Ask your Congressman About Science

CapitolThe Federation of American Scientists has joined 16 prominent scientific and engineering groups to ask all Congressional candidates seven questions on the science and technology policies that affect all of our lives.

The November election will be a critical moment for science and technology policy in the United States. Voters must know where the candidates stand on issues such as climate change, the environment, and soaring energy prices.

Innovation 2008 is a voter education initiative from Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA) to make science and technology a prominent part of the 2008 elections. Ask your candidates today!

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National Biodefense Science Board Meeting

On June 18, 2008 the National Biodefense Science Board held their second meeting. The NBSB was created under the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act and was established to provide expert advice and guidance to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on scientific, technical, and other matters of special interest to HHS regarding activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to adverse health effects of public health emergencies resulting from chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological (CBRN) events, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate. During the inaugural meeting of the NBSB on Dec 17-18, 2007 members were sworn in and working groups were formed to consider the issues members felt were important.

The meeting began with a presentation from Robin Robinson, the newly named the Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), on “Old & New Perspectives at BARDA”. Whereas in the past initiatives for CBRN threats and Pandemic Flu were independent projects within BARDA, and BioShield was used for high risk acquisition tasks, these have all been integrated under the new BARDA strategy. During both this and a later presentation, Robinson described BARDA’s interest in the possibilities of personal preparedness. He described the progress made on small medical kits (MedKits) containing doxycline to treat anthrax that could be stored by individuals in their homes in case of an emergency. He also discussed the plans for influenza-focused antiviral MedKits. On what became the hot topic of the day, Robinson solicited input from the board on the issues surrounding home stockpiling, whether it is safe, effective, and worthwhile. He also asked for input on what should be the  right balance of government and personal strategies for preparedness.

Later in the day Robinson continued the discussion of personal preparedness and invited comments from Richard Besser of the CDC and Boris Lushniak of the FDA. Besser and Lushniak discussed public safety issues with personal stockpiling as well as some of the underlying problems with antibiotic resistance, drug expiration, product labeling and other regulatory issues.

In their December meeting, the NBSB had expressed an interest in biosurveillance. To address this, Capt. Daniel Sosin of the CDC briefed the board on the draft National Biosurveillance Strategic Plan. The NBSB has also indicated a concern for vulnerable populations in the event of pandemic of other major public health emergency, and therefore invited Susan Cooper from the Tennessee Department of Health to come and talk about this issue. Cooper gave an overview of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Guidance document on “At-Risk Populations and Pandemic Influenza: Planning Guidelines for State, Territorial, and Local Health Departments”.

The NBSB also heard from C. Norman Coleman from the Radiation Research Program at HHS and Richard J. Hatchett from the Radiation Countermeasures Research and Preparedness program at NIAID. Coleman presented some of the strategies within the Radiation Management System and Hatchett discussed providing support services for radiation countermeasures product development.

Amy Patterson, executive director of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) provided an overview of NSABB efforts to the NBSB. The NSABB has a similar mandate as the NBSB, and has been working since 2005 on issues of dual-use research of concern. Patterson focused on the NSABB’s recent recommendations on synthetic genomics and their draft oversight framework for dual-use research.

Throughout the day the Chairs of the working groups which were formed in December (Pandemic Influenza, U.S. Government Medical Countermeasures Processes for CBRN Agents, Markets and Sustainability, and Disaster Medicine) gave progress reports. In addition, a new subcommittee on Disaster Mental Health was introduced.

Finally, the NBSB discussed their recommendations and future activities. The members expressed interest in looking more carefully at the issue of personal preparedness. To this end it was decided that a working group be formed to deal specifically with the issue. It was also decided that no formal recommendations be made to Secretary Leavitt at this time, however, they would ask the Secretary to review the comments made by individual members on the topics of personal preparedness and home stockpiling during the meeting.

The next NBSB meeting will be held in November 2008.

USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapon Sites In Europe Do Not Meet US Security Requirements

Members of the 704 Munition Support Squadron at Ghedi Torre in Italy are trained to service a B-61 nuclear bomb inside a Munitions Maintenance Truck. Security at “most” nuclear bases in Europe does not meet DOD safety requirements, a newly declassified U.S. Air Force review has found. Withdrawal from some is rumored. Image: USAF

By Hans M. Kristensen  [article updated June 26 following this report]

An internal U.S. Air Force investigation has determined that “most sites” currently used for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe do not meet Department of Defense security requirements.

A summary of the investigation report was released by the Pentagon in February 2008 but omitted the details. Now a partially declassified version of the full report, recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, reveals a much bigger nuclear security problem in Europe than previously known.

As a result of these security problems, according to other sources, the U.S. plans to withdraw its nuclear custodial unit from at least one base and consolidate the remaining nuclear mission in Europe at fewer bases. Continue reading

Promoting Mutual Security and Development through Bioscience Cooperation

Yesterday the CUBRC Center for International Science and Technology Advancement held a symposium entitled “Promoting Mutual Security and Development through Bioscience Cooperation”. The meeting focused on ways to promote cooperation and networking across organizations to create a more prosperous and secure world.

Dr. Leonard Marcus of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University began the day by discussing the qualities of leaders that successfully link disparate groups and organizations.His remarks were especially relevant considering the diverse background and expertise of individuals and organizations involved in cooperative bioscience projects.

Continue reading

US – Russia 123 Agreement on the Hill

On Thursday, June 12 the House Foreign Relations Committee met for over three hours and heard testimony from members of the Committee, a representative of the Bush administration, and expert witnesses regarding the pros and cons of supporting the Agreement Between the United States and Russia for Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (Agreement) that President Bush submitted to Congress. As discussed in an earlier blog, the Agreement will have to sit before the Congress for 90 continuous days, and will pass unless Congress enacts a joint resolution of disapproval. Such legislation, H.J.Res 85, has already been submitted by Congressman Edward J. Markey (D – MA), a staunch opponent to nuclear power and thus to civilian nuclear cooperation agreements. The mood of those legislators at the hearing was generally one of skepticism, as members of Congress searched for reasons to support the Agreement. Continue reading