WASHINGTON — Supporters of a $650 million bio-security lab in Kansas rested easier Monday after learning that the project was included in the White House's proposed 2012 budget.
"We think it's extraordinarily good news," said Tom Thornton, president of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. "The most imminent threat to our nation is a biological attack.... This lab, in many respects, is essential."
The budget that President Obama submitted to Congress included $150 million to begin construction of the new facility in Manhattan, on the Kansas State University campus. Construction is slated to end in 2017, with the lab set to open a year later.
The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will be built adjacent to the school's Biosecurity Research Institute will study deadly animal diseases and their threat to public health. These include African swine fever and foot and mouth disease.
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It will be operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, and will replace the current national animal disease research lab at Plum Island, N.Y.
The federal government chose Kansas after a three-year search that looked at security, environmental impact and risk.
A report last fall by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, criticized a Homeland Security analysis of the risk involved with building the lab in Kansas.
It estimated a 70 percent likelihood that an infectious disease outbreak would occur during the lab's 50-year lifetime. The report also said that with nearly 10 percent of all cattle in the U.S. within a 200-mile radius of the lab, the federal government didn't grasp the potential damage that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease could cause.
The disease kills cattle, hogs and other cloven-hoofed animals. Lab backers said the report overstated the threat.