study. Critics argued that the lab, which will handle the most dangerous bacteria and viruses, should not be built in an urban center. But NIH determined that BU's safety procedures were adequate.

    The Roxbury, Massachusetts-based non-profit Alternatives for Community and Environment, which has led the fight against the lab, says that NIH did not sufficiently consider alternative sites. The group is pressuring the city council to make it illegal to build a BSL-4 lab within the city limits. That effort, however, remains stalled.

  2. Brave Nuclear World

    Rekindling the Atoms for Peace spirit of the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week rolled out a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) that it hopes will facilitate “a nuclear renaissance” worldwide. Critics say the scheme, which seeks to lease reprocessed nuclear fuel to friendly nations, will be too expensive and could heighten proliferation risks (Science, 2 December 2005, p. 1406). Spending on U.S. nuclear fuel cycle research, a large part of the program, will more than double in the 2007 budget proposal to $250 million.

    GNEP would develop ways to reprocess spent fuel from existing reactors rather than socking it straight away in a repository, such as the long-planned Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada. Decades of reprocessing abroad have accumulated about 200 metric tons of plutonium. The United States rejected reprocessing in 1970, but officials say global energy needs and promising science have driven the turn-around. GNEP aims to develop a fuel laden with radioactive actinides that is “not attractive or usable as weapons material,” DOE's Clay Sell told reporters this week. The leased fuel would be monitored and returned after use, echoing Russia's recent proposal to lend fuel to Iran.

    Although GNEP's objectives are “laudable,” says Harvard nonproliferation expert Matthew Bunn, reprocessing “would cost tens of billions of dollars” in the near term and “involve significant risks.” He prefers storing spent fuel in dry casks. DOE plans to deliver legislation to Congress later this month.